At its origins, chiropractic medicine is based on the principle that the spine affects the entire body, and subtle misalignments, or subluxations, affect the nerve roots which connect to organs and tissues throughout the entire body. The chiropractor’s main healing method is the spinal manipulation, or adjustment. The adjustment applies a precise force to a specific target joint or joints to restore correct motion of the joint, which improves the function of the joint, the tissues around it, and other organs of the body. When the joints move correctly, this proper alignment and functions allows other tissues to heal, reducing pain and inflammation.
There is some debate in the chiropractic community regarding their practitioners’ scope of practice. Some chiropractors believe in and take a whole-body approach, and treat patients for system-wide diseases that affect the entire body. At our clinic, we strongly believe in working as a team and focusing on the strengths of each practitioner in elevating the health of each patient.
4.5 million Canadians have sought a chiropractor to be a part of their health care team.
What Does Chiropractic Medicine Treat?
Chiropractors usually treat disorders of the spine and joints, pelvis, and nervous system, although many chiropractors go on to treat muscle issues as well. Many chiropractors will undergo additional training to learn soft tissue release, which helps them achieve the desired results with their manipulations. Treating the muscle tissues around the joints can help adjustments be more effective and achieve longer lasting benefits.
Chiropractors excel at treating the following health conditions:
- Chronic pain
- Low back pain
- Whiplash and pain from motor vehicle accidents
- Injuries, such as strains and sprains
- Rib pain
- Work injuries
- Sports injuries
- Flexibility and range-of-motion issues
A chiropractor will work with other health professionals, such as osteopaths, massage therapists, physiotherapists, and naturopathic doctors to ensure patients get the most thorough care they require in order to meet their goals and feel their best.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is not a formal diagnosis, but it is a symptom of some underlying disease process, such as tight muscles or disc degeneration. Pain can be shooting or stabbing, dull or sharp, and it can radiate or stay in one place. There are multiple sources of pain, and your chiropractor can help you determine if the pain is coming from your joints, muscles, or nerves. Many things can cause back pain, and your chiropractor will assess you to determine the true cause of your condition so that it can be effectively treated.
Common causes of back pain include:
- Muscle or ligament strain – poor core strength, inflexibility, and muscle imbalances all lead to muscle strains that seem to come out of nowhere. The sudden appearance of pain, for example, picking up a pencil, is often a long time coming. Your chiropractor should work with you to correct your weaknesses and imbalances to prevent the pain from returning.
- Disc issues – for some people, bulging or herniated discs don’t cause pain, and for others, they cause tremendous pain. Chiropractic treatment can help ease the pain associated with herniated discs.
- Arthritis – Joints can degenerate and become inflamed. Chiropractors can use multiple techniques to reduce inflammation, but are careful in patients with arthritis.
- Skeleton misalignments – scoliosis, for example, is a sideways curvature of the spine that often occurs in teenage girls and resolves itself over time as the skeleton continues to grow and mature. However, some people never grow out of scoliosis, or it is so severe that it may need a multidisciplinary approach, such as management from a doctor as well.
Chiropractic treatment is one of the top choices for most issues causing back pain. Studies have shown chiropractic treatment to be as effective as physiotherapy, for example.
You should skip the chiropractor altogether and see a medical doctor if your back pain is accompanied by the following:
- A loss of urinary or fecal continence (or, your ability to prevent going to the bathroom)
- Back pain after a fall, injury, accident, or trauma such as a hit
Chiropractic and The Nervous System
For chiropractors, many diseases arise or are worsened by imbalances in the nervous system which are influenced by manipulations of the spine. Your nervous system can become hyper-active in times of stress; this is called a sympathetic response, also known as “fight or flight”. When you’re in fight or flight mode, your body is prepared for a quick getaway from danger; you are not in a state to relax, heal, or digest food.
In contrast, the parasympathetic response is the “rest and digest” mode, where good quality healing begins. When we are relaxed, our bodies have time to take nutrients from our food and use them to repair any injuries, fight infection, or heal other sickness. We want to be in parasympathetic mode much of the time, but a balance of both is necessary to live a healthy life.
Most people, as you can imagine, spend most of their time in sympathetic mode. While our bodies’ nervous system responses were meant to help save us when we were in physical danger, rarely do these situations arise today. Instead, we’re constantly inundated with low-grade stressors, such as deadlines, finances, commuter traffic, family, a horrible manager, and more. The problem is that our bodies cannot tell the difference between physical danger and work stress. Therefore, if we are constantly stressed by having too many responsibilities, we are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, and healing never becomes a priority for the body.
And so we feel sicker. Tired, achy, run-down, burned out. Stress of this sort is very inflammatory and can worsen many illnesses.
