When Should I Go To A Chiropractor?

Warning! This is a longer than usual post. I will try to keep it as short as possible.

The primary thing that you should see a chiropractor for instead of an MD is joint dysfunction, some chiropractors will term this “subluxation.” The problem is the same with either term. “What is that?” Medical doctors and chiropractors use different terms so I’ll try to list some of the more common diagnoses terms and explain why and how a DC should be preferred over an MD for those conditions.

Back pain of any kind. I say this, knowing that there are causes of back pain that a chiropractor cannot treat. They should be a first line provider when it comes to back pain. The advantage of seeing a chiropractor first for back pain is that is their expertise. They have had more class and clinical hours studying and treating the back than the average MD. So, even if they can’t treat it, they are better equipped to diagnose and refer to the right person. They can also treat most back pain generators. Even the studies with the worst outcomes show that chiropractic is at least as good as standard medical treatments (most show better results) for low back pain with higher patient satisfaction, and lower risk.

If you’ve been in a car accident, after visiting the ER, and in the absence of serious findings there you should proceed to your chiropractor. The ER doctors will often say something along the lines of well we can’t find anything on our tests, it looks like you have a little (fill in the blank…whiplash, sprain/strain, pulled muscles, bruising, etc…). They will usually send you home with a prescription for some pain medication. They don’t deny the pain or the injury, they just don’t have any medication to treat these injuries. These injuries are what chiropractors deal with. Like with MDs, DCs cannot cure a sprain or a strain, but they can improve healing time, and reduce pain without the risk/side effects that medication has.

Pregnancy back and muscle aches. This statement is not intended to negate the need for medical monitoring of a pregnancy. Chiropractors should not be substituting for an OB/Gyn. With pregnancy however most medications are out, due to possible harm to the baby. In this circumstance you want your treatments to be as conservative as possible. Again, that is a chiropractors realm, conservative care.

Headaches are one of those areas that are middle of the road. Most headaches are just tension headaches, and chiropractic has a very high success rate treating them. The problem is most people don’t go to their doctor for the average tension headache, they go for chronic headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, etc… With these I wouldn’t say one was better than the other. Because the cause of headaches vary so much you could start either place. The only advantage that I would give chiropractic in this case is that it is more conservative, and they won’t start with drugs. However they may be the wrong treatment for your kind of headaches. If you aren’t seeing results with a chiropractor within 2 weeks I would recommend looking into other things, and for that matter the chiropractor should be looking to refer you about that time.

Difficulty moving, such as when you bend down and can’t stand back up, or you can’t turn your head properly to back up your car. Stiffness or soreness is also something to go see a chiropractor about. Basically anytime you have a mechanical problem be it muscles, bones, or joint structures head to your chiropractor.

Repetative stress injuries, whether they be work related, sports related, performance related, or what ever. RSI’s are something that I’ve discussed in depth previously. See here for the start of the discussion series.

I’m sure that I’ve missed many, and I hope that my chiropractic friends will correct me with comments to this post, but I hope this is a good starting point for those of you who are looking for a way to judge who you should go see.

A chiropractor can be a primary care provider and in some rural settings they are . You should be able to go see your chiropractor for any reason, and he should be able to help you either through chiropractic treatment or by referring you on to the person who you should see. However, if there is a medical doctor around you would save time by skipping the chiroprator and going straight to the MD if you have a fever, bowel and bladder problems, you are oozing fluids, or have cancer. Those are things chiropractors don’t usually deal with.


14 thoughts on “When Should I Go To A Chiropractor?

  1. Betsy Gordon

    Hi —

    I find it very interesting that you reiterate that “a chiropractor’s realm is conservative care.” Those of us who have been unfamiliar with chiropractic may have thought of it as anything but conservative! I know that until a few months ago, I thought chiropractic was way farther out than allopathic medicine — I would never have characterized spinal manipulation as “conservative”! Now I know better, and I congratulate you for these very helpful comments.



  2. maedayael

    Chiropractors can do so much more for an individuals overall health than most people are aware. As more of these articles are written, the notion that chiropractors are limited to only head, neck, and back pain will be dispelled.

  3. Abigail

    Hi. I’m 13 and I just pulled a muscle in my neck/shoulder yesterday. I think it might b my deltoid or trapezieus muscle. Any advice on what to do?

