Chiropractic concerns itself primarily with the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Improper alignment of bones can lead to painful muscle spasms, injured joints, compressed intervertebral discs, impinged-upon nerves and other maladies. Dysfunction of a nerve can, in turn, disrupt the proper performance of the organ, gland or muscle it services.
Common reasons for visiting a chiropractic doctor (D.C.) include low back pain, neck pain, joint pain and headaches. Chiropractors listen to a patient's history, do a physical examination, request lab and imaging tests, if needed, and treat with physical manipulation. During manipulation, the affected joint and surrounding tissues are realigned to restore mobility, relieve pain, and promote healing. Chiropractors may also provide counseling about nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle habits.
Although healers as far back as Hippocrates have recognized the importance of an aligned spine, chiropractic medicine only came into formal existence with the work of Daniel David Palmer. Canadian-born Palmer is credited with creating a discipline founded on the relationship between subtle displacements of the vertebrae and disease as well as the techniques for correcting such misalignment. In 1897, he founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. The school exists to this day.
Chiropractors undergo a four-year graduate training program. Applicants must have completed at least two years of undergraduate education including coursework in biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and psychology. Some state licensing boards require completion of a bachelor's degree in addition to the doctor of chiropractic degree.
Chiropractic students study biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology (with an emphasis on neuromusculoskeletal conditions), diagnostic imaging, chiropractic manipulations, nutrition, preventive health and public health.
The American Chiropractic Association's website maintains a list of accredited chiropractic schools. The Council on Chiropractic Education establishes standards for chiropractic education.
All 50 states license and regulate the practice of chiropractic medicine. The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners administers national board examinations of chiropractors and upholds consistency among the state licensing boards.
According to CareerOverview.com, the median annual income for salaried chiropractors in 2002 was $65,330. Self-employed chiropractors with busy practices may earn more than salaried practitioners. For more information, check out the American Chiropractic Association website.
Linda B. White, M.D. is a freelance writer, the coauthor of The Herbal Drugstore and Kids, Herbs & Health and is a visiting assistant professor in the Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program at MSU Denver.