By Dr. Deanna Minkler
What is chiropractic?
Chiropractic is a branch of healing arts based on the understanding that good health depends, in part, upon a normally functioning nervous system – especially the spine and the nerves extending from the spine to all parts of the body. It is a drugless, non-surgical therapy utilizing manipulation of the spine and extremities, as well as clinical nutrition, physiologic therapeutics, massage, lifestyle counseling, hygiene, acupuncture, rehabilitation, and overall wellness promotion to prevent and treat disease.
“Chiropractic” comes from the Greek word chiropraktikos, meaning “effective treatment by hand.” Like all other therapeutic methods, chiropractic is not and does not profess to be an all-inclusive art of healing. It acknowledges limitations, recognizes the need for consultation and referral, and is respectfully aware of the efficacy of other forms of therapy.
What is a Doctor of Chiropractic?
Doctors of chiropractic are primary care physicians who specialize in the treatment of neuro-musculoskeletal disorders. Chiropractic physicians seek to establish a correct interpretation (diagnosis) of the condition of patients and apply effective treatments. They are qualified practitioners in methods of physical, clinical, laboratory, and x-ray diagnosis to determine the therapeutic needs that might exist.
What does a chiropractor do?
The examination of the spine to evaluate structure and function is what makes chiropractic different from other health care procedures. Chiropractors work with the bones and nerves of the spinal column and spinal cord, as well as the surrounding musculature and soft tissue.
Your spinal column is a series of movable bones which begin at the base of your skull and end in the center of your hips. Thirty-one pairs of nerves extend down the spine and exit through a series of openings. The nerves leave the spine and form a complicated network that influences every living tissue in the body. Chiropractors locate where spinal vertebrae are impinging the nerves – called a “subluxation” – and correct that misalignment using an adjustment.
What is a subluxation?
A vertebral subluxation is a misalignment of the spine that interferes with your nerves. It can create disease, lowered resistance to disease, pain, imbalance, fatigue, and can pave the way for ill health. Subluxations can manifest as decreased range of motion, tingling, numbness, muscle spasm, and “knots” in the muscles. They may also cause pain elsewhere in the body; for example, headaches, stomach pain, digestive complaints, breathing difficulty, menstrual cramps, sinus/allergy trouble, etc.
What causes a subluxation?
Often people are totally unaware that they have subluxations in their spines. That is because many nerves send no pain messages and are not composed of sensory fibers. For example, you can feel when something happens to your skin (which is full of sensory fibers) but not your liver (which has no sensory fibers).
So what causes a subluxation? Subluxations are caused by stresses to your body. This can be “micro-stress” such as poor posture, dental work, emotional stress, and repetitive motions. Or they can be caused by “macro-stress” such as accidents, falls, sports injuries, and other traumas. Subluxations can occur from a difficult birth or from childhood falls. It is for this reason that infants and children need spinal care; many neurologic and other health problems have been traced to spinal damage at birth.
Can you tell if you need a chiropractic adjustment on your own?
Another way I often hear this question is, “I’m feeling fine, why should I see a chiropractor?” The answer is a subluxation can be compared to a dental cavity – the first symptom that you have a cavity is not the moment the cavity began. You may have a cavity developing for a long time with no noticeable symptoms. The same can occur with spinal subluxations. Just because you are not experiencing any symptoms does not mean that you do not have a subluxation. That is why periodic examinations by a chiropractor are so often recommended.
What is an adjustment?
Chiropractic care is known (but not exclusively) for its use of the adjustment, sometimes called manipulation. An adjustment is a precise procedure in which the trained Doctor of Chiropractic exerts a specific corrective pressure at specific places on your spine or other joint. When a thorough examination reveals joints that are not in proper function, adjustments are applied to correct joint alignment/mobility, relieve associated muscle and nerve tension, improve balance, and assist healing.
What causes the “noise” of the adjustment?
Not all adjusting techniques that chiropractors use produce the popping noise that we associate with “cracking out knuckles.” Some chiropractic adjusting techniques make no sound at all. But many chiropractors do use techniques that create, in many instances, the popping sound of a spinal “release.” So what causes the noise? Contrary to some beliefs, it is not bones cracking or popping, it is simply carbon dioxide and nitrogen gasses that rush in to fill a partial vacuum created when the joint surfaces are slightly separated. It is this displacement of joint fluid that causes the noise.
