What is chiropractic adjustment?
A licensed chiropractor uses special instruments or their hands to manipulate joints in the body. This process is also called spinal or joint manipulation. It can help reduce pain and correct the body’s alignment and overall physical function.
Chiropractors treat many conditions affecting the nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Chiropractic care can help with low back pain, headache, neck pain, muscle pains and other joints of the body.
What is a chiropractor?
Think of a chiropractor as a doctor who cares for any kind of muscle, joint or bone pain. Chiropractors can complement the traditional medical care you receive.
What does a chiropractor do?
Understanding what chiropractors do is pretty simple: think of aches, pains, creaks and strains. If you’ve got a problem that involves your musculoskeletal system, a chiropractor can offer alternative methods of treatment.
Chiropractors do not prescribe medication; this allows them to think outside the box. A chiropractor may prescribe:
- Soft-tissue therapy: To relax tight muscles, relieve spasm and release tension in the fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds each muscle).
- Adjustments: To gently realign joints and increase range of motion.
- Joint bracing/taping (e.g., Kinesio taping): To support sprained joints or muscles as they heal.
- Exercises and stretches: To restore and maintain mobility and range of motion.
- Referrals to integrative medicine experts: For guidance on diet and nutrition to reduce inflammation and promote weight loss.
Treatments generally do not hurt. But soreness — similar to what you might feel after a workout — is a common side effect. Over time, however, your muscles adjust.
Chiropractors can treat pain anywhere in the body: in the head and jaws, the shoulders, the elbows and wrists, the hips and pelvis, and the knees and ankles.
They look at the whole musculoskeletal system and treat the root of the problem. Chiropractors make sure not only that the joints are moving properly, but also that surrounding muscles are functioning well.
Chiropractors treat problems in people of all ages. Depending on the patient, the intensity and force of treatments vary. All patients are screened to ensure that they are good candidates for chiropractic care. For example, many older patients have some thinning or softening of the bones that would rule out joint manipulation. If chiropractic care is too risky for a patient, they will guide them to the right people and resources.
What should I expect from chiropractic adjustment?
At your first visit, your chiropractor discusses your medical history and performs a physical exam. You may have diagnostic tests including:
- X-rays, which use small amounts of electromagnetic radiation to visualize internal structures.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan, which uses X-rays to create detailed pictures of internal body structures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan using radio waves and strong magnetic fields to generate pictures of the body.
Your chiropractor develops a treatment plan based on your symptoms, exam findings and the results of tests. Then your chiropractor uses their hands or small instruments to apply a quick, controlled force to a joint. You may feel a popping or cracking sensation.
Your chiropractor may recommend other therapies along with chiropractic. These may include:
- Advice on nutrition, diet, weight or general health.
- Electrical muscle stimulation using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS).
- Icing or heat therapy.
- Exercises and stretches.
- Ways to manage stress and relax muscles.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of chiropractic adjustment?
Chiropractic care helps reduce pain from:
- Migraines and neck-related headaches.
- Neck or spine injuries.
- Joint issues in the arms, legs, and shoulders.
What are the risks of chiropractic adjustment?
After chiropractic treatment, you may feel tired or sore. Some people also get headaches.
In rare cases, chiropractic care may cause serious complications such as:
Complications are more likely when an unlicensed person performs your treatment. Only a licensed professional chiropractor should treat you.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have chiropractic adjustment?
Many people feel almost immediate relief from symptoms after chiropractic treatment.
But the goal of chiropractic care is to restore your health over the long term, rather than to relieve your symptoms over the short term. So a chiropractor will ask how you move throughout the day (standing, sitting, ++walking++) and how you sleep at night.
Learning how to position your body at your desk, when you’re standing and moving, and when you’re in bed — and incorporating stretches into your daily routine — can be invaluable in preventing 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.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my doctor?
If you have chiropractic care, watch out for any unusual symptoms, such as weakness, numbness or worsening pain. If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately for an evaluation.
What else should I know about chiropractic care?
Only a licensed chiropractor (a doctor of chiropractic, or DC) should perform adjustments. You have a higher risk of side effects or complications if you have adjustments from people who aren’t trained and licensed.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy