Myth 1: Chiropractic Care is Dangerous
A study from Johns Hopkins showed that there are over 250,000 deaths a year from medical errors, with numbers even estimated to be much higher. So over a quarter million deaths alone are from medical errors. This is actually the THIRD leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. Scary.
The numbers of adverse effects as a result of chiropractic treatments is nearly non-existent compared to the above statistic.
The greatest indicator, though, of the safety of chiropractic care malpractice insurance premiums. No one that knows risks better then malpractice insurance companies – it’s their business. They are the front lines, seeing the claims first hand and they are the ones paying out on the claims. So they certainly do their homework when it comes to the risks involved with these procedures.
The malpractice insurance premium for a primary care physician or general practitioner medical doctor starts at around $10,000 per year and that is on the lower end. Malpractice insurance for a chiropractor is around $2000 a year and that is on the high end. This alone is clearly a huge difference.
Of course medical malpractice only goes up from there as you get in to specialties and surgeries, even into the hundreds of thousands per year in premiums! So if you do the math, where is the risk?
If chiropractic were dangerous our malpractice insurance premium would be much higher. The rates are astronomical for medical malpractice insurance whereas compared to chiropractic. So according to a malpractice insurance company who knows risk better than anyone, it’s a lot more dangerous to go to a medical doctor then it is to go to a chiropractor.
There are risks with any treatment or procedure. And in some cases, chiropractic care, or specific treatment options within chiropractic, would not be appropriate, also known as contraindicated. Proper evaluation of a patient by a chiropractor will determine what treatment is appropriate, if any, or if the patient should be referred to another practitioner.
When practicing in accordance with clinical guidelines, there is no comparison between the risks of medical interventions (drugs and surgery) and chiropractic care.
Myth 2: Chiropractic Care is Addictive
This is a common concern and a common question I’m asked. People often think that if they go to a chiropractor once they will need to go back for the rest of their lives because they will become addicted. This usually pertains to the the spinal adjustment, which is what most people think of when thinking of chiropractic. This is false.
You will not become physically addicted to chiropractic treatments or adjustments.
You are far more likely to be addicted to medical/pharmaceutical interventions that can actually kill you than to chiropractic. Tens of thousands of people are dying every year from actual medical addictions. There is no comparison. So even if chiropractic was addictive (and it’s not), we know it’s safe and is good for you!
Now let’s examine some factors that may cause people to think that they may become addicted to chiropractic. The world we live in is extremely unhealthy and there are a lot of things working against us. People have terrible posture, are sitting for hours over computers, staring down at smart phones and not moving as much as they should. Diets are poor, stress is high and exposure to toxins is unprecedented. So we are developing health problems as a result including tension, restrictions and musculoskeletal problems.
Most chiropractic treatments are based on restoring movement to joints and soft tissues that not moving properly. This allows better communication in the nervous system and fascia, and also improves circulation. So think about this – would feel good if you’ve been “unstuck” after being “stuck” for a while? If your body has been restricted, stiff or in pain, and now you can move better and your pain is gone, would it feel good? Of course! And naturally you would want more. Restoring health feels good. It doesn’t mean you’re addicted to chiropractic.
In a perfect world, humans would be moving correctly, have perfect posture, eating correctly, have normal stress loads and are not burdened with toxic chemicals. The body would not have as much working against it. It could more easily maintain good health and there would probably be less need for chiropractic treatments.
The main responsibility as a health professional should be to educate patients on how to be healthy so they won’t need us as often. How can you minimize the negative forces of the modern world working against you, how can you eat better, sleep better, think better, move better and allow you body to better repair itself?
So no, chiropractic care is not addictive but you might want more because your body will feel better after experiencing it. Better movement and function is always something to look forward to and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Myth 3: There is No Evidence that Chiropractic Care Works
Did you know that it is estimated by researchers that less than 20% of what physicians do have solid evidence to support it? Think about that for a moment. Less than 20% has solid evidence to support it! That is a small number when we think of “evidence based care.” If less than 20% of procedures have solid evidence behind them, can we truly call it evidence based care?
If someone tells you chiropractic has no evidence to support it, ask what are they actually comparing it to? A different system that does not have significant evidence to support it and furthermore kills a quarter of a million people per year just from errors alone?
