What is chiropractic and how does it work?

085f5500Chiropractic is a non-invasive natural approach to health care. It is based on the scientific fact that the body has the innate ability to heal itself and that this ability depends greatly on a healthy spine and nervous system. Spinal adjustments correct areas of spinal stress, called subluxation, and thereby reduce pain (if present) and remove irritation to the nervous system. This has far reaching implications in that every aspect of the human body is wholly or in part controlled by the nervous system. There are many causes of spinal stress and they are the cause of many health problems – not just low back pain and headaches!

What conditions do chiropractors treat?

Chiropractors are experts trained in the neuromusculoskeletal system. They diagnose and treat disorders of the spine and other body joints by adjusting the spinal column or through other corrective manipulation. Chiropractors provide conservative management of neuromusculoskeletal disorders including, but not limited to, back, neck and head pain (over 90 percent of conditions treated). They also advise patients on corrective exercises, lifestyle and nutrition.

What happens during a treatment?

During your first visit, the chiropractor will want to know about your health history as well as your current complaint. Your home and work life as well as your level of physical activity may also affect your health, so don’t be surprised to be asked questions about these.

Although chiropractors use their hands for most treatments, they also use other methods such as heat, light, specialized adjusting instruments, ultrasound, electrotherapy, personalized exercise programs, muscle-testing and balancing. Your chiropractor can also give you information and guidance on how you can stay healthy through proper nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes.

What kind of education and training do chiropractors have?

Chiropractors are educated as primary contact health care practitioners, with an emphasis on neuromusculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment. Preparation for the practice of chiropractic is concentrated on three areas: basic training in the biological and health sciences, specialized training in the chiropractic discipline, and extensive clinical training. Becoming a chiropractor in Canada requires a minimum of 7 years of post-secondary education including no less than 4 years of full-time classroom and clinical instruction at an institution approved by the Council on Chiropractic Education Canada.

What results can I expect from treatment?

That depends on your condition. The length of time you have had the problem, your age and the degree of your disability all affect the length of your treatment. Your chiropractic doctor should tell you the extent of treatment recommended, and how long you can expect it to last.

One of the main reasons people choose chiropractic is that they often get quick results. Individual cases vary and chronic conditions obviously need more treatment, but Workers’ Compensation Board studies show that people with low back pain get back to work much faster with chiropractic care.

You might also consider the benefits of regular chiropractic adjustments even when you feel healthy. Sometimes you won’t know you have a disorder of the neuromusculoskeletal system until it becomes acute and painful. So, just as you see your dentist to have your teeth checked and your optometrist for eye exams, regular visits to your chiropractor can catch related health conditions early, often preventing them from developing into major problems. Remember, your spine is every bit as susceptible to wear and tear as your teeth and your eyes so you should look after it.

How is chiropractic adjustment performed?

Chiropractic adjustment or manipulation is a manual procedure that utilizes the highly refined skills developed during four intensive years of chiropractic education. The chiropractor typically uses his/her hands to manipulate the joints of the body, particularly the spine, in order to reduce pain, and restore or enhance joint function.

Chiropractic manipulation is a highly controlled procedure that rarely causes discomfort. The chiropractor adapts the procedure to meet the specific needs of each patient.

Is chiropractic manipulation a safe procedure?

Chiropractic adjustment or manipulation is a drug-free, non-invasive approach to common musculoskeletal conditions such as headache, and neck and back pain. As such, it is a low risk therapy. Complications arising from adjustment are rare.

Is chiropractic evidence-based?

Chiropractic is a healing discipline firmly grounded in science. Few other health care interventions have been assessed as extensively as chiropractic manipulation, both in terms of safety and effectiveness. There have been at least six formal government studies into chiropractic worldwide over the last 25 years and all have concluded that contemporary chiropractic care is safe, effective, cost-effective and have recommended public funding for chiropractic services. In addition, there have been countless scientific clinical studies assessing the appropriateness, effectiveness, and/or cost-effectiveness of spinal manipulation or chiropractic manipulation, most notably for low back pain. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHI) now offers research grants in partnership with the Canadian Chiropractic Association to chiropractors and other scientists for high quality, chiropractic research.

Is chiropractic regulated in Canada?

Like medicine and dentistry, chiropractic is a self-regulating profession, and each provincial chiropractic regulatory body has the authority to grant a license to practice chiropractic. There are Chiropractic Acts in all 10 provinces and the Yukon Territory which establish a self-regulatory process which includes extensive testing for licensure. In all provinces, licensure requirements include university studies followed by graduation from an accredited chiropractic institution, and passing national and provincial board examinations.

Is chiropractic treatment appropriate for children?

Yes, children may benefit from chiropractic care. Children are very physically active and experience many types of falls and blows from activities of daily living as well as from participating in sports. Injuries such as these may cause many symptoms including back and neck pain, stiffness, soreness or discomfort. Chiropractic care is always adapted to the individual patient. It is a highly skilled treatment, and in the case of children, very gentle.

While there is some clinical evidence that musculoskeletal treatment of infants may have positive effects, well-controlled studies are required to verify the benefits that are seen in clinical practice.

Can chiropractic treatment provide a preventative function?

Clinical experience suggests that individuals with chronic conditions such as degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) or recurrent neck pain, back pain or headaches may experience less frequent and less severe symptoms when under regular chiropractic care. This also applies to individuals in highly stressful situations and those who experience repetitive physical and postural strain from their daily activities. Whether ongoing chiropractic treatment can prevent back pain from occurring in the first place, or prevent a previous condition from re-occurring, requires further study.

