Whats the Straight Dope on Chiropractors?

A few months ago I hurt my back while on a customers site moving some PC’s. It was pretty painful and I ended up missing almost a week before it seemed to get better. Since then, off and on, I’ll seemingly hurt it again in the exact same place. At first I thought it was just a muscle pull…I’ve never had back problems in the past. But on my latest trip I did it again…and it hurts worse than ever.

At any rate, a lot of people are telling me that I should go see a chiropractor to have it ‘fixed’. My dad always told me that they are psudo-doctors, but I don’t think he’s ever been to one before. My brother in law IS a chiropractor, but I doubt I’d get an unbiased opinion from him. So, I’ve come here…what’s the SD on chiropractors? Are they ‘real’ doctors? Is it ‘real’ medicine? Do they help with things like I’ve described above?


I don’t know what a “real” doctor is, but I can say that my chiropractor has helped me innumerable times when I’ve had back problems. Having said that, be sure to get a good recommendation from someone you trust. There are a gazzilion chiropractors out there, and you want someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Think of it as a type of physical therapy.

IF you find one who does short-term manipulation to treat musculo-skeletal complaints only, and not one who adjusts your spine 3 x a week for the rest of your life to prevent your tendency towards liver cancer from coming to fruition, then said chiro is about as effective in giving short-term relief for back pain as physical therapy or medications, and maybe a bit better than just resting the back on your own.

QtM, who once shared an office with a self-described “scientific chiropractor” who gave me the inside scoop on D. D. Palmer’s little program.

Said office-mate was very good at cracking my neck. It felt wonderful, and was more pleasant than popping ibuprofen, but the effects were always temporary.

Chiropractic is a weird mix of pseudo-science and legitimate treatment. The creator and original development of the practice was based around prescientific life-force nonsense. They thought that by reducing subluxation points they were freeing up the life energy to flow better. This school of thought leads to the idea that you can tweak your spine and cure your cancer or other diseases, since they are the result of improper energy flow. It’s quackery.

Somewhere along the way, though, what seem to be legitimate enough techniques to treat some skeletal/muscular issues seemed to be developed. And now there’s a split amongst the group, some who practice the subluxation garbage and some which are essentially physical therapists that cover specific problems. I guess you could find out by asking if the doctor in question believes in subluxation theory. If so, he’s a quack.

It means an MD - some one who bases his practice on science.

A majority of chiropractors are quacks, pure and simple. The theory of subluxations is bogus.

A minority of them are “rationally based” - if you can find one of them, he might do some short-term good.

The chiropractor will not “fix” your back problem. There is very little by way of hard evidence that chiropractic has any effect on the course of any disease or condition, certainly not back problems.

Most back problems resolve on their own.


Yeah, even my (very good) back-cracking chiropractor gets the thumbs down when he tries to advise me on diet and supplements. He’s fixed terribly painful problems many times, but I don’t buy the other stuff.

I tend to consider a “good” chiropractor to be much in the same category as a massage therapist. Can provide some symptommatic relief and be useful as one treatment component.

Don’t know what the ratio of “good” vs. “bad” chiros are - perhaps the bad ones are just more noticeable. But there sure do seem to be a lot of them.

Fortunately, my spine is one of the few areas in which I have never experienced significant musculoskeletal problems!

I asked my g.p. several years ago if he’d recommend a chiropractor who wouldn’t try to change my religion. He knew exactly what I meant and gave me a name.

A year ago October, I threw my back out very badly and finally made use of the referral. My chiro does exactly what I want him to do: keeps my back from hurting.

And as soon as I can afford my own traction table, I’m buying one for my guest room.

I’ve heard there’s a 65/35 split between total quack chiros and at least mostly non-quack ones… but I can’t remember which side was which.

My family doctor recommended (very tentatively) a chiro that he himself uses. I have been seeing about every 6 weeks for 17 years. He gave me a set of exercises that I do every morning. Whether it is his treatments or the exercises, my frequent backaches have disappeared (I do get mild back pain occasionally, but much less than the debilitating pain I used to got). One interesting thing is the chiro himself cannot find one he trusts. Oh, he only treats skeletal problems in the back.

