Chiropractic medicine involves manipulation of the spine by trained professionals to alleviate a range of conditions including tension headaches, back and shoulder pain, and physical fatigue. It is used as an alternative and adjunct to traditional Western medicine as it involves no drugs and no invasive procedures, just manual movement of the body. There is a strong evidence base for its efficacy in a variety of conditions, and variations on chiropractic medicine are used by physiotherapists and osteopathic doctors as well as registered chiropractors.
Practitioners of chiropractic medicine come in all shapes and sizes, so here’s some advice to help you decide which chiropractor is for you:
1. Meet your prospective chiropractor in person. You are going to pay a professional to manipulate your body! You’re going to get some very hands-on treatment from a person you hardly know, so find someone friendly and professional, someone, you feel totally comfortable with.
2. Get recommendations. People tend to be honest about who they’d recommend to their family and friends; try to get recommendations from people you trust, from your social circle or your regular healthcare providers. Online reviews can be useful, but make sure they come from an unbiased source – not the practice’s own website!
3. Know what you want from your chiropractor: with a range of treatments available, finding a practitioner with a special interest in your particular condition can make a huge difference. It’s okay to ask about their experience, training, and success rate with conditions like yours.
4. Be an expert patient: the more knowledge you have about your condition, the easier it’ll be to recognize a chiropractor who knows about it too. The internet can be a valuable source of information, and going in with an idea of the sorts of treatments usually recommended to people in similar positions to you will help you decide on the right chiropractor.
5. Check their credentials – to practice as a chiropractor they’ll need to be licensed and have had accredited training at a registered institution. However, in the US there is no legal requirement for regular revalidation, so it is reasonable for you to ask your chiropractor to show evidence that they’re up-to-date with the ever-changing evidence in medical care. It’s a good sign if they’re registered with a nationwide professional chiropractic organization, like the ACA in the US, or the GCC in the UK.
6. Consider the price. Is your treatment covered by your insurance, and does this impact on the choices you have both in treatments and practitioners? If paying cash, is your chiropractor able to give you an idea of how many sessions you’ll need, and how frequently? Some offer a free initial consultation so that they can give you a personalized estimate for future treatment. Be wary of recommendations for lengthy and overly frequent courses of expensive treatment.
7. Ask about their referral networks. A good chiropractor can recognize limits to the efficacy of their treatment and will be able to give advice or a referral for other routes of treatment when necessary. They should at the very least have strong links to pain specialists, osteopaths, and physiotherapists. Beware of any chiropractor, or any other healthcare professional, who thinks they can cure everything.
8. Ask what other services they offer: if you need X-rays, do they offer them in-house? Do they offer therapeutic massage or other alternative therapies? Be aware, too, of whether they recommend other treatments or diagnostic tools only when clinically indicated, or if they’re really just pushing the services of their clinic regardless of your needs.
9. Find out if they’re available! You might find that the best-reviewed chiropractors are in the greatest demand. Call the office and ask about their waiting lists, whether they run extra clinic time for urgent matters, and how well they stick to appointment times in general. However good a chiropractor is, they’re no use to you if you’ll never get to see them.
10. Consider holistic care. A good chiropractor will consider you holistically, i.e. as a whole person and not just a condition to treat. They may be able to suggest changes in your lifestyle that could help to alleviate your condition. If your job or home life involves heavy lifting, repetitive movements, or long periods sitting down, they should be able to advise on ways to prevent future or further problems. If you have long-term health or mobility issues, your chiropractor will take these into account. A good chiropractor would not recommend the same course of treatment for an aching marathon runner as for someone with profoundly reduced mobility. The right chiropractor for you might be the one who asks awkward questions about your general health, but who will also respect your privacy, dignity, and comfort zone.
11. Are they and their offices and treatment rooms clean, tidy, and well-lit? However well-recommended an individual practitioner is, you’re not going to feel comfortable if there’s a suspicious stain on the waiting room floor, or if their clinic smells like old socks. Every healthcare professional will wash their hands before and after they touch you, and it’s okay to ask if you don’t see them do it.
12. Trust your gut feeling. Ultimately, you should find a chiropractor who feels perfect. If they tick all the boxes but there’s something that just isn’t right, find someone else. There are plenty of choices out there, and there’ll be one for you.
The fact that you’re researching and reading these recommendations puts you ahead of the game already, but remember too that any healthcare professional has a responsibility to provide the best possible care to everyone, and there are many people out there who are unable to research, to communicate effectively or to advocate for themselves, and who should still receive absolutely optimal treatment from anyone involved in their care. Expect the very best treatment from any healthcare providers, for you and your friends and family, and settle for nothing less.