Are neck adjustments safe?

All health treatments have the potential for adverse effects and, on rare occasions, neck adjustment has been associated with stroke and stroke-like symptoms. A Canadian study, published in 2001, concluded that stroke symptoms associated with neck adjustments are so rare that it is difficult to quantify. Similarly, a medical review published in 2002 looked at 73 studies of chiropractic care and found no serious complications reported in any of them. By way of comparison, neck adjustment is significantly safer than other common treatments for headache, neck and back pain.

Why is there a popping sound when a joint is adjusted?

Adjustment of a joint may result in release of a gas bubble between the joints that makes a popping sound – it’s exactly the same as when you “crack” your knuckles. It is not painful. It is caused by the change of pressure within the joint resulting in gas bubbles being released.


How deep do the needles go?

That depends upon the nature of the problem, the location of the points selected, the patient’s size, age, and constitution, and upon the acupuncturist’s style or school they came from. Usually, needles are inserted from ¼ to 1 inch in depth.

Does it hurt?

If your practitioner has obtained the correct stimulus of the needle, the patient should feel some cramping, heaviness, distention, tingling, or electric sensation either around the needle or traveling up or down the affected meridian, or energy pathway. In Chinese, acupuncture is bu tong, painless. Some Western cultures may categorize these sensations as types of pain. In any case, if you experience any discomfort, it is usually mild.

Are the needles clean?

The best practice among acupuncturists in Canada today is to use sterilized, individually packaged, disposable needles. Needles should not be saved and reused for later treatments. This eliminates the possibility of transmitting a communicable disease by a contaminated needle.

How does acupuncture work?

Modern Western medicine cannot explain how acupuncture works. Traditional acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (Energy) and Xue (Blood) through distinct meridians or pathways that cover the body somewhat like the nerves and blood vessels do. According to ancient theory, acupuncture allows Qi to flow to areas where Qi is Deficient and away from where it is Excess. In this way, acupuncture regulates and restores the harmonious energetic balance of the body. In Chinese there is a saying, “There is no pain if there is free flow; if there is pain, there is no free flow”.

Are there different styles of acupuncture?

Yes, there are. Acupuncture originated in China but has spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Europe, the British Isles, and America. In different countries, different styles have developed based on differing opinions as to theory and technique. Patients should talk to their practitioner about their particular style and learn as much as possible about the treatment being proposed.

What criteria should one use in choosing an acupuncturist?

Patients should ask about where the practitioner trained, how long the training was, how long he or she has been in practice, and what experience the practitioner has had in treating the patient’s specific ailment.

Acupuncture is a licensed and regulated healthcare profession in Canada. Ask your practitioner if your province requires a license to practice. In provinces that do not currently require licensing, patients should ask their practitioner if they are certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists. Acupuncturists who have passed this exam are entitled to add Dipl. Ac. (Diplomate of Acupuncture) after their name.

How many treatments will I need?

That depends upon the duration, severity, and nature of your complaint. You may need only a single treatment of an acute condition. A series of five to fifteen treatments may resolve many chronic problems. Some degenerative conditions may require many treatments over time.

What should I know about the proposed treatments?

Your practitioner will explain the nature of your problem and what treatment he or she is recommending. Your practitioner will tell you what benefits and risks there are to the proposed treatments, what other treatment options are available to you through this practitioner or by referral to another practitioner or physician.

If you agree to go ahead with the treatment, your practitioner will tell you what progress to expect, what to do if you don’t experience that progress and what to do if you feel worse.

Is there anything I need to do before receiving an acupuncture treatment?

Yes, the following suggestions will help you get the maximum benefits from your treatment.

  • Maintain good personal hygiene to reduce the possibility of bacterial inflection.
  • To prevent loss, do not wear jewelry.
  • Wear loose clothing. Women should not wear one-piece dresses. Avoid wearing tight stockings.
  • Avoid treatment when excessively fatigued.
Is there anything I need to do while receiving acupuncture?

Yes, again.

  • Relax. There is no need to be frightened. Ask your practitioner any questions you have along the way so that you can get the most benefit possible from the treatment.
  • Do not change your position or move suddenly. If you are uncomfortable, tell your practitioner.
  • Some people experience dizziness, nausea, cold sweat, shortness of breath, or faintness during treatment. This often occurs if you are nervous. Inform your practitioner immediately so he or she can readjust or withdraw the needles. Also let your practitioner know if you feel an increasing amount of pain or burning sensation during the treatment.
  • If you find your treatment unbearable at any point, be sure to speak up so that your practitioner can make the proper adjustment or stop the treatment.
What can I expect after treatment?

You may note a spot of blood at one or more of the needles sites and/or a small bruise could develop. These should not be harmful, but please talk to your practitioner if you are concerned.

Patients often experience the most dramatic results in the first treatment. Some patients experience an immediate total or partial relief of their pain or other symptoms. This relief may last or some pain may return. In a few cases, there may be no immediate relief only to notice the pain diminish over the next couple of days. Generally, you should expect to feel better.

Most patients will have more questions than this brochure can answer. Your practitioner is used to answering questions such as:

  • Should I continue to see my medical doctor?
  • Should I continue taking my present medication?
  • What should I eat? Is there anything I can do for myself at home?
  • What signs of success should I look for first and after how long?

You should discuss all of your questions in person with your practitioner.