I have no idea how to find a good one but it is a triviality to find a bad one.

It’s kind of like going to a mechanic who can give you a good, solid, short-term wheel alignment. When you go back for more work (believing he is a good/legit mechanic) and you tell him to check the engine because it is running a little rough, you get creeped out when he tells you that it’s because your car’s headlights are slightly off balance.

Wow. I could help you innumerable times, too. It’s called, “let’s see your body recover, take credit, and then wait for you to come back and repeat the cycle”.

Yes they are DOCTORS in Canada and the USA. They are not Medical Doctors but Doctors just the same. A lot of people don’t think Veterinarian, an animal Doc are real Doctors either. Or for that matter Dentists but they are. I think an animal Doctor is one of the best along with children’s Doctor because they can’t ask their patients, what the problem is?

I’ll point out that not so long ago in my area of law chiropractors were specifically excluded from acceptible sources of medical evidence. That changed within the past 2 decades. My understanding was that there was considerable lobbying by chiros and concentrated efforts on a number of fronts to gain them access to hospitals, insurance coverage, and the like. If i get around to it, I’ll try to dig up one of the significant decisions by the 7th Cir. that I recall gave a good description of the history of chiro, and ended up finding that it was not useless (at least not as a matter of law).

Vets and dentists are awarded the degree of Doctor in areas which are legitimate sciences, i.e. Veterinary Medicine, and Medical Dentistry or Dental Surgery.

Chiropracty (or The Chiropractic, as some call it) does not, in my opinion (and in the opinion of the vast majority of the scientific community) qualify as a legitimate science.

So the degree of Doctor of Chiropractic does not inherently demand much more respect than a Doctor of Homeopathy or Doctor of Alchemy would, in my mind.

Granted, some holders of the DC degree who deviate away from the principles of the Chiropractic and practice a sort of advanced physical therapy via manipulation, ultrasound, e-stim, and other modalities do some people some good.

As Terry Pratchett pointed out in one of his Discworld books, horse doctors that don’t deliver run the risk of serious repercussions, since horses represent a capital investment, and humans don’t.


My bellwether is the use of the term “subluxation” (as given several times above).

If they use that term or have it on any paperwork, posters or signs, RUN AWAY.

If they repeatedly ask you to return in 2-3 days (and always have the openings for you to do so), RUN AWAY.

A chiropractor and a massage therapist working together can do wonders for musculoskeletal issues.

Your body basically has a series of counterbalancing features that keep you upright. You have three basic reasons structurally why you might get an imbalance.

  1. Spinal misalignment.
    Chiropractor can give you temporary relief but it’s not enough to get it back into shape.

  2. Mismatched muscle tension pulling you out of alignment.
    This can be caused by a few things, one of the more common is a ‘trigger point’ which is normally referred to as a ‘knot’. This can be anything from a myofascial adhesion, where the muscle and the fascia grow into one another. Other times it is an excess of calcium in the muscle tissue locally keeping your muscle in a spasm state. These can be worked out by a Massage Therapist.

  3. Neurological Issues
    This covers muscle memory. Your brain adjust your proprioception based on a normal balance. If your normal balance is improper posture, the brain will remember its resting state in that improper posture. This can only be fixed by training over time.

A good chiropractor and a competent massage therapist can help with pretty nasty stuff and give a remarkable amount of temporary relief. If you do those two together, and do some stretching and other proprioceptive exercises to retrain your brain to remember the better posture, you can improve your posture in the long term.

If you really want to help back pain, I’d recommend a combo of:

Massage Therapist
Exercise regimen

That’s really the best way you’re going to see permanent results from it. But there is no reason why you should think of a chiro as being separate and distinct from your MD, get an MD to look at it.

Please note, the Straight Dope on Chiropractors:

Uhm, no. You couldn’t do it within the span of 2 minutes. But thanks for playing.