What Is Chiropractic?

Chiropractic practice is concerned with the relationship between the structures and functions of the body, with specific focus on the spine and the nervous system.

Chiropractic care examines how this relationship influences the restoration and preservation of general health. Emphasis is placed on manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine to achieve better health outcomes.


Chiropractic is concerned with preventing and treating musculoskeletal mechanical disorders. Chiropractors use manual adjustment and/or manipulation to help relief pain, improve mobility and enhance musculoskeletal health. Chiropractic is frequently used as an alternative treatment for lower-back pain.

A Chiropractor (practitioner of chiropractic) will focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention musculoskeletal mechanical disorders to effectively manage the nervous system.

Chiropractic is patient-centred and is a part of a group of complementary medical treatments widely practiced throughout the western world.

What Chiropractic Can Achieve

  • Pain Relief

    Chiropractic uses a technique called proprioceptive stimulation to initiate postural readjustment and subsequent health benefits. During this process endorphins are released into the body and this helps to reduce pain.

  • Improved Nutrient Supply

    There is no blood supply within the joints. Instead, these structures rely on synovial fluid distributed by joint movement for nutrient supply and toxin removal.

    Restricted joint movements lead to a decline in nutrient supply and further musculoskeletal problems. Spine facet joint are particularly vulnerable to stiffness.

    Chiropractors use specific manipulations of the spine to restore the full range of motions and increase synovial fluid motion.

  • Reduced Nerve Pressure

    Nerves are comprised of soft tissue and do not respond well to pressure. Nerve function can be impeded by inflammation, physical pressure or rubbing.

    Chiropractic adjustment can help to relieve this pressure by realigning joints into the correct position or reinstating the correct range of motion.

  • Enhanced Joint Motion

    Through a technique called proprioceptive retraining, chiropractic may improve overall joint function. Proprioceptive signals are released by joint motion and recorded by the brain.

    By manipulating joints through their full range of functions the brain remembers this new sequence and subsequent functional correction. Not only may this enhance overall spinal function, it can also reduce incidences of chronic pain.

  • Holistic Health Care

    Many chiropractors offer information and advice on exercise, diet and lifestyle adjustments to improve health. This can also include rehabilitation programmes following back injuries and other spinal problems.

    In some case chiropractors will recommend other complementary alternative treatments, such as acupuncture for example.

Why Is Chiropractic Effective?

Essentially, chiropractors specialise in spinal health using therapeutic intervention through manipulative techniques preformed on the vertebral joints located in the spinal column. The aim is to increase vertebral movement and enhance blood flow. This has the effect of decreasing inflammation and optimising nerve function. Consequently, chiropractic can deliver a reduction in pain and overall improvement in posture and mobility performance.

Chiropractic treatment involves applying tension to ligaments and delivering high-velocity thrusts in short bursts to stimulate vertebrae movement. These spinal manipulations may also be complemented by specific nutritional supplements, dietary advice and exercise routines.

Techniques and applications of chiropractic spinal manipulation therapy may vary depending on the practitioner. It is an alternative form of therapy and not part of conventional western medicine. Focusing on evidence-based practice rather than strong scientific research has at times, made chiropractic a controversial therapy.

Which Conditions Can Be Treated By Chiropractic?

Chiropractors may diagnose and treat an array of spinal problems that cause nerve or musculoskeletal pain. Practitioners will perform a neurological and physical assessment, and take into consideration patient history when making their diagnosis.

In some cases a CT scan or X-rays may be required to confirm the diagnosis. Some of the most common musculoskeletal disorders evaluated and treated by chiropractic care include:

  • Back strain and strains

    Approximately 75% of adults will experience back strains or back sprains at some stage during their life. Sprains develop with ligaments become torn or stretched. Strains are related to tendon or muscle damage.

    Both can occur when playing a strenuous sport, lifting too much weight, or twisting in an awkward way during regular activities. The associated pain can vary depending on the severity and be sharp, dull, stabbing, tingling, or aching in nature.

  • Coccydynia

    Characterised by pain located at the tailbone, this condition often develops after a fall or long periods of riding a bike. It can become more painful when sitting. In some cause the pain develops without any obvious cause.

  • Herniated disc

    A herniated disc usually occurs in the neck or low back. It can cause pain when the interior matter (nucleus pulposus) or the outer rings (annulus) exert pressure on a nearby nerve.