There is plenty of scientific research in major peer-reviewed medical journals that demonstrates that chiropractic has positive effects on health and physiology. Spinal adjustments alone have been shown to be effective as a treatment for lower back pain, neck pain and headaches compared to other treatment options. Spinal manipulation has been included in the FDA guidelines for the treatment of pain before the use of opioids.
There is evidence that shows spinal manipulation has neurophysiological effects in the central (brain and spinal cord), peripheral (nerves in arms and legs, and autonomic (organ function and stress response) sections of the nervous system. It has been shown to affect muscle activation and even associated with strength increase in athletes. And this is only the spinal adjustment.
While most chiropractors focus on spinal adjustments, there are many different styles and techniques of chiropractic care. Some of these other specialties include soft tissue therapy, functional rehabilitation, neurological rehabilitation and nutrition. Stecco Fascial Manipulation, for example, is a soft tissue technique practiced by some chiropractors and has the most scientific research supporting it of any soft tissue technique.
I’ve heard people say that their medical doctor told them not to see a chiropractor because there is no evidence to support it or because it was dangerous. Anyone who says this is giving you bad information and is clearly not current with the research. I personally would not want to go to a practitioner who was ignorant of the current literature and closed minded to safe, effective options.
Myth 4: Chiropractic Care is Only for Back Pain
Neuromusculoskeletal issues such as shoulder problems, ankle injuries, tennis elbow, knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, jaw pain can be helped by chiropractic. Even ear infections and sinus conditions can benefit from chiropractic care. Some chiropractors specialize in pediatric care while others focus on sports injuries and athletic performance optimization.
Most chiropractors do focus on the spine but there are many other styles of practice. Some focus on extremities, some focus on the soft tissues such as muscles and fascia, some focus on neurological function, others focus on nutrition. Even though you don’t have back pain, chiropractic can play a significant role in keeping you healthy.
Think of the body as a functional unit – everything is connected and works together. Everything affects everything else, and if we’re not looking at the body as a whole then we are certainly missing out on a big part of the puzzle. A good chiropractor will see body in this way, look for the imbalances and treat accordingly.
Other popular techniques used by chiropractors use you may not have heard of are soft tissue therapies such as Stecco Facial Manipulation, Active Release Techniques (A.R.T.) and Graston Technique, Applied Kinesiology, functional rehabilitation, neurological rehabilitation, and functional medicine.
I hope this helped to shed light the fact that these common myths about chiropractors are in fact myths and are false.
Keep in mind that some of the reasons for these myths have been perpetuated by the chiropractic profession itself. There are unethical chiropractors as there are, unfortunately, unethical practitioners in every field. There are practices that have given the profession a bad name. There are practitioners who do not examine their patients properly and use a one-size-fits-all for everybody, which clearly is not an effective approach and can lead to problems. There are people who have had negative experiences with a chiropractor and have had a bad taste left behind.
But there are many people, if not more, that have had negative experiences with mainstream medical practitioners. But because it’s mainstream, the whole profession doesn’t get a bad name. It’s simply thought of as a negative experience with that particular doctor, and they’ll move on and find another doctor.
Mainstream media seems to emphasize negative chiropractic experiences because it is against the grain. If one person has an adverse reaction to a chiropractic treatment it will get mainstream press that will create much fear and doubt. But again, the well over 250,000 people who die every year from medical mistakes typically will not get mainstream press.
Of course there is a time and a place for the mainstream medical model. Modern medicine saves lives in many cases and we are fortunate to have it. This is not an anti-medicine article by any means. But given the risks involved and the availability of natural, safe and effective options such as chiropractic, there needs to be more awareness and a change in perception. Why not go from least invasive/least risk to more invasive/more risk when considering treatments?
When choosing a chiropractor here are some things to consider:
- Do they properly examine their patients?
- Do they explain treatment options and develop a plan based on your needs and goals?
- Do they educate their patients?
- Are they trying to minimize dependency on care and empowering patients to stay healthy on their own?
- What techniques do they use?
Chiropractic is an amazing profession that can truly help you feeling better. You can avoid harmful medications and risky procedures that down the road can cause more problems.
If one style of chiropractic does not work for you consider trying something different, as again, there are many different approaches. But you can be confident that chiropractic care is safe, non-addictive, supported by evidence and effective in helping with many different health conditions!
Dr. Robert Inesta DC, L.Ac, CFMP, CCSP