Chiropractic treatment

