Mystified by chiropractors? You’ve got a lot of company. Many people don’t understand what a chiropractor does.
“Think of a chiropractor as a doctor who cares for any kind of muscle, joint or bone pain,” advises Andrew Bang, DC, from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine.
It’s important to inform your primary care physician about any pain you’re experiencing, whether recent or chronic (lasting more than three months). Your primary care doctor can rule out potentially serious problems that need treatment.
Chiropractors can complement the traditional medical care you receive. Here are three things you should know about what they do — and don’t do:
1. Chiropractors don’t prescribe medication
“Chiropractors do not prescribe medication; this allows us to think outside the box,” says Dr. Bang. “Many people would rather take a pill than change a few lifestyle habits, but I see finding an alternative approach as a huge positive because it empowers patients to take control of their health.”
A chiropractor may prescribe:
- Soft-tissue therapy: To relax tight muscles, relieve spasm and release tension in the fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds each muscle)
- Adjustments: To gently realign joints and increase range of motion
- Joint bracing/taping (e.g., Kinesio taping): To support sprained joints or muscles as they heal
- Exercises and stretches: To restore and maintain mobility and range of motion
- Referrals to integrative medicine experts: For guidance on diet and nutrition to reduce inflammation and promote weight loss
“Treatments generally do not hurt. But soreness — similar to what you might feel after a workout — is a common side effect,” says Dr. Bang. “Over time, however, your muscles adjust.
2. Chiropractors don’t just treat the back and neck
Chiropractors can treat pain anywhere in the body: in the head and jaws, the shoulders, the elbows and wrists, the hips and pelvis, and the knees and ankles.
“We look at the whole musculoskeletal system and treat the root of the problem. We make sure not only that the joints are moving properly, but also that surrounding muscles are functioning well,” says Dr. Bang.
After your primary care physician has evaluated your pain, chiropractors can offer complementary care for many common problems:
“A lot of headaches and migraines are caused by tension in the jaw,” Dr. Bang says. “Maybe patients are unaware that they clench their jaw at night. My job is to relieve jaw muscle tension to increase blood flow, which ultimately helps alleviate the headaches.”
- Plantar fasciitis
Podiatrists typically recommend orthotics and massage for temporary relief of this painful foot condition. But chiropractors also make sure the joints in the foot are mobile, then work upward to evaluate other possible causes. “Sometimes the knees or lower back are the real problem, affecting the way patients walk, which eventually leads to plantar fasciitis,” he says.
- Generalized shoulder pain
If shoulder pain persists but an MRI shows no problem, chiropractors will assess the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade. They may also look for ribs that are restricted and prevent the shoulder from moving properly.
Chiropractors treat problems in people of all ages. “Depending on the patient, the intensity and force of treatments vary,” says Dr. Bang. All patients are screened to ensure that they are good candidates for chiropractic care. For example, many older patients have some thinning or softening of the bones that would rule out joint manipulation.
If chiropractic care is too risky for a patient, “we will guide them to the right people and resources,” says Dr. Bang.
3. Chiropractors focus on prevention
The goal of chiropractic care is to restore your health over the long term, rather than to relieve your symptoms over the short term. So a chiropractor will ask how you move throughout the day (standing, sitting, walking) and how you sleep at night.
Learning how to position your body at your desk, when you’re standing and moving, and when you’re in bed — and incorporating stretches into your daily routine — can be invaluable in preventing future problems.
To sum it up, understanding what chiropractors do is pretty simple: think of aches, pains, creaks and strains. If you’ve got a problem that involves your musculoskeletal system, a chiropractor can offer alternative methods of treatment.
This article is originally found on The Cleveland Clinic.