Are chiropractors doctors?

Are chiropractors doctors? That is one of the most common questions about chiropractors.

Chiropractors are not doctors in the way medical doctors (MD) and osteopathic physicians (DO) are. MD and DO (osteopathic) physicians may prescribe pharmaceutical medications and perform surgery, while chiropractors may not. Medical doctors and osteopaths may also prescribe treatments such as physical therapy while chiropractors may not.

So far we have talked about what a chiropractor isn't. Now let's take a look at what a chiropractor is, where he studies, and what types of treatments he/she provides.

What is a chiropractor? A chiropractor is a medical specialist with one of the following 3 educational and professional backgrounds:

  1. DC- Doctorate of Chiropractic: This back specialist has graduated from an undergraduate college, followed by a 4 year full time doctorate program.
  2. BSc (Chiro): This back specialist has completed a 5 year integrated bachelor's degree.
  3. MSc (Chiro): This is a 2-3 year Masters program that follows a 4 year graduate degree in basic sciences.
In addition to the coursework that chiropractors must complete in class and lab, at least 4200 hours of clinical training must be completed before a chiropractor can be fully licensed.

Chiropractors are medical specialists with a lot of specialized training in the cause of musculoskeletal problems in the body - especially of those orthopedic problems that affect the back. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose the cause of back conditions and to diagnose the cause of disease. Based on the diagnostic information that is available, the chiropractor may come up with a comprehensive treatment program that involves some combination of massage therapy, muscle therapy, strength training, stretching, and chiropractic adjustments.

Spinal Adjustment/Chiropractic Adjustment: Spinal manipulation is one thing that really separates what a chiropractor does from what a medical doctor (MD) does. We are all familiar with what a dislocated knee or dislocated shoulder is, or what a bone break is. These types of injuries are obvious to the naked eye or on a radiographic X-ray. In order to repair a broken bone, the bone two or more broken parts are pieced back together and into its original shape, and a splint or cast is put on until the bone has fully healed. With the dislocation of a joint, the joint is popped back into place. Both of these treatments are performed by medical doctors and other specialists, such as physician's assistants or nurse practitioners.

There are also more subtle dislocations of the joints that may not be detectable on X-Rays or MRIs, and may not be detected upon a physician's medical examination. These types of dislocations are known as subluxations, and they may be detected during a chiropractor exam. Subluxations detected in the spine are known as vertebral subluxations.

When vertebral subluxations are discovered by the talented hands of the chiropractor, they are corrected by one or more spinal adjustment. A spinal adjustment is also known as a chiropractic adjustment. Osteopaths (Doctor of Osteopathy: DO) also perform similar types of spinal manipulation.

The goals of these adjustments are to improve function, range of motion, and to reduce nerve irritability related to spinal nerve compression. A chiropractic adjustment usually involves these three things:
  1. A high velocity, short lever arm thrust applied to the vertebra.
  2. An accompanying popping or cracking sound. This sound is caused by the release of gasses made up of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen (joint cavitation). As these gasses are released, joint pressure is also decreased (cavitation).
  3. Though this popping sound and crunching felt in the back is a little startling to the patient, it is also usually accompanied by some pain relief that is experienced as the joint pressure is decreased, and the joint is brought back into its proper position.