According to research, chiropractic adjustments can alter the nervous system. Studies have shown that adjustments to the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (low back) can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, while thoracic (mid-back) adjustments activate the sympathetic response. Chiropractors use this knowledge to help their patients rebalance their nervous system in order to reduce inflammation and heal more completely. For some people whose nervous systems are locked in overdrive, their chiropractor may perform a neck or low back adjustment, whereas a mid-back adjustment may be used to stimulate someone’s system. A skilled chiropractor can help you heal from pain sooner by performing a thorough assessment and determining which way your nervous system needs to be shifted, and changing your state via a precise spinal manipulation.
Tools Commonly Used by Chiropractors
A chiropractor’s most commonly used, and most effective, tool is their hands. Chiropractors use their hands to assess the spine and surrounding tissues for problems, and then they use their hands as treatment. However, chiropractors use a variety of tools in order to help their patients feel better, such as:
- Electrical stimulation – your chiropractor may attach electrodes to your muscles to activate or loosen them, and your pain will feel almost instantly better after.
- Laser – low-level laser therapy stimulates the cellular healing process and can help relieve pain on a microscopic level. Like ultrasound, your chiropractor may employ this therapy to stimulate the healing process for injuries, such as strains and sprains.
- Active Release or Soft Tissue Treatment – it is important to take care of the muscles surrounding the joints, as imbalances and tension in muscle can contribute to joint pain and injury. A chiropractor will often refer for massage and/or perform types of muscle release to treat the cause of the pain and dysfunction.
- Therapeutic exercises – like any good wellness-minded practitioner, your chiropractor should
Is Chiropractic Dangerous?
Like all forms of health care, there are some risks to treatment from chiropractors, but the incidence of major adverse effects is very rare. Unfortunately, many myths of chiropractors have perpetuated due to a bias against complementary and alternative medicine. Usually, most people can feel some soreness or stiffness after treatment in and around the adjusted area, but your chiropractor should explain what to expect during and after treatment. During your intake visit, our chiropractors will assess your safety and suitability for chiropractic adjustment, and explain to you the results of their assessment before obtaining your informed consent for treatment. Principles of consent are applicable to all forms of health care, not just chiropractic, but chiropractors are especially well-trained in communicating with patients and ensuring that informed consent is given by their patients.
Informed consent includes the following elements:
- Diagnosis – your chiropractor should explain in sufficient detail what they think is the source of your complaint, and how they are going to treat it.
- Proposed treatment – you should understand what is involved in the treatment, especially if you are new to chiropractic. Your provider should explain in detail what you can expect during the treatment.
- Risks – no procedure is without risk. You should understand the major and minor risks most likely to occur and most relevant to you and your case.
- Benefits – there should be a direct discernible benefit from receiving the treatment, and you have a right to know what it is.
- Alternatives – There is almost always more than one way to treat a condition, such as medication, or surgery, and you should be aware of these alternatives.
- The right to refuse treatment at any time – you can refuse any treatment, including chiropractic. You should not feel pressured into any treatment and you should be able to communicate well with your chiropractor.
- Questions – you have the right to ask questions if you need to clarify something about the treatment. Never feel silly about asking questions, or that you are wasting the practitioner’s time; it is your right as a patient to understand how you are being treated. The chiropractor will ensure they have answered all of your questions before proceeding with treatment.
A Brief History of Chiropractic
Chiropractic medicine came into being because of Daniel David Palmer, a Canadian who moved to Iowa. While he was practicing as a magnetic healer, Palmer discovered that subluxations, or small misalignments of the spinal vertebrae, were a significant cause of pain and illness. Around 1895, a janitor with hearing loss came to him, explaining that the problem had arisen with the sound of a “pop” in his spine. When Palmer adjusted the man, his hearing returned. While Palmer was not the first person to perform an adjustment, he created the basis for chiropractic adjustment technique that is practiced today. He founded the first chiropractic college. Today, chiropractors are trained at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College north of Toronto.
Chiropractors are regulated health care providers and are governed by the College of Chiropractors of Ontario.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get a subluxation?
Subluxations can happen due to trauma or injury, such as a car accident, or even from slips or falls. Emotional stress creates tension that can cause muscles to pull on joints, increasing the risk of a subluxation. You may have subluxations and not even know it, until they become severe or numerous enough to cause pain.
Do I need X-rays?
A chiropractor can order an x-ray of your spine to determine the cause of an issue. Like any other test, x-rays should only be taken for a specific purpose, and your chiropractor will determine if this is the right course of action for you.
Does adjustment hurt?
It is unlikely that your adjustment will hurt. You may feel some soreness or tenderness in the area after adjustment as things settle, but if the pain does not go away or if it is severe you should speak to your chiropractor.
What is that popping or cracking sound?
In the same way that cracking your knuckles releases tension, an adjustment moves gas bubbles from the joint space, and the release of that gas during the adjustment is responsible for the popping sound. Don’t worry – nothing is breaking during that time. It is also worth noting that you don’t have to hear a pop to have a successful adjustment.
Do I need a referral to see a chiropractor.
No. Like many complementary healthcare practitioners, you can visit a chiropractor independently of your medical doctor.
Is chiropractic treatment covered by insurance?
Most extended private health benefits cover chiropractic care. Services are not covered by OHIP.