Chiropractic: from Greek chiro- Οî΅îΉΟî¿- "hand-"
+ praktikΓ³s ΟΟî±îΊΟîΉîΊΟΟ "concerned with action"
Chiropractic is a health care discipline and profession that emphasizes diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, under the hypothesis that these disorders affect general health via the nervous system. It is generally categorized as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), a characterization that many chiropractors reject. Although chiropractors have many attributes of primary care providers, chiropractic has more of the attributes of a medical specialty like dentistry or podiatry. The main chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissues; treatment also includes exercises and health and lifestyle counseling. Traditional chiropractic follows the concept that a vertebral subluxation or spinal joint dysfunction interferes with the body's function and its innate intelligence. This vitalistic concept is not supported by mainstream science or medicine.
D.D. Palmer founded chiropractic in the 1890s and his son B.J. Palmer helped to expand it in the early 20th century. It has two main groups: "straights", now the minority, emphasize vitalism, innate intelligence and spinal adjustments, and consider subluxations to be the leading cause of all disease; "mixers" are more open to mainstream and alternative medical techniques such as exercise, massage, nutritional supplements, and acupuncture. Chiropractic is well established in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Throughout its history, chiropractic has been controversial. For most of its existence it has battled with mainstream medicine over ideas such as subluxation, which is not supported by science, and over vaccination about which there are disagreements among chiropractors. The American Medical Association called chiropractic an "unscientific cult" and boycotted it until losing an antitrust case in 1987. Chiropractic has developed a strong political base and a sustained demand for services; in recent decades, it has gained more legitimacy and greater acceptance among medical physicians and health plans in the U.S., and evidence-based medicine has been used to review research studies and generate practice guidelines.
Many studies of treatments used by chiropractors have been conducted, with conflicting results. Collectively, systematic reviews of this research have not demonstrated that spinal manipulation is effective, with the possible exception of treatment of back pain. The efficacy and cost-effectiveness of maintenance chiropractic care are unknown. Chiropractic care is generally safe when employed skillfully and appropriately. However, spinal manipulation is frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects, with serious or fatal complications in rare cases. A 2010 systematic review reported 26 deaths following manipulations and did not identify substantial benefits, leading to the conclusion that the risks of spinal manipulation far outweigh the benefits.
Two chiropractic belief system constructs
|The testable principle
||The untestable metaphor
|Restoration of structural integrity
|Improvement of health status
|â Operational definitions possible
||â Origin of holism in chiropractic
|â Lends itself to scientific inquiry
||â Cannot be proven or disproven
|Taken from Mootz & Phillips 1997
Chiropractic's early philosophy was rooted in vitalism, spiritual inspiration and rationalism. A philosophy based on deduction from irrefutable doctrine helped distinguish chiropractic from medicine, provided it with legal and political defenses against claims of practicing medicine without a license, and allowed chiropractors to establish themselves as an autonomous profession. This "straight" philosophy, taught to generations of chiropractors, rejects the inferential reasoning of the scientific method, and relies on deductions from vitalistic first principles rather than on the materialism of science. However, most practitioners currently accept the importance of scientific research into chiropractic, and most practitioners are "mixers" who attempt to combine the materialistic reductionism of science with the metaphysics of their predecessors and with the holistic paradigm of wellness; a 2008 commentary proposed that chiropractic actively divorce itself from the straight philosophy as part of a campaign to eliminate untestable dogma and engage in critical thinking and evidence-based research.
Although a wide diversity of ideas currently exists among chiropractors, they share the belief that the spine and health are related in a fundamental way, and that this relationship is mediated through the nervous system. Chiropractors study the biomechanics, structure and function of the spine, along with what they say are its effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and its role in health and disease.
Chiropractic philosophy includes the following perspectives:
- Holism assumes that health is affected by everything in an individual's environment; some sources also include a spiritual or existential dimension. In contrast, reductionism in chiropractic reduces causes and cures of health problems to a single factor, vertebral subluxation.
- Conservatism considers the risks of clinical interventions when balancing them against their benefits. It emphasizes noninvasive treatment to minimize risk, and avoids surgery and medication.
- Homeostasis emphasizes the body's inherent self-healing abilities. Chiropractic's early notion of innate intelligence can be thought of as a metaphor for homeostasis.
- Straights tend to use an approach that focuses on the chiropractor's perspective and the treatment model, whereas mixers tend to focus on the patient and the patient's situation.
 Straights and mixers
Range of belief perspectives in chiropractic
||potential belief endpoints
|scope of practice:
||narrow ("straight") â
||â broad ("mixer")
||separate and distinct â
||â integrated into mainstream
|Taken from Mootz & Phillips 1997
Chiropractic is often described as two professions masquerading as one. Unlike the distinction between podiatry (a science-based profession for foot disorders) and foot reflexology (an unscientific philosophy which posits that many disorders arise from the feet), in chiropractic the two professions attempt to live under one roof, albeit with much tension between them.
