Chiropractic physicians take a health history and perform an examination the first time they see a patient. If you present with a condition that warrants an X-ray or MRI scan, either of these images would be taken at the doctor’s office, or you may be sent to a hospital or radiology clinic.
The treatment itself varies based on the chiropractic technique used by the doctor. The most common approach is the manual spinal manipulation technique people typically think about when they think about chiropractic services. The experience can be startling the first time, but I usually find adjustments enjoyable, and I feel immediate relief of my symptoms. Others feel better in a day or so. Some patients find adjustments to be pleasant, others say they are uncomfortable but worth it. Some people giggle, shout or moan. Very few people find the adjustments scary or painful, in which case another technique can be substituted.
The second most common approach is instrument-assisted adjusting, where an instrument is placed against the targeted segment of the spine and triggered by the doctor to produce an impulse into the joint. This moves the joint to restore normal function. I use an instrument when a patient cannot tolerate manual adjustments due to specific health conditions or personal preference.
On adjustment visits, a patient may have a passive therapy such as heat or ice, massage therapy or therapeutic exercises to prepare the spine for adjusting by making the muscle and connective tissue more pliable so that the joints move more easily.
Next, the patient will have the actual chiropractic adjustment. The doctor will feel the spine and do other simple tests involving movement in different ways to confirm what he or she feels by hand. With manual manipulations, there is usually a “pop” as the movement is restored to the bones, but there may not be any noise. With an instrument adjustment, there is a click and a sensation comparable to being thumped or flicked by fingers.
Before providing any treatment, the DC should carefully explain what will happen and what the plan of care is going to be. If you do not begin to respond after three to six treatments, the doctor should discuss other alternatives with you, which may include changing adjusting techniques, getting additional diagnostic images or tests, or referring you to a different practitioner for a second opinion.