What is a chiropractic adjustment?
A chiropractic adjustment is a therapeutic treatment where a licensed chiropractor uses their hands or special instruments to manipulate joints in your body. This treatment is also called spinal manipulation or joint manipulation. A chiropractic adjustment can help reduce pain, correct your body’s alignment and how your body functions physically. Chiropractic adjustments offer treatment that complements traditional medical care you receive.
Who is a chiropractor?
A chiropractor treats many conditions affecting the nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Think of a chiropractor as a doctor who cares for any kind of muscle, bone or joint pain or dysfunction. The most common reasons for a chiropractic adjustment include:
- Lower back pain.
- Neck pain.
- Muscle pain.
In addition, chiropractors can treat musculoskeletal pain anywhere in your body: in your head and jaws, shoulders, elbows and wrists, hips and pelvis and your knees and ankles.
What does a chiropractor do?
Chiropractors treat aches, pains, creaks and strains. If you’ve got a problem that involves your musculoskeletal system, a chiropractor can offer alternative methods of treatment that don’t involve prescribing medicine.
Treatment that a chiropractor may offer includes:
- Adjustments: To gently realign joints to decrease pain and increase range of motion.
- Soft-tissue therapy: To relax tight muscles, relieve spasms and release tension in the connective tissue that surrounds each muscle (fascia).
- Exercises and stretches: To restore and maintain joint stability and mobility.
- Joint bracing/taping (Kinesio taping): To support sprained joints or muscles as they heal.
- Referrals to integrative medicine experts: For guidance on diet and nutrition to reduce inflammation and/or promote healthy eating to manage weight.
What does a chiropractic adjustment treat/manage?
Each person who seeks a chiropractic adjustment has a unique reason for their appointment, but all chiropractic adjustments treat your musculoskeletal system. Some people choose to have a chiropractic adjustment if they have the following conditions:
- Frequent headaches.
- Healing after an accident or whiplash.
- Joint pain and dysfunction.
- Lower back pain.
- Neck pain.
- Stiff muscles or muscle aches.
Chiropractors make sure not only that your joints are moving properly, but also that your surrounding muscles are functioning as well.
Why is a chiropractic adjustment done?
Chiropractic adjustments focus on alleviating symptoms that affect the musculoskeletal system. This could be to treat aches and pain, muscle stiffness or chronic conditions. Some people choose to get a chiropractic adjustment if they want an alternative form of treatment that doesn’t involve taking prescription medicine.
How common are chiropractic adjustments?
Chiropractic adjustments are the most common alternative treatment option in the United States.
Who can get a chiropractic adjustment?
A chiropractic adjustment is an effective treatment option for all ages, including both children and adults. The most common age range for someone to seek chiropractic care is between 45 and 64 years old. It’s more common for people assigned female at birth rather than people assigned male at birth to visit a chiropractor.
You should receive a screening before a chiropractic adjustment to ensure that you're a good candidate for chiropractic care. If chiropractic care is not appropriate for your condition, your chiropractor will refer you to another healthcare provider to help you.
What happens before a chiropractic adjustment?
At your first visit, your chiropractor will discuss your medical history and perform a physical exam. If needed, they’ll order diagnostic imaging tests done to understand more about your musculoskeletal system including:
After learning more about your symptoms and what might be causing your discomfort, your chiropractor will develop a unique treatment plan based on exam findings and the results of your tests.
What happens during a chiropractic adjustment?
During a chiropractic adjustment, your chiropractor will offer treatment that is unique to meet your needs.
You will lie face down on a chiropractic table that allows certain parts of your body (divided into segments) to lift slightly higher than the rest, which helps your chiropractor apply pressure to a specific area.
Your chiropractor will use their hands or small instruments to apply a quick, controlled force (amount of pressure) to a joint or they will gently stretch your joints beyond their normal range of motion. This helps align the vertebrae in your spine if they were slightly off-center and release gases trapped within your joints.
What is the popping sound I hear during a chiropractic adjustment?
You may feel and hear a popping or cracking sensations during a chiropractic adjustment. These are gases, like oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, released from your joints. Gas gets trapped in small cavities of your joints when you move and stretch. While this gas release may be more apparent during a chiropractic adjustment, you experience a similar sound when you crack your knuckles.
Does a chiropractic adjustment hurt?
Chiropractic adjustments offer little to no pain during a procedure, similar to what you might feel after a workout. You will not feel severe pain during a chiropractic adjustment. Your chiropractor will apply a controlled amount of force (pressure) to your joints, which creates a cracking or popping noise as the gas leaves your joints. While this may sound painful, it doesn’t feel painful.
What happens after a chiropractic adjustment?
After a chiropractic adjustment, you might feel mild soreness or have very minor aches in areas of your body that your chiropractor worked on. This feeling usually goes away within 24 hours and rarely affects people who see a chiropractor regularly.
After your appointment, your chiropractor might recommend “homework” for you to extend your therapy after an adjustment. These recommendations might include:
- Exercises and stretches.
- Proper ergonomics for improving your posture.
- Icing/heat therapy or topical analgesics.
- Advice on nutrition, diet, weight or general health.
- Ways to manage stress and relax muscles.
- Electrical muscle stimulation using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS).
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of a chiropractic adjustment?
There are several benefits of a chiropractic adjustment including:
- Helps minimize migraines and neck-related headaches.
- Improves your posture.
- Reduces pain and improves range of motion of your spine and other joints.
- Reduces symptoms of chronic conditions like osteoarthritis.
- Treats minor neck or spine injuries, especially whiplash.
What are the side effects or complications of a chiropractic adjustment?
After a chiropractic adjustment, you may feel tired or sore. Some people might get mild headaches after a chiropractic adjustment. These side effects are temporary.
In rare cases, chiropractic care may cause serious complications such as:
- Herniated disks.
- Pinched nerves in the lower spine (cauda equina syndrome).
You have a higher risk of side effects or complications if you have adjustments from people who aren’t trained and licensed. Only a licensed, professional chiropractor should treat you.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the recovery time for a chiropractic adjustment?
Many people feel almost immediate relief from symptoms after a chiropractic adjustment. After treatment, you might feel sore for 24 hours.
The goal of a chiropractic adjustment is to restore your health over the long term, rather than to relieve your symptoms short term. Your chiropractor will encourage you to learn about new ways to position your body at your desk, when you’re standing and moving and when you’re in bed. They might also recommend incorporating stretches into your daily routine. These long-term tips can help prevent future problems.
It’s important to inform your primary care physician about any pain you’re experiencing, whether recent or chronic (lasting more than three months). Your primary care doctor can rule out potentially serious problems that need treatment beyond a chiropractic adjustment.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you receive a chiropractic adjustment and you feel unusual symptoms, such as weakness, numbness or worsening pain, contact your healthcare provider immediately for an evaluation.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chiropractic adjustments might be right for you if you experience pain and want an alternative form of treatment. Most people will feel immediate relief after a chiropractic adjustment, while others could experience temporary minor pain after treatment. If you’re unsure if seeking chiropractic care is right for you, talk with your primary care provider about your symptoms and concerns.
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