  • Cervicogenic headaches

    Referred neck pain causes cervicogenic headaches, where the pain is felt at the back of the neck, behind the eyes and/or the temples. Sometimes this type of headache is misdiagnosed as a cluster headache or migraine.

  • Degenerative disc disease

    As the body ages the intervertebral discs can degenerate due to years of overuse, misuse or strain. The discs may lose elasticity, thickness, flexibility and shock absorption.

  • Myofascial pain

    A condition caused by referred pain, this is a chronic pain disorder where pressure on trigger points result in deep, aching pain in seemingly unrelated parts of the body.

  • Sciatica

    Caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, sciatica can cause moderate to severe pain. It often presents as pain travelling below the knee of one leg and can fell like a sharp, shooting pain.

  • Leg length discrepancy

    In some cases, postural problems can lead to limb length discrepancy where one leg is slightly shorter than the other.

  • Whiplash

    Severe neck strain and/or sprain is the result of ‘whiplash’. This is an injury commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents when the head and neck are rapidly moved forward (hyperflexion) and backward (hyperextension).

How Are Chiropractors Trained & Qualified?

To become a chiropractor, students must complete several years of tertiary study. In some instances students must obtain a degree in science before advancing to chiropractic studies. The exact pathway will depend on the county in which the student is obtaining their qualifications.

In the UK the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) is responsible for regulating and setting the standards in all stages of chiropractic education. There are three institutes currently officially teaching chiropractic care in the UK: Anglo European College of Chiropractic, Welsh Institute of Chiropractic, and the McTimoney College of Chiropractic.

These undergraduate chiropractic programmes are an integrated Masters course which can last from four to five years of full-time study. Students must pass courses covering basic sciences, such as physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, and biomechanics. Clinical sciences such as neurology, radiology, diagnosis, and orthopaedics are also covered. Students need to be proficient in evidence-based interventions, such as manipulative therapies.

Studies Prove That Chiropractic Works

Chiropractic treatments have attracted a lot of criticism from other fields of medicine over the years. However there is clinical evidence to support this alternative therapy, especially in the treatment of chronic low back pain.

A 2011 Cochrane Review assessed randomized controlled trials up until 2006 concerned with mobilisation or manipulation of adults experiencing chronic-low back pain1. Rubinstein and colleagues found that chiropractic care is as effective as other treatments, such as standard medical care.

Although the efficiency of chiropractic care may be similar to other more traditional treatments, the side effects are less detrimental compared with regular use of pain relief medication, for example.

History of Chiropractic

Chiropractic in its infancy was first recognised 1895 in Iowa, America. Daniel David Palmer, a believer in natural healing philosophies, had taken his lead from Osteopathy, a practice developed in the early 19th century.

Palmer preformed the first documented chiropractic adjustment on Harvey Lillard, a partially deaf janitor who believed his earring problems developed following an incident which misplaced one of his vertebras. Following the chiropractic adjustment, Lillard reported that he was no longer deaf.

Two years later, Palmer opened the first school of chiropractic.

Philosophy of Chiropractic

Chiropractors believe that structural and biochemical anomalies of the spine can adversely affect the nervous system. Through chiropractic care, the structural integrity of the spine may be restored. In turn, this helps to reduce the pressure on neurological tissues and can enhance overall health and vitality.

The treatment is based on re-establishing normal spinal mobility. It’s believed that this can re-establish previous reflexes that have lost during periods of poor mobility or where spinal nerve irritation has further contributed to a reduction in normal joint movement.

How to Access Chiropractic Therapy

As chiropractic care is considered a complementary therapy the NHS does not generally cover this form of treatment. A practice nurse or GP can advise on the availability of NHS chiropractic in your local area.

Generally, people who seek chiropractic care will pay for private treatment. The British Chiropractic Association has a comprehensive database of practicing chiropractors which can be searched using location or postcode.

The cost of chiropractic will vary depending on the type of treatment required and the length of the session. Most appointments cost on average between £30-45.

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  1. “Rubinstein, S. et al. (2011). Spinal Manipulative Therapy for Chronic Low-Back Pain: An Update of a Cochrane Review. Spine. Volume 36, Issue 13, (pp. 825-846).”

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