Straight chiropractors adhere to the philosophical principles set forth by D.D. and B.J. Palmer, and retain metaphysical definitions and vitalistic qualities. Straight chiropractors believe that vertebral subluxation leads to interference with an "innate intelligence" exerted via the human nervous system and is a primary underlying risk factor for many diseases. Straights view the medical diagnosis of patient complaints (which they consider to be the "secondary effects" of subluxations) to be unnecessary for chiropractic treatment. Thus, straight chiropractors are concerned primarily with the detection and correction of vertebral subluxation via adjustment and do not "mix" other types of therapies. Their philosophy and explanations are metaphysical in nature and they prefer to use traditional chiropractic lexicon terminology (i.e. perform spinal analysis, detect subluxation, correct with adjustment, etc.). They prefer to remain separate and distinct from mainstream health care.
Mixer chiropractors "mix" diagnostic and treatment approaches from osteopathic, medical, and chiropractic viewpoints. Unlike straight chiropractors, mixers believe subluxation is one of many causes of disease, and they incorporate mainstream medical diagnostics and employ many treatments including conventional techniques of physical therapy such as exercise, massage, ice packs, and moist heat, along with nutritional supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, and biofeedback. Mixers tend to be open to mainstream medicine and are the majority group.
 Vertebral subluxation
Palmer hypothesized that vertebral joint misalignments, which he termed vertebral subluxations, interfered with the body's function and its inborn (innate) ability to heal itself. D.D. Palmer repudiated his earlier theory that vertebral subluxations caused pinched nerves in the intervertebral spaces in favor of subluxations causing altered nerve vibration, either too tense or too slack, affecting the tone (health) of the end organ. D.D. Palmer, using a vitalistic approach, imbued the term subluxation with a metaphysical and philosophical meaning. He qualified this by noting that knowledge of innate intelligence was not essential to the competent practice of chiropractic. This concept was later expanded upon by his son, B.J. Palmer and was instrumental in providing the legal basis of differentiating chiropractic medicine from conventional medicine. In 1910, D.D. Palmer theorized that the nervous system controlled health:
- "Physiologists divide nerve-fibers, which form the nerves, into two classes, afferent and efferent. Impressions are made on the peripheral afferent fiber-endings; these create sensations that are transmitted to the center of the nervous system. Efferent nerve-fibers carry impulses out from the center to their endings. Most of these go to muscles and are therefore called motor impulses; some are secretory and enter glands; a portion are inhibitory their function being to restrain secretion. Thus, nerves carry impulses outward and sensations inward. The activity of these nerves, or rather their fibers, may become excited or allayed by impingement, the result being a modification of functionalityâtoo much or not enough actionâwhich is disease."
Vertebral subluxation, a core concept of chiropractic, remains unsubstantiated and largely untested, and a debate about whether to keep it in the chiropractic paradigm has been ongoing for decades. In general, critics of traditional subluxation-based chiropractic (including chiropractors) are skeptical of its clinical value, dogmatic beliefs and metaphysical approach. While straight chiropractic still retains the traditional vitalistic construct espoused by the founders, evidence-based chiropractic suggests that a mechanistic view will allow chiropractic care to become integrated into the wider health care community. This is still a continuing source of debate within the chiropractic profession as well, with some schools of chiropractic still teaching the traditional/straight subluxation-based chiropractic, while others have moved towards an evidence-based chiropractic that rejects metaphysical foundings and limits itself to primarily neuromusculoskeletal conditions.
A 2003 survey of North American chiropractors found that 88% wanted to retain the term vertebral subluxation complex, and that when asked to estimate the percent of disorders of internal organs (such as the heart, the lungs, or the stomach) that subluxation significantly contributes to, the mean response was 62%. In 2005, the chiropractic subluxation was defined by the World Health Organization as "a lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity." This differs from the medical definition of subluxation as a significant structural displacement, which can be seen with static imaging techniques such as X-rays. The 2008 book Trick or Treatment states "X-rays can reveal neither the subluxations nor the innate intelligence associated with chiropractic philosophy, because they do not exist." Attorney David Chapman-Smith, Secretary-General of the World Federation of Chiropractic, has stated that "Medical critics have asked how there can be a subluxation if it cannot be seen on x-ray. The answer is that the chiropractic subluxation is essentially a functional entity, not structural, and is therefore no more visible on static x-ray than a limp or headache or any other functional problem." The General Chiropractic Council, the statutory regulatory body for chiropractors in the United Kingdom, states that the chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex "is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease or health concerns."