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      Pulled or strained muscles are a fairly common injury. The most common home care for strains is PRICE (Protection Rest Ice Compression Elevation). You want to protect the area from further injury. Rest, it is important to note that rest does not mean immobilize, you should keep using it, but less. Ice the area at least 2-3 times per day for about 15 min or until it gets numb. (There are some risks with ice so be sure you know how to properly use your ice pack before doing it) Compression would usually be done to an extremety, but you can wrap your shoulder or torso with an ace bandage if there is some swelling. Elevation is also more for extremities so that blood does not pool in the area, but is able to flow freely to bring nutrients and remove waste. You can also use topical pain reliever such as biofreeze, or icy/hot etc for a strain. Massage will help you recover faster after the first day or two. I hope that helps.

  4. Jones

    All of my life people have commented about how I walking/running funny. I know I have really poor form but how I walk and run feels normal to me. It use to be much worse and I improved a lot when I ran cross country in high school. I have always wondered if my hips are not aligned correctly or if one leg is longer than the other. Is this something I could visit the Chiropractor about?

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      This is definitely something you can visit your chiropractor about. It is possible that your body has adapted really well and does just move “funny” Sometimes it can do more harm than good to correct what your body has fixed, but it is also possible that you are not in pain now, but when you get older your body will not be able to maintain this adaptation. In that case you would want to get as much of a correction as you can as soon as you can. This is a decision you’ll have to make with your chiropractor after an exam and an explanation of all of your treatment options.

  5. Bethanny

    I’m 15 years old and out of the blue in mid June, I’ve started having back problems. Towards the beginning of my problems, it felt like i repeatedly was pulling a back muscle in the thoracic region. At one point i went to the E.R because it was very sharp to breathe in. That finally went away and hasn’t happened since. But like I said in June, I started having problems in my back where it feel so tight and constricted, almost like there is this pressure on it. & this is throughout my whole back. It’s still going on, and Ibuprofen 600mg doesn’t help, & neither did the muscle relaxers. I noticed it also hurts the most if i’m sitting up in a chair per say, for a long period of time or walking somewhere for a long period of time as well. What do I do???
    P.S I’ve done absolutely no exertion that would injure my back.

  6. Emily

    I am 40 and periodically will pull my back out of align. what I mean is when I stress it either by lunging or diving for a volleyball, or perhaps push mowing the yard and moving wrong. It is always in my lower left back, down my bottom, and that left leg. when I sleep at night and go to roll over (and in a lot of pain) you can hear a click like out of place. Typically the pain will subside 1-2 weeks later, and the severity depends on how aggrivated it was. Would this warrant a chiropractic visit to remedy quicker?

  7. pam

    Just wondering if a Chiropractor could do anything to help tingling in my fingers and a shoulder pain after a c-section. The doctor thinks that I may have gotten blood in my diaphragm.

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      After a pregnancy, particularly one that ends not naturally but surgically, there are many physical injuries that your body must overcome. A chiropractor may very well be able to help those symptoms. I’m not sure how that would be related to the c-section.

      I really don’t see any connection to blood in your diaphragm even relates, but I’d be interested in hearing more about it if you could ask your doctor to clarify, or even point him my direction so that he can explain it.

  8. Crystal Tirado

    I am having very bad lower back pain and it’s takes me a little longer to get out of bed, get up from a chair, to carry my child and to bend down period. My mother said it could be because of constantly sitting for a long period of time, my father said it could be that my body structure isn’t fit for my weight, and i believe it might be from the epidural that i had to take when i was in labor, but i just don’t know which of the three it could be and i would like a response to know if i have to go see a chiropractor?

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      It could be due to all three. If you are carrying more weight than you should then it can be a burden and cause of back pain. Long periods of inactivity also cause myofascial pain. Both of those can be a complication of pregnancy or injury, or they can be a lifestyle choice. If you are concerned and see a correlation between the epidural and the low back pain and it was recent then you should definitely contact your OB to let them know and see if there was some damage during the puncture. Either way a chiropractor would be a good place to start. He can rule in or out musculoskeletal causes, and refer if there is a need. Be sure to let them know your concerns about the epidural, and good luck.


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