Does “cracking” your knuckles cause arthritis and “big” joints?
No, that is just an old wives tale! There was actually a study done on that subject and there was no correlation between cracking your knuckles and arthritis or “big” joints. The only finding the study realized was that cracking your knuckles annoyed the person next to you!
Does an adjustment hurt?
Usually an adjustment does not hurt. Some might feel a momentary minor discomfort during the adjustment, but this is usually followed by a feeling of relaxation. Others feel a slight soreness for a day after their first adjustment, and describe it as if they have “worked out too hard.” This can occur because the chiropractor has re-aligned a spinal segment that was out of alignment for quite some time. Adjustments or manipulations are extremely safe.
How long will it take until I feel better after an adjustment?
Every “body” that comes into a chiropractic office is different. Some people experience relief after one adjustment, while it may take several adjustments for others to find relief. The Doctor of Chiropractic will take a past and present illness history, perform a comprehensive neurologic, orthopedic, and chiropractic examination, and may order x-rays or laboratory tests. The doctor then establishes a diagnosis and determines what type of treatment is needed. The doctor also performs re-evaluations to determine progress and further treatment if needed.
Why do you have to go back to a chiropractor more than once?
I liken the process of adjustments to working out at a gym. In order for you to increase and maintain strength of the muscles, you have to adapt a routine. This means working out several times a week. If you were to work out at the gym only one day a week, it would take you much longer to notice results than if you went three times or more a week.
It is the same with a chiropractic adjustment. The doctor has to “re-train” the muscles and vertebrae to stay in alignment, and this needs repetitive adjustments. However, once improvement is noted, the frequency of visits decreases until you are only getting adjusted every few weeks or months.
Can I go to a chiropractor only once?
Of course. Once is better than never. But chiropractic is much more than a glorified aspirin. One adjustment may relieve the pain, but most likely has not corrected the problem. It’s best to ask your chiropractor what your spinal care needs are.
Who should visit a chiropractor?
Anybody who has a spine! Anyone who is experiencing any kind of complaint may benefit from chiropractic care. This includes low back pain, neck pain, hip pain, sciatica, headaches, arthritis, sports injuries, shoulder pain, knee pain, foot/ankle pain, sprain/strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain, allergies, asthma, ADD, colic, ear infection, fatigue, fibromyalgia, and digestive problems, just to name a few.
Why should I go to a chiropractor?
Having a healthy spine makes good common sense. If you’re sick, you should strengthen your natural healing ability. If you’re feeling fine, you should remember that vertebral subluxations often do not show symptoms for years, but are preventing the body from functioning at 100%. You and your family should receive periodic spinal examinations to make sure you are living free of hidden subluxations so you’re functioning at your fullest.
Is chiropractic care addictive?
Only if you’re addicted to being as healthy as you can be. There is no physiologic addiction to chiropractic adjustments like there is to say, cigarettes. It is possible to get used to feeling healthier, less stressed, and more energetic as a result of chiropractic adjustments; and you may become more “in tune” with your body and know when you need to be adjusted.
Do chiropractors have medical degrees?
No. Chiropractors earn degrees from chiropractic colleges. The degree earned is Doctor of Chiropractic – the “D.C.” seen after chiropractors’ names. The education is similar to that of a medical doctor in some respects, different in others. Chiropractors actually have more training when it comes to anatomy and physiology of the body.
How long do chiropractors go to school?
There are currently 16 chiropractic colleges in the United States, 10 of which were established prior to 1945. Standards for chiropractic education have been established an are monitored by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) – including curriculum, faculty and staff, facilities, patient care, and research. CCE standards and chiropractic licensing board requirements influence admissions requirements.
For admission to a chiropractic college, a minimum of three years of undergraduate education is required, including successful courses in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, psychology, English/communications, and the humanities.
Each chiropractic college has different requirements beyond the minimum determined by the CCE. 90 credits are required for admission by most chiropractic colleges. However, my school, The National College of Chiropractic (now National University of Health Sciences), was the first school to require a bachelor’s degree before admission. Many state licensing boards require a bachelor’s degree in addition to the doctor of chiropractic degree.
