Are Chiropractors Real Doctors?
What’s the truth about chiropractors?
Though the question doesn’t come up as frequently as it once did, I still get asked “Are you a real doctor?” surprisingly often. The answer is a definitive yes, chiropractors are real doctors, but it’s worth diving a little deeper.
While Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs) aren’t the same as Medical Doctors (MDs), they’re still doctors just the same as Doctors of Osteopathy, Doctors of Physical Therapy, Doctors of Dental Medicine, Doctors of Optometry, Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, Doctors of Podiatry, and every other healthcare specialist that’s completed a doctorate education and been certified by their respective national and state boards.
In fact, most people are surprised to find out that becoming a chiropractor actually requires nearly the same number of graduate-level credit hours in clinical sciences as it does to become a medical doctor.
By the time they’re finished with their education, chiropractors have completed well over 4,500 hours of classroom instruction, in addition to clinical experience hours. So although they can’t prescribe medication or perform surgical procedures as an MD can, rest assured that Doctors of Chiropractic are fully qualified to treat most musculoskeletal conditions.
It’s easy to be skeptical
To be fair, though, the ‘are chiropractors real doctors?’ question isn’t totally out of bounds, as the practice of treating musculoskeletal problems with chiropractic seems to hover in that gray area between mainstream healthcare and alternative medicine.
It doesn’t help that the inventor of chiropractic therapy was … unorthodox at best. The founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, claimed that all diseases came from disorders of the spine (subluxations), and chiropractic was the cure.
That idea is obviously ridiculous, but it still has adherents today. The ‘are chiropractors real doctors?’ question usually comes in when chiropractors make claims about treating conditions that aren’t musculoskeletal-based and have little to no basis in science.
Like any other type of doctor, some chiropractors are good, some are just OK and some are downright bad, but the failure to present a unified front in this regard is one of the biggest problems facing my profession today.
You could walk into a chiropractor’s office and find a doctor who’s embraced scientific research and works hand-in-hand with general practitioners, orthopods, neurosurgeons and physical therapists to provide their patients with the best comprehensive care (like we do at Brookfield chiropractor Ascent Chiropractic), or you might find someone who says they can cure ADHD in kids by adjusting their spine.
The Facts: Chiropractic works
The benefits of chiropractic for back pain, neck pain and headaches have been pretty widely accepted for decades now within the medical community.
The research on chiropractic proves that cervical and lumbar manipulation — the adjustments most people associate with a visit to a chiropractor — are hands-down the most effective treatments for back and neck pain. Even a recent review from the Journal of the American Medical Association backs that up, finding that based on the latest research, spinal manipulation by a chiropractor is your best bet for improving lower back pain.
Chiropractic treatment especially excels when combined with conventional medical treatment. In fact, research from the journal Spine shows that when chiropractic care is added to standard medical care over 73% of back pain sufferers have significant or complete relief from their pain. That’s compared to only 17% who report improvement with medical care alone.
Chiropractic: Not just for back & neck pain
Of course, while most research is focused on chiropractic care’s effectiveness for back and neck pain, they’re not the only conditions chiropractors can help. The 2010 UK Evidence Report, a systematic examination of available scientific evidence, found sufficient data to recommend chiropractic care for all of the issues listed below.
• Acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain
• Migraine headaches
• Cervicogenic tension headaches
• Cervicogenic vertigo
• Acute and subacute neck pain
• Rotator cuff problems
• Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow)
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Hip and knee osteoarthritis
• Ankle sprains
• Plantar fasciitis
• TMJ disorder (jaw pain)
Is chiropractic safe?
Another issue that tends to lead to the ‘are chiropractors really doctors?’ question is the public perception that spinal manipulation can cause injury or, worse, a stroke or torn artery.
Thankfully, the stroke and arterial tear questions are essentially resolved, with research showing that the risk of having a stroke after visiting a chiropractor is extremely low, on par with the risk of visiting a primary care physician. Neck pain can be a sign of a stroke in progress, so people may visit a doctor or chiropractor in search of relief and then associate the stroke with their visit. But correlation isn’t the same as causation.
The more open question is whether a chiropractor’s technique can cause less serious complications. In one study of neck pain patients, up to 30% reported a side effect following chiropractic treatment – usually, slight soreness or stiffness the day or two after the adjustment, which resolved itself quickly.
But the fact is that true adverse reactions to chiropractic treatment are extremely rare, and the overwhelming majority of patients don’t experience any side effects at all. Like any form of medcial treatment, there’s some risk involved – but there’s much more risk involved with surgery or taking painkilling medications.
Compared to opioids — a class of painkillers commonly prescribed for back and neck pain, and one also linked to dependence and death due to overdose — the potential for soreness following chiropractic care is minor.
There’s a good reason that malpractice and liability insurance premiums for chiropractors cost a fraction of what they do for physicians or surgeons. Insurance actuaries know that based on the malpractice data, chiropractic is incredibly safe.
The Ascent Chiropractic Advantage
Chiropractors continually rank among the highest healthcare providers in patient satisfaction scores – because it works, and it works by addressing the cause of back and neck pain instead of simply covering up their effects. In terms of public health, if more people went to chiropractors for back and neck pain, we’d see a lot fewer unnecessary tests, hospitalizations, and drug prescriptions.
If you’re in the Brookfield, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, New Berlin or Milwaukee areas and looking for a chiropractor, we’d love for you to find out why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel named us the top Milwaukee chiropractor of 2022. To get started, make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
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