 Scope of practice
Chiropractors, also known as doctors of chiropractic or chiropractic physicians in many jurisdictions, emphasize the conservative management of the neuromusculoskeletal system without the use of medicines or surgery, with special emphasis on the spine. Chiropractic combines aspects from mainstream and alternative medicine, and there is no agreement about how to define the profession: although chiropractors have many attributes of primary care providers, chiropractic has more of the attributes of a medical specialty like dentistry or podiatry. It has been proposed that chiropractors specialize in nonsurgical spine care, instead of attempting to also treat other problems, but the more expansive view of chiropractic is still widespread. Mainstream health care and governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization consider chiropractic to be complementary and alternative medicine (CAM); and a 2008 study reported that 31% of surveyed chiropractors categorized chiropractic as CAM, 27% as integrated medicine, and 12% as mainstream medicine. Aligning with conventional medicine could give chiropractors more university affiliation and access to hospitals and long-term facilities; aligning with the CAM movement could bring more patients looking for nonmedical approaches.
The practice of chiropractic medicine involves a range of diagnostic methods including skeletal imaging, observational and tactile assessments, and orthopedic and neurological evaluation. A chiropractor may also refer a patient to an appropriate specialist, or co-manage with another health care provider. Common patient management involves spinal manipulation (SM) and other manual therapies to the joints and soft tissues, rehabilitative exercises, health promotion, electrical modalities, complementary procedures, and lifestyle counseling.
Chiropractors are not licensed to write medical prescriptions or perform major surgery in the U.S., but that recently changed when New Mexico became the first state to allow "advanced practice" trained chiropractors the ability to prescribe certain medications. Their scope of practice varies by state, based on inconsistent views of chiropractic care: some states, such as Iowa, broadly allow treatment of "human ailments"; some, such as Delaware, use vague concepts such as "transition of nerve energy" to define scope of practice; others, such as New Jersey, specify a severely narrowed scope. States also differ over whether chiropractors may conduct laboratory tests or diagnostic procedures, dispense dietary supplements, or use other therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture; in Oregon they can become certified to perform minor surgery and to deliver children via natural childbirth. A 2003 survey of North American chiropractors found that a slight majority favored allowing them to write prescriptions for over-the-counter drugs. A related field, veterinary chiropractic, applies manual therapies to animals and is recognized in a few U.S. states, but is not recognized by the American Chiropractic Association as being chiropractic.
Chiropractic overlaps with several other manual-therapy professions, including massage therapy, osteopathy, physical therapy, and sports medicine. Chiropractic is autonomous and competitive with mainstream medicine, and osteopathy outside the U.S. remains primarily a manual medical system; physical therapists work alongside and cooperate with mainstream medicine, and osteopathic medicine in the U.S. has merged with the medical profession. Members distinguish these competing professions with rhetorical strategies that include claims that, compared to other professions, chiropractors heavily emphasize spinal manipulation, tend to use firmer manipulative techniques, and promote maintenance care; that osteopaths use a wider variety of treatment procedures; and that physical therapists emphasize machinery and exercise.
No single profession "owns" spinal manipulation and there is little consensus as to which profession should administer SM, raising concerns by chiropractors that orthodox medical physicians could "steal" SM procedures from chiropractors. A focus on evidence-based SM research has also raised concerns that the resulting practice guidelines could limit the scope of chiropractic practice to treating backs and necks. Two U.S. states (Washington and Arkansas) prohibit physical therapists from performing SM, some states allow them to do it only if they have completed advanced training in SM, and some states allow only chiropractors to perform SM, or only chiropractors and physicians. Bills to further prohibit non-chiropractors from performing SM are regularly introduced into state legislatures and are opposed by physical therapist organizations.
 Treatment techniques
Spinal manipulation, which chiropractors call "spinal adjustment" or "chiropractic adjustment", is the most common treatment used in chiropractic care; in the U.S., chiropractors perform over 90% of all manipulative treatments. Spinal manipulation is a passive manual maneuver during which a three-joint complex is taken past the normal range of movement, but not so far as to dislocate or damage the joint; its defining factor is a dynamic thrust, which is a sudden force that causes an audible release and attempts to increase a joint's range of motion. Neck manipulations are high-velocity, short-lever thrusts with rotation beyond the physiological range of motion. More generally, spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) describes techniques where the hands are used to manipulate, massage, mobilize, adjust, stimulate, apply traction to, or otherwise influence the spine and related tissues.