Chiropractic programs differ from school to school. Some chiropractic colleges offer a four-year academic program, while others offer a five-year program. All schools complete almost 5,000 hours of course work. The programs focus on basic sciences, adjustive techniques, principles and practice of chiropractic, physiologic therapeutics, and biomechanics.
Personally, I received a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college, and my doctor of chiropractic degree from a five-year chiropractic college. Therefore, I completed nine years of post-secondary education.
Do chiropractors just adjust?
There are chiropractors who use the adjustment as their only means of healing. Others may implement acupuncture, nutrition, rehab, reflexology, massage, homeopathy, and exercise, as well.
What does acupuncture do?
Traditional Chinese acupuncturists believe that life energy called “Qi” (pronounced chi) flows through the body via a series of energy channels, or pathways, called meridians. Treatment involves stimulating the body’s own natural healing energies by influencing the Qi by using needles at specific points along these meridians. The theory is that this stimulation of the body releases energy blockages which exist when a person has chronic pain or any other type of physical or emotional problem. Acupuncture helps to balance Qi.
Does my insurance cover chiropractic?
Most insurances do cover chiropractic. It’s best to call your insurance carrier to determine exactly what type of coverage your policy has.
Why did you decide to become a chiropractor?
I made that decision when I was 9 years old! I was introduced to chiropractic at an early age because I have an uncle who is a chiropractor. He practices in Ohio, and although I grew up in New Jersey, I spent summers there as a child and teenager. I was one of those kids that always had ear infections. One summer, while staying with my grandparents, I had one of those infections, complete with fever. My grandma took me to be adjusted by my uncle, and I remember feeling much better later that day. My fever was gone and my ear no longer hurt.
I also found out not too long ago that my uncle used to let me hang out at the office, so I most likely saw him getting people better and this made a great impression on me! At 9, no one believed I was serious about being a chiropractor. But once I was in high school and still pursuing chiropractic, they realized how serious I was. It wasn’t just a decision that I had made, but a passion I felt inside.
The summer before my senior year of high school, my uncle let me work in his office. This solidified my decision to become a chiropractor. One of the most significant events of that summer was seeing a woman with a severe migraine headache being carried into the office by her husband. She couldn’t be in the light and was vomiting from the headache. After being worked on by my uncle for half an hour, the woman walked out of the room with a big smile on her face (and a big thank you!). I’ll never forget that moment.
I also worked for other chiropractors during the summer and winter breaks from undergrad the three years previous to beginning chiropractic college.
I cannot express the satisfaction I have received from first working as a chiropractic assistant, then as an intern, and finally as a chiropractic physician. When you have a patient tell you that they slept through the night for the first time in three years after their first adjustment; or a patient tells you they feel the best they have ever felt in their life after being on care; or a mother tells you that her 2-year-old is not longer stuttering after being adjusted, it makes all the hard work tremendously worthwhile!
Do you have any suggestions for someone thinking of getting into the field?
Do research, call your local chiropractors and ask if you can visit, visit chiropractic colleges to take tours and speak to students, talk to people that are under chiropractic care, see a chiropractor yourself. It’s a lot of hard work to get that degree in your hand, but the opportunities that piece of paper gives you are endless.
I’m a transplant from Edison, New Jersey, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I was very involved in sports and music growing up. I played basketball and softball throughout grade school and high school. I also played piano, flute, and piccolo (although these instruments would probably present a slight challenge to me these days!).
I attended Bradley University in Peoria, IL, where I earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major of biology and psychology.
In the fall of 1993 I began my studies at the National College of Chiropractic (NCC) in Lombard, IL (now National University of Health Sciences). The curriculum is very demanding and takes five academic years to complete. However, the school offers the full curriculum year round, so you are able to finish in 3-1/3 years. I graduated from NCC in April 1997.
Before graduating from NCC, I began working at a chiropractic office on the South Side near Midway airport as a chiropractic assistant. After graduation I became an associate doctor at that practice. In 1999, I opened my first office in Lincoln Park. For the last 5 years I have provided coverage service for doctors. That is, when doctors had to be away from their office, I attended to their patients for them.
Now, my partners and I have opened Sauganash Wellness Center in the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago. In the 9 years since I graduated I have seen thousands of patients with many different conditions and each and every one has helped me learn to be a better physician in some way. I look forward to enhancing the lives of many more people in our new office.