What is a Chiropractor?
The question “What is a chiropractor?” has come up several times recently in the clinic. I have been asked this question throughout my career by patients, friends, family and other healthcare professionals, and it is a good question to ask. I have addressed questions regarding how chiropractic works, what the crack is, and how chiropractic came to be in previous blog posts. But the more relevant question is “What is a Chiropractor?” So, I thought I would tackle this question in this blog post by giving you insight into my education, training and clinical practice. I am sure that not all chiropractors will agree with my analysis of the profession, this is the nature of people and others are welcome to their opinions, but I hope most will agree with the main themes of this blog post.
“… a primary healthcare profession that specialises in the diagnosis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal conditions”. – BCA 2023
Chiropractic Is More Than a Click and a Crack
In a nutshell, Chiropractic is a healthcare profession that falls under the umbrella term of “Manual Therapies”, making Chiropractors manual therapists, where we will also find our friends and colleagues: osteopaths, physiotherapists, sports therapists, and massage therapists among others. As manual therapists, we share common treatment modalities, such as stretches, massage, dry needling, joint mobilisation, joint manipulation, and therapeutic exercise. There is therefore cross-over among the manual therapy professions regarding how we would treat and manage patients’ presenting conditions, and we all see patients with similar conditions (back pain for example). So how is the general public supposed to choose who to seek treatment from? Why is there even a difference between these professions? Why would someone choose to see a chiropractor over an osteopath or any other manual therapist? To answer these questions, I will not put words into the mouths of my colleagues in other professions, instead, I will simply focus on my training and approach to patient management as a chiropractor in this blog post.
Chiropractic has 300+ distinct techniques1,2 which can be its greatest strength or its biggest weakness, depending on where you stand on the matter. Some people see this fact as a lack of congruency and a sign of disagreement within the profession. Others, myself included, see this as a great thing because no two patients will be identical or have identical problems or the same needs, so applying the technique that suits a particular patient’s needs when required is appropriate. It is daft to assume only one technique is needed and is safe to apply to 100% of people with back or neck pain for example.
What is a Chiropractor?
According to the British Chiropractic Association Chiropractic is a “primary healthcare profession that specialises in the diagnosis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal conditions”. My training was five years at university, where I was trained to be a primary care Chiropractic physician, meaning I was trained to undergraduate masters level to perform the following things:
- Take a detailed history of the patient and their presenting complaint.
- Perform a thorough physical and neurological examination of the patient. This includes vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, listen to their heart and lungs, abdominal examination, urine analysis, visual fields, cranial nerve examination, deep tendon reflexes, range of motion for body regions and joints, palpation of the spine and joints of the body among others.
- Perform an examination of the patients posture.
- Assess a patients current health status.
- Perform x-ray examination and interpret those x-rays, assessing for potential causes for the patients complaint, and assess for serious pathology/diseases.
- Interpret any other previous diagnostic imaging the patient may have had and bring them into the current clinical picture.
- Diagnose the patients complaint.
- Formulate an appropriate treatment or management plan for the patients complaint that includes the patients goals and specific requirements for their care.
- Or refer the patient to another healthcare professional if manual therapies is not appropriate for this particular patient. This might include their GP, consultants, or even referral for advance imaging, such as an MRI.
My training as a primary care healthcare professional means that anyone can make an appointment with me with what ever complaint/symptoms they currently have. I will then take a full history of their complaint, I will perform a thorough physical and neurological examination, obtain any x-rays if they are clinically indicated and required to help diagnose the patient. I will then either formulate an appropriate, evidence based treatment/management plan for their complaint and commence treatment. Or I will refer the patient on to another health professional for further investigations, such as blood tests etc or advanced diagnostic imaging. If it is safe to proceed with treatment because the patients complaint is musculoskeletal in origin, then chiropractors will utilise the treatments mentioned above to get the patient on the road to recovery. That is a Chiropractor, that is Chiropractic.
There are general differences in training between the different professions listed above. The main difference I am aware of is that Chiropractors are trained as primary care, meaning we can take a history of the patients complaint, perform physical examinations, diagnose the patient and either start treatment, or make the necessary referrals. Whereas some of the other manual therapists listed above are trained to be secondary or tertiary care clinicians, meaning the patient has been diagnosed elsewhere, and is referred to those clinicians for their treatment. When these clinicians work in an NHS setting, there needs to be a process by which a patient is assessed and diagnosed and sent to the right clinician for the right treatment. Chiropractors traditionally work in the private sector, where this amazing structure does not exist. Therefore, being trained as a primary or first contact practitioner is necessary. There are some highly trained and specialist clinicians in all the manual therapy professions, as not all under graduate training is the same, and others will continue their education to become primary care.
Finding a good clinician who understands your pain, how to manage it and help you with your recovery is the important message from this blog really. What they are called fades into insignificance when you find the right one for you.
I hope you found this blog informative and answered some of your questions regarding what a chiropractor is. This blog could go on forever really, because the different treatment approaches utilised by the manual therapy professions are fascinating and vast. But I will save that for another post!
For more information about what we do here at Spriggs Chiropractic, contact the clinic on 01635 43238 and make an appointment to find out if we can help you.
By Mark Spriggs DC, MChiro, MSc, PGCE, FRCC
- Byfield D. Introduction to Manipulative Skills. In: Chiropractic Manipulative Skills. 2nd ed. Elsevier; 2005:3.
- Copperstein R, Gleberzon BJ. Technique Systems in Chiropractic. Churchill Livingstone; 2004.