There are several schools of chiropractic adjustive techniques, although most chiropractors mix techniques from several schools. The following adjustive procedures were received by more than 10% of patients of licensed U.S. chiropractors in a 2003 survey: Diversified technique (full-spine manipulation, employing various techniques), extremity adjusting, Activator technique (which uses a spring loaded tool to deliver precise adjustments to the spine), Thompson Technique (which relies on a drop table and detailed procedural protocols), Gonstead (which emphasizes evaluating the spine along with specific adjustment that avoids rotational vectors), Cox/flexion-distraction (a gentle, low-force adjusting procedure which mixes chiropractic with osteopathic principles and utilizes specialized adjusting tables with movable parts), adjustive instrument, Sacro-Occipital Technique (which models the spine as a torsion bar), Nimmo Receptor-Tonus Technique, Applied Kinesiology (which emphasises "muscle testing" as a diagnostic tool), and cranial. Medicine-assisted manipulation, such as manipulation under anesthesia, involves sedation or local anesthetic and is done by a team that includes an anesthesiologist; a 2008 systematic review did not find enough evidence to make recommendations about its use for chronic low back pain.
Many other procedures are used by chiropractors for treating the spine, other joints and tissues, and general health issues. The following procedures were received by more than one-third of patients of licensed U.S. chiropractors in a 2003 survey: Diversified technique (full-spine manipulation; mentioned in previous paragraph), physical fitness/exercise promotion, corrective or therapeutic exercise, ergonomic/postural advice, self-care strategies, activities of daily living, changing risky/unhealthy behaviors, nutritional/dietary recommendations, relaxation/stress reduction recommendations, ice pack/cryotherapy, extremity adjusting (also mentioned in previous paragraph), trigger point therapy, and disease prevention/early screening advice.
 Education, licensing, and regulation
Chiropractors obtain a first professional degree in the field of chiropractic. Although chiropractors often argue that this education is as good as or better than medical physicians', most chiropractic training is confined to classrooms with much time spent learning theory, adjustment, and marketing. Accredited chiropractic programs require that applicants have 90 semester hours of undergraduate education with a grade point average of at least 2.5; many programs require at least three years of undergraduate education, and more are requiring a bachelor's degree. Canada requires a minimum three years of undergraduate education for applicants, and at least 4200 instructional hours (or the equivalent) of fullâtime chiropractic education for matriculation through an accredited chiropractic program. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest three major full-time educational paths culminating in either a DC, DCM, BSc, or MSc degree. Besides the full-time paths, they also suggest a conversion program for people with other health care education and limited training programs for regions where no legislation governs chiropractic.
Upon graduation, there may be a requirement to pass national, state, or provincial board examinations before being licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction. Depending on the location, continuing education may be required to renew these licenses. Specialty training is available through part-time postgraduate education programs such as chiropractic orthopedics and sports chiropractic, and through full-time residency programs such as radiology or orthopedics.
Chiropractic is established in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and is present to a lesser extent in many other countries. In the U.S., chiropractic schools are accredited through the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) while the General Chiropractic Council (GCC) is the statutory governmental body responsible for the regulation of chiropractic in the UK. The U.S. CCE requires a mixing curriculum, which means a straight-educated chiropractor may not be eligible for licensing in states requiring CCE accreditation. CCEs in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe have joined to form CCE-International (CCE-I) as a model of accreditation standards with the goal of having credentials portable internationally. Today, there are 18 accredited Doctor of Chiropractic programs in the U.S., 2 in Canada, 6 in Australasia, and 5 in Europe. All but one of the chiropractic colleges in the U.S. are privately funded, but in several other countries they are in government-sponsored universities and colleges. Chiropractic curricula in the U.S. have been criticized for failing to meet generally accepted standards of evidence-based medicine.
Regulatory colleges and chiropractic boards in the U.S., Canada, and Australia are responsible for protecting the public, standards of practice, disciplinary issues, quality assurance and maintenance of competency. There are an estimated 53,000 chiropractors in the U.S. (2006), 7,000 in Canada (2009), 2,500 in Australia (2000), and 1,500 in the UK (2000).
A 2008 commentary proposed that the chiropractic profession actively regulate itself to combat abuse, fraud, and quackery, which are more prevalent in chiropractic than in other health care professions, violating the social contract between patients and physicians. A study of California disciplinary statistics during 1997â2000 reported 4.5 disciplinary actions per 1000 chiropractors per year, compared to 2.27 for MDs; the incident rate for fraud was 9 times greater among chiropractors (1.99 per 1000 chiropractors per year) than among MDs (0.20).
 Utilization, satisfaction rates, and third party coverage
In the U.S., chiropractic is the largest alternative medical profession, and is the third largest doctored profession, behind medicine and dentistry. The percentage of population that utilizes chiropractic care at any given time generally falls into a range from 6% to 12% in the U.S. and Canada, with a global high of 20% in Alberta. Chiropractors are the most common CAM providers for children and adolescents, who consume up to 14% of all visits to chiropractors. The vast majority who seek chiropractic care do so for relief from back and neck pain and other neuromusculoskeletal complaints; most do so specifically for low back pain. Practitioners such as chiropractors are often used as a complementary form of care to primary medical intervention. Satisfaction rates are typically higher for chiropractic care compared to medical care, with a 1998 U.S. survey reporting 83% of respondents satisfied or very satisfied with their care; quality of communication seems to be a consistent predictor of patient satisfaction with chiropractors.
Chiropractic does not have the same level of mainstream credibility as other healthcare professions. Public perception of chiropractic compares unfavorably with mainstream medicine with regard to ethics and honesty: in a 2006 Gallup Poll of U.S. adults, chiropractors rated last among seven health care professions for being very high or high in honesty and ethical standards, with 36% of poll respondents rating chiropractors very high or high; the corresponding ratings for the other professions ranged from 62% for dentists to 84% for nurses. The 2008 book Trick or Treatment states chiropractors, especially in America, have a reputation for unnecessarily treating patients, and in many circumstances the focus seems to be put on economics instead of health care. Many chiropractors have sought to address their minor status within the U.S. medical community by attending practice-building seminars to assist chiropractors to persuade their patients of the efficacy of their treatments, increase their revenue, and boost their morale as unorthodox medical practitioners. Unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of chiropractic have continued to be made by individual chiropractors and chiropractic associations. The largest chiropractic associations in the U.S. and Canada distributed patient brochures which contained unsubstantiated claims. Sustained chiropractic care is promoted as a preventative tool but unnecessary manipulation could possibly present a risk to patients. Some chiropractors are concerned by the routine unjustified claims chiropractors have made.
Utilization of chiropractic care is sensitive to the costs incurred by the co-payment by the patient. The use of chiropractic declined from 9.9% of U.S. adults in 1997 to 7.4% in 2002; this was the largest relative decrease among CAM professions, which overall had a stable use rate. As of 2007 only 7% of the U.S. population is being reached by chiropractic. Employment of U.S. chiropractors is expected to increase 14% between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations.
In the U.S., most states require insurers to cover chiropractic care, and most HMOs cover these services. In Canada, there is lack of coverage under the universal public health insurance system. In Australia, most private health insurance funds cover chiropractic care, and the federal government funds chiropractic care when the patient is referred by a medical practitioner.
Chiropractic was founded in the 1890s by Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer, a magnetic healer, hypothesized that manual manipulation of the spine could cure disease. Chiropractic competed with its predecessor osteopathy, another medical system based on magnetic healing and bonesetting; both systems were founded by charismatic midwesterners in opposition to the conventional medicine of the day, and both postulated that manipulation improved health. Although initially keeping chiropractic a family secret, in 1898 Palmer began teaching it to a few students at his new Palmer School of Chiropractic. One student, his son Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer, became committed to promoting chiropractic, took over the Palmer School in 1906, and rapidly expanded its enrollment.
Early chiropractors believed that all disease was caused by interruptions in the flow of innate intelligence, a vital nervous energy or life force that represented God's presence in man; chiropractic leaders often invoked religious imagery and moral traditions. D.D. and B.J. both seriously considered declaring chiropractic a religion, which might have provided legal protection under the U.S. constitution, but decided against it partly to avoid confusion with Christian Science. Early chiropractors also tapped into the Populist movement, emphasizing craft, hard work, competition, and advertisement, aligning themselves with the common man against intellectuals and trusts, among which they included the American Medical Association (AMA).
Chiropractic has seen considerable controversy and criticism. Although D.D. and B.J. were "straight" and disdained the use of instruments, some early chiropractors, whom B.J. scornfully called "mixers", advocated the use of instruments. In 1910 B.J. changed course and endorsed X-rays as necessary for diagnosis; this resulted in a significant exodus from the Palmer School of the more conservative faculty and students. The mixer camp grew until by 1924 B.J. estimated that only 3,000 of the U.S.'s 25,000 chiropractors remained straight. That year, B.J.'s invention and promotion of the neurocalometer, a temperature-sensing device, was highly controversial among B.J.'s fellow straights. By the 1930s chiropractic was the largest alternative healing profession in the U.S. The 2008 book Trick or Treatment states that in 1913 B.J. Palmer ran over his father, D.D. Palmer, at a homecoming parade for the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. Weeks later D.D. Palmer died in Los Angeles. The official cause of death was recorded as typhoid. The book Trick or Treatment remarked "it seems more likely that his death was a direct result of injuries caused by his son." Chiropractic historian Joseph C. Keating, Jr. has described the attempted patricide of D.D. Palmer as a "myth" and "absurd on its face" and cites an eyewitness who recalled that D.D. was not struck by B.J.'s car, but rather, had stumbled. He also says that "Joy Loban, DC, executor of D.D.'s estate, voluntarily withdrew a civil suit claiming damages against B.J. Palmer, and that several grand juries repeatedly refused to bring criminal charges against the son."
Chiropractors faced heavy opposition from organized medicine. Thousands of chiropractors were prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, and D.D. and many other chiropractors were jailed. To defend against medical statutes B.J. argued that chiropractic was separate and distinct from medicine, asserting that chiropractors "analyzed" rather than "diagnosed", and "adjusted" subluxations rather than "treated" disease. B.J. cofounded the Universal Chiropractors' Association (UCA) to provide legal services to arrested chiropractors. Although the UCA won their first test case in Wisconsin in 1907, prosecutions instigated by state medical boards became increasingly common and in many cases were successful. In response, chiropractors conducted political campaigns to secure separate licensing statutes, eventually succeeding in all fifty states, from Kansas in 1913 through Louisiana in 1974. The longstanding feud between chiropractors and medical doctors continued for decades. The AMA labeled chiropractic an "unscientific cult" in 1966, and until 1980 held that it was unethical for medical doctors to associate with "unscientific practitioners". This culminated in a landmark 1987 decision, Wilk v. AMA, in which the court found that the AMA had engaged in unreasonable restraint of trade and conspiracy, and which ended the AMA's de facto boycott of chiropractic. In 2008 and 2009, chiropractors, including the British Chiropractic Association, used libel lawsuits and threats of lawsuits against their critics, however, a libel case against critic and science writer Simon Singh ended with the BCA withdrawing its suit in 2010.
Serious research to test chiropractic theories did not begin until the 1970s, and is continuing to be hampered by what are characterized as antiscientific and pseudoscientific ideas that sustained the profession in its long battle with organized medicine. By the mid 1990s there was a growing scholarly interest in chiropractic, which helped efforts to improve service quality and establish clinical guidelines that recommended manual therapies for acute low back pain. In recent decades chiropractic gained legitimacy and greater acceptance by medical physicians and health plans, and enjoyed a strong political base and sustained demand for services. However, its future seemed uncertain: as the number of practitioners grew, evidence-based medicine insisted on treatments with demonstrated value, managed care restricted payment, and competition grew from massage therapists and other health professions. The profession responded by marketing natural products and devices more aggressively, and by reaching deeper into alternative medicine and primary care.
 Evidence basis
The principles of evidence-based medicine have been used to review chiropractic methods and generate guidelines and standards that specify which treatments are safe and effective (and perhaps reimbursable under managed care). Evidence-based guidelines are supported by one end of an ideological continuum among chiropractors; the other end adheres to the traditional theory of the profession. Critics identify the latter approach as antiscientific, based on unsubstantiated claims, and ethically suspect if it allows practitioners to persist in using methods which are detrimental to patients. A 2007 survey of Alberta chiropractors found that they do not consistently apply research in practice, which may have resulted from a lack of research education and skills; continued education can enhance scientific understanding among practitioners.
Opinions differ as to the efficacy of chiropractic treatment. Many controlled clinical studies of spinal manipulation (SM) are available, but their results disagree, Two reviews of published studies on chiropractic practices found a lack of good methodology in the studies that were examined. Health claims made by chiropractors about using manipulation for pediatric health conditions are supported by only low levels of scientific evidence that does not demonstrate clinically relevant benefits. A 2010 Cochrane review determined the effects of combined chiropractic interventions were "slightly improved pain and disability in the short-term and pain in the medium-term for acute and subacute LBP. However, there is currently no evidence that supports or refutes that these interventions provide a clinically meaningful difference for pain or disability in people with LBP when compared to other interventions." A 2008 critical review found that with the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic SM has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition, and suggested that many guidelines recommend chiropractic care for low back pain because no therapy has been shown to make a real difference, but a 2008 supportive review found serious flaws in the critical approach and found that SM and mobilization are at least as effective for chronic low back pain as other efficacious and commonly used treatments.
A 2010 review by Edzard Ernst focusing on deaths after chiropractic care stated that the risks of spinal manipulation "far outweigh its benefit". The study received criticism in chiropractic literature, with one review calling it "blatantly misleading", citing a lack of risk-benefit analysis and the inclusion of deaths that were not related to chiropractic care.
Most research has focused on spinal manipulation (SM) in general, rather than solely on chiropractic SM. A 2002 review of randomized clinical trials of SM was criticized for not distinguishing between studies of SM in general, and studies on chiropractic SM in particular; however the review's authors stated that they did not consider this difference to be a significant point as research on SM is equally useful regardless of which practitioner provides it.
There is a wide range of ways to measure treatment outcomes. Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response. It is hard to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), as experts often disagree about whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect. The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is unknown.
Available evidence covers the following conditions:
- Low back pain
- There is continuing conflict of opinion on the efficacy of SMT for nonspecific (i.e., unknown cause) low back pain. A 2008 review found strong evidence that SM is similar in effect to medical care with exercise. A 2007 review found good evidence that SM is moderately effective for low back pain lasting more than 4 weeks; a 2008 literature synthesis found good evidence supporting SM for low back pain regardless of duration. Of four systematic reviews published between 2000 and May 2005, only one recommended SM, and a 2004 Cochrane review found that SM or mobilization is no more or less effective than other standard interventions for back pain. Methods for formulating treatment guidelines for low back pain differ significantly between countries, casting some doubt on their reliability.
- Whiplash and other neck pain
- There is no overall consensus on manual therapies for neck pain. A 2009 systematic review of controlled clinical trials found no evidence that chiropractic spinal manipulation is effective for whiplash injury. A 2008 review found evidence that educational videos, mobilization, and exercises appear more beneficial for whiplash than alternatives; that SM, mobilization, supervised exercise, low-level laser therapy and perhaps acupuncture are more effective for non-whiplash neck pain than alternatives but none of these treatments is clearly superior; and that there is no evidence that any intervention improves prognosis. A 2007 review found that SM and mobilization are effective for neck pain. Of three systematic reviews of SM published between 2000 and May 2005, one reached a positive conclusion, and a 2004 Cochrane review found that SM and mobilization are beneficial only when combined with exercise. A 2005 review found consistent evidence supporting mobilization for acute whiplash, and limited evidence supporting SM for whiplash.
- A 1978 statistical analysis of chiropractic patients found that 85% of females and 50% of males with common migraine have improved after chiropractic treatment, and 78% of females and 75% of males with classical migraine showed improvement. Also in 1978, a controlled trial looking at treatment for migraine by chiropractic cervical manipulation compared to joint mobilization by traditional medical practitioners and physiotherapists found that both methods significantly reduced symptoms, with chiropractic patients reporting less pain associated with the attacks. A 2006 review found no rigorous evidence supporting SM or other manual therapies for tension headache. A 2005 review found that the evidence was weak for effectiveness of chiropractic manipulation for tension headache, and that it was probably more effective for tension headache than for migraine. A 2004 review found that SM may be effective for migraine and tension headache, and SM and neck exercises may be effective for cervicogenic headache. Two other systematic reviews published between 2000 and May 2005 did not find conclusive evidence in favor of SM.
- There is a small amount of research into the efficacy of chiropractic treatment for upper limbs, and limited or fair evidence supporting chiropractic management of leg conditions. There is very weak evidence for chiropractic care for adult scoliosis (curved or rotated spine) and no scientific data for idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. A 2007 systematic review found that few studies of chiropractic care for nonmusculoskeletal conditions are available, and they are typically not of high quality; it also found that the entire clinical encounter of chiropractic care (as opposed to just SM) provides benefit to patients with cervicogenic dizziness, and that the evidence from reviews is negative, or too weak to draw conclusions, for a wide variety of other nonmusculoskeletal conditions, including ADHD/learning disabilities, dizziness, high blood pressure, and vision conditions. Other reviews have found no evidence of significant benefit for asthma, baby colic, bedwetting, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, kinetic imbalance due to suboccipital strain (KISS) in infants, menstrual cramps, or pelvic and back pain during pregnancy.
Chiropractic care in general is safe when employed skillfully and appropriately. Manipulation is regarded as relatively safe, but as with all therapeutic interventions, complications can arise, and it has known adverse effects, risks and contraindications. Absolute contraindications to spinal manipulative therapy are conditions that should not be manipulated; these contraindications include rheumatoid arthritis and conditions known to result in unstable joints. Relative contraindications are conditions where increased risk is acceptable in some situations and where low-force and soft-tissue techniques are treatments of choice; these contraindications include osteoporosis. Although most contraindications apply only to manipulation of the affected region, some neurological signs indicate referral to emergency medical services; these include sudden and severe headache or neck pain unlike that previously experienced.
Spinal manipulation is associated with frequent, mild and temporary adverse effects, including new or worsening pain or stiffness in the affected region. They have been estimated to occur in 33% to 61% of patients, and frequently occur within an hour of treatment and disappear within 24 to 48 hours. Chiropractors are more commonly connected with serious manipulation related adverse effects than other professionals. Rarely, spinal manipulation, particularly on the upper spine, can also result in complications that can lead to permanent disability or death; these can occur in adults and children. Estimates vary widely for the incidence of these complications, and the actual incidence is unknown, due to high levels of underreporting and to the difficulty of linking manipulation to adverse effects such as stroke, which is a particular concern. The estimates for serious adverse events varied between 5 strokes in 100,000 manipulations to 1.46 serious adverse events in 10,000,000 manipulations and 2.68 deaths in 10,000,000 manipulations.
Several case reports show temporal associations between interventions and potentially serious complications. Vertebrobasilar artery stroke is statistically associated with chiropractic services in persons under 45 years of age, but it is similarly associated with general practitioner services, suggesting that these associations are likely explained by preexisting conditions. Weak to moderately strong evidence supports causation (as opposed to statistical association) between cervical manipulative therapy (whether chiropractic or not) and vertebrobasilar artery stroke. A 2010 systematic review of published literature since 1934 found reports of 26 deaths that resulted from chiropractic manipulations, with suspected substantial underreporting. The dissection of a vertebral artery, typically caused by neck manipluation was a likely cause.
Chiropractors, like other primary care providers, sometimes employ diagnostic imaging techniques such as X-rays and CT scans that rely on ionizing radiation. Although there is no clear evidence for the practice, some chiropractors may X-ray a patient several times a year. Practice guidelines aim to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure, which increases cancer risk in proportion to the amount of radiation received.
A 2006 systematic review of systematic reviews of spinal manipulation found the risk-benefit balance does not favor spinal manipulation over other treatments like physiotherapeutic exercise. A 2007 systematic review found the risk-benefit for spinal manipulation is unlikely to generate a positive outcome, with uncertain efficacy and definite risks, the balance can't be positive. A 2010 systematic review determined that there is no good evidence to assume that manipulation to the neck is an effective treatment for any condition and thus concluded, "the risks of chiropractic neck manipulations by far outweigh their benefits." A 2009 review evaluating maintenance chiropractic care as a useful preventative approach found that spinal manipulation is routinely associated with considerable harm, thus the risk-benefit is not clearly evident.
A 2006 qualitative review found that the research literature suggests that chiropractic obtains at least comparable outcomes to alternatives with potential cost savings. A 2006 systematic cost-effectiveness review found that the reported cost-effectiveness of chiropractic manipulation in the United Kingdom compared favorably with other treatments for back pain, but that reports were based on data from clinical trials without sham controls and that the specific cost-effectiveness of the treatment (as opposed to non-specific effects) remains uncertain. A 2005 systematic review of economic evaluations of conservative treatments for low back pain found that significant quality problems in available studies meant that definite conclusions could not be drawn about the most cost-effective intervention. The cost-effectiveness of maintenance chiropractic care is unknown.
 Public health
Some chiropractors oppose vaccination and water fluoridation, which are common public health practices. Chiropractors' attempts to establish a positive reputation for their public health role are also compromised by their reputation for recommending repetitive life-long chiropractic treatment. Within the chiropractic community there are significant disagreements about vaccination, one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available. Most chiropractic writings on vaccination focus on its negative aspects, claiming that it is hazardous, ineffective, and unnecessary. Some chiropractors have embraced vaccination, but a significant portion of the profession rejects it, as original chiropractic philosophy traces diseases to causes in the spine and states that vaccines interfere with healing. The American Chiropractic Association and the International Chiropractors Association support individual exemptions to compulsory vaccination laws, and a 1995 survey of U.S. chiropractors found that about a third believed there was no scientific proof that immunization prevents disease. The Canadian Chiropractic Association supports vaccination; a survey in Alberta in 2002 found that 25% of chiropractors advised patients for, and 27% against, vaccinating themselves or their children.
Early opposition to water fluoridation included chiropractors, some of whom continue to oppose it as being incompatible with chiropractic philosophy and an infringement of personal freedom. Other chiropractors have actively promoted fluoridation, and several chiropractic organizations have endorsed scientific principles of public health.
Throughout its history chiropractic has been the subject of internal and external controversy and criticism. Daniel D. Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, claimed to have manipulated the spine of a man who was nearly deaf, allegedly curing him of deafness. A critical evaluation stated: "Chiropractic is rooted in mystical concepts. This led to an internal conflict within the chiropractic profession, which continues today." Chiropractors, including D.D. Palmer, were jailed for practicing medicine without a license. Chiropractic has been controversial, though to a lesser extent than in past years.
Quackery is more prevalent in chiropractic than in other health care professions which is a violation of the social contract between patients and physicians. Unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of chiropractic have continued to be made by individual chiropractors and chiropractic associations. The core concept of chiropractic, vertebral subluxation, is not based on sound science. Research has not demonstrated that spinal manipulation, the main treatment method employed by all chiropractors, is effective for any medical condition, with the possible exception of treatment for back pain.
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- ^ Asthma:
- ^ Baby colic:
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- ^ Fibromyalgia:
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