Are all chiropractors quacks?
March 30, 2005 4:42 PM   Subscribe

Are all chiropractors quacks? Are there good ones and bad ones, or is the whole professional a big scam?
posted by medpt to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are good ones and bad ones, but they are definitely not quacks. If you want my testimonial, I'll gladly share it with you, but I'm walking out the door. Email me if you're interested.
posted by Specklet at 4:51 PM on March 30, 2005

Rough guide, after having visited several good and bad chiropractors over the years: the ones who say they can cure your allergies/thyroid disease/heart condition/dandruff via adjustments are quacks. (Another tip-off: they may want to test your hair, give you full body X-rays, sell you on a whole range of nutrional supplements right off the bat, and/or may express hostility or disdain for standard/Western medicine, diagnostics, etc.) Based on my experiences with this type of chiropractor: run away as fast as you can.

The ones who say they can help you with back and neck pain, posture, flexibility, etc. are not quacks. (They also are likely willing to work with your existing medical history/diagnoses/etc.) Work with them for awhile and see if you get some good results. The three good chiropractors I've had over the years (and one in particular) were wonderful and really helped improve my sciatica and posture.
posted by scody at 5:00 PM on March 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

I was going to post. But then I read what scody wrote. He's completely dead on. So now I'm not going to bother, except to throw my support behind scody's answer.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:21 PM on March 30, 2005

what scody said - and a bit more:

my wonderful chiropractor in Langley, just outside of Vancouver, helped me deal with the searing pain of sciatica. That's an inflammation that develops in the lower back and reverberates down the leg, even below the knee.

I would add another metric to the rough guide - if your problem is your lower back, then your chiro should not be manipulating your neck.

Some will try to do a 'whole body approach' whereas my chiro worked only on what ailed me, reduced my pain, increased my flexibility, and helped me put together a set of exercises that got me rid of the sciatic issues.

I would also recommend getting recommendations for a chiropractor, and also getting references. Read up on the person, do a google on them, and look at the articles that this person has published.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

My chiropractor took a full body x-ray, but didn't charge me for it, and made sure I realized that it belongs to me and if I ever leave him I can take it to my new doc. He also does the stroke test on a regular basis before he manipulates my neck. Before a treatment he gives me hot packs on my back and a massage to loosen up my muscles. I adore him. My migraines and back pain are gone.
There's my testimonial!

If you want something more substantial than personal testimonials, you might want to try a search for chiropractic effectiveness or something of the like.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:14 PM on March 30, 2005

scody (who, incidentally, is female) is absolutely correct. Can a chiropractor cure your asthma or baldness? Of course not. But can a chiropractor soothe your back pain and improve your posture? You bet your ass he or she can, if he or she is a skilled professional like any doctor should be. (Full disclosure: My uncle is a retired chiropractor, and he was one of the good ones.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:45 PM on March 30, 2005

What scody said. The only thing that my chiropractor does that bugs me a little is that he wants me to go more frequently. His office is not exactly around the corner, and that is part of it, but I do get in there every six weeks or so for a tune up. When I ran seriously, he would adjust my feet, which must be experienced. Wow. Now that I ride bikes, he fixes my neck and back. On one visit, he knew before I told him that I had crashed my bike. Find a good one and stick with him/her.
posted by fixedgear at 7:07 PM on March 30, 2005

My girlfriend is a physiotherapist; when I asked her about going to see a chiropractor for my neck injury (herniated C 5-6), she said "Sure, go for it. I hope you enjoy your stroke."

Needless to say, I didn't go. However, I have friends who swear by their chiro, but they tend to complain about the number of visits required, which really adds up.
posted by krunk at 7:17 PM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

What's the condition or injury you're thinking about seeing a chiro about? Depending on what it is, a physical therapist or orthopedist might be more appropriate. (And if you have insurance, their services are a lot more likely to be covered than a chiro's).

On the other hand, I do think chiropractic does have legitmacy (though had to meet some very creepy and/or quackish practioners before finding the right one). Every couple of years, the same disk slips out of place and OH THE PAIN. M.D.s just shrug and offer painkillers. Whereas my beloved chiropractor does things that make very scary crunching noises, but the disk pops back into place and ahhhhhh goodbye agony. One visit, problem solved.

krunk, thanks for that stroke info. that's sobering stuff.

The medical profession does look down its nose, way down, at chiropractic. Florida State University recently was forced to give up $9 that had been allocated for opening the nartion's first public chiropractic college, after FSU medical school professors and Florida legislators objected vehemently.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:03 PM on March 30, 2005, $9 million...
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:17 PM on March 30, 2005

Try an osteopath (D.O.) that does cranial-sacral work instead.
posted by gingembre at 8:18 PM on March 30, 2005

My chiropractic testimonial:

I had a bizarre, inexplicable, but insane pain in my neck and left shoulder that radiated down my left arm and caused numbness and made my life suck in ways it had never sucked before. A doctor offered pain killers or surgery. Being 31, I did not want back surgery and pain killers seemed kind of dumb. So my RN mother suggested a chiropractic visit.

The chiropractor took an x-ray as a diagnostic tool. All good chiros should do this. He then gave me an estimate of how many treatments it would take. This is also good. No "keep coming until it feels better" jive, just "20 visits, lessening in frequency until you come once a week and after 20 we'll discuss what happens next." When my insurance decided they would pay for surgery or drugs but not chiropractic treatment, he continued to charge me only my co-pay amount. Amazing.

The treatment itself included some electro-buzz stuff that felt pretty good, so I didn't care if it was actually doing anything, some massage, and adjustments. At around ten visits the pain went away and at about 17, the numbness stopped and I ended my visits and this was a year ago and it hasn't been back since.

The only quacky thing the chiropractor did was suggest I try the "Master Cleanser" diet. When I pointed out that it would probably not be a good idea for someone at my activity level (I was going to the gym five times a week then) to not eat for ten days, he backed off and didn't push the issue.

So I back up Scody's assessment above. I wouldn't go to a chiropractor for general health concerns but if something painful happens to my back again, I will go back to a chiropractor in a heartbeat.
posted by jennyb at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2005

I love my chiropractor. I had to look for a while until I found the right one, but I am really happy with him. The "right one" needed to be/do the following: (1) Be taller than me. I'm over 6', and little chiros just can't do the adjustments that make me feel better. (2) Not bug me about coming in on a regular basis. When my back is out or feels like it might go, I see him, but not at any other time. My chiro is fine with that.

(If you live in the Chicago area, I'd be happy to give his name--email me.)
posted by goatdog at 9:05 PM on March 30, 2005

I also agree wholeheartedly with Scody's succinct but apt answer.

Interestingly, I have seen dozens of xrays from chiros offices, and every one is a muddy disaster of underpenetrated shadows, so while I agree in general with the idea of xrays at the initial visit (sometimes) it often strains the limits of professional diplomacy when I have to explain why the films the patient brought along need updating.

Chiros have only themselves to blame for the sheer variability and roulette within their ranks. On the good end, I recently attended a back pain seminar at Mayo and was impressed that they have a chiropracter on staff. He said as much, essentially along the lines of what scody already put so eloquently.

I often tell patients that if someone tells them they know the exact cause of their back pain then they're lying or they are, in so many words, full of shit, other than in specific, rare instances of obvious neural compression. The best, objective minds still cannot isolate the specific causes of most back pain.
posted by docpops at 9:46 PM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Try an osteopath (D.O.) that does cranial-sacral work instead.

Though that's controverial as well.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:15 PM on March 30, 2005

I've had lots of patients who've reported good results from chiropractors, and I get the feeling that there are good ones out there.

I have only one word of advice: don't let them do high-velocity neck manipulations. I've seen enough vertebral dissections from these - even in young, otherwise healthy people - that I don't think they're safe. Vertebral dissection can cause permanent quadriplegia and death.

I also tend to think that chiropractors should not be performing or interpreting EMGs, but some state licensing boards apparently don't agree with me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:09 AM on March 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

What scody said.

I was just at the chiro this morning, and he has gotten me back on the road after I foolishly ran injured one time too often. They can be very good with back stuff. What I would really add is that for the most part (see C spine caveats upthread) they are a low-impact first line treatment. If it doesn't work, go elsewhere, they can always cut you later.
posted by OmieWise at 6:06 AM on March 31, 2005

When I was 19 I slipped on some spilled ice and herniated a disc in my lower back. As the nerve became more pinched I had increasing trouble walking and sitting, and half of my foot went completely numb. I also completely lost any reflex in the achilles tendon in that foot, and had no resistance strength in that leg at all. After eight months of doctor visits and standard physical therapy with pretty much no improvement, my girlfriend finally convinced me to go see a chiropractor. I pretty much assumed they were all quacks, but at that point I was willing to try something new since what I had been doing wasn't working for me at all.

In my first visit the chiropractor took an x-ray, tested my reflexes and resistance, and some other standard doctor kind of stuff. Then he adjusted me. He tested my reflex again, and it was back to normal. He tested my resistance strength and I had full strength in my leg again. That was after just one adjustment. In under 30 minutes I saw substantially more improvement than in eight months of physical therapy.

Of course by that point my back was trained to be in a bad position, so it took perhaps five or six months of adjustments before everything stayed put. At first it was three times per week, and it gradually scaled down.

So yeah, if you are having back pain or other nerve pain that stems from the spine a good chiropractor can work wonders for you.
posted by Lokheed at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2005

Where I live, blocks from "the birthplace of chiropractic care," there is an office on every corner and there are many questionable chiros about (many good ones too). The Palmer family ("inventors" of chiropractic) are quite an eccentric lot. I'll see if I can find some of their stories to post, but for now I'm off to work.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:13 AM on March 31, 2005

A couple thoughts:
I see my chiropractor every month or so, and every time she notices that my right leg is up to an inch shorter than my left. After some adjustments to my hips and lower back, I'm even again. Usually there is a correlation between leg shortness and the number and intensity of pains in my back, neck, and shoulders. Generally her purpose is to free up my vertebrae and ribs so they can move.

My wife was in a car accident that messed up her wrist. The chiro worked on it two or three times a month, and it's now good. So, while I wouldn't see one to treat allergies, they can do more than fix your back.

My chiropractor insists that I get regular massages. I like that she doesn't presume to fix it all herself, and I like seeing my lovely massage therapist.
posted by booth at 7:59 AM on March 31, 2005

The literature is clear on the fact that almost all acute back pain episodes clear up on their own within two to three months. It doesn't matter if you treat it with analgesics, massage, chiro, or sage-burning. People turn to whatever therapy most assuages their need for palliation and reassurance, so it is good to have options. But the ongoing rhetoric of massage and chiro, etc. that they are mobilizing trapped tissues, putting vertebrae back into alignment, etc., is just absurd. They aren't Legos.

That said, there is something inherently more sound about hands on therapy. I openly admit that allopathic medicine's tools for low back pain are poor, but we may be the most honest when it comes to counseling patients about the realities of treatment.
posted by docpops at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Booth, doesn't that indicate to you that there is an underlying condition that, if fixed, would alleviate the short-leg/sore-back problem?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on March 31, 2005

I had very bad allergies and was weak and sickly when I was a kid. After the first visit to the chiropractor, at the age of about seven, I'm told that I was like a new kid.

Now it's totally possible that I would have grown out of it eventually anyway. And it's totally possible that my parents wanted so badly for the chiropractic that they were spending an outlandish amount of money on to have some effect that they misattributed any improvement that occurred to the chiropractic. I am not leaning that direction because we had moved across the country to Arizona for the improved climate and seen no effects, so we moved back. My dad is so cheap that I'm sure if there had not been obvious effects, he would have stopped the treatments pretty quickly.

In any case, I had chiropractic at first weekly, then monthly, until I was well into my teens.

I cannot prove it worked, nor explain how it worked, if it did. But I cannot rule it out, either.
posted by kindall at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2005

My dad was a surgeon and generally dismissed chiropractors as quacks but admitted that some of his patients had benefited from using them.

There was a chiropractor booth at a health fair at my college. I went in out of curiosity. They had me stand with one foot each on two bathroom scales. Because one read 90 and the other 100lbs. they said I was out of balance. Then they had me stand next to a rope with a weight on the bottom suspended from the ceiling. They said my spine did not match the perfectly straight rope. One seemed very concerned and asked if I had ever been diagnosed with scoliosis. When I told my dad about all of this he almost fell off his chair laughing.
posted by vronsky at 11:27 AM on March 31, 2005

FYI for fivefreshfish: My chiro has theories about what's causing the shortness on my right. I collect stress on my right side, I carry my shoulder bag on that side, I hold the dog's leash in that hand, etc. But - at least in her office - the short leg is an indication of how messed up my back is. It is the first thing she checks, as a prediction of how much work she'll have to do on me. The shortness is not the problem - the tightness is. I never even notice it - most times it's just a half inch or so off.
posted by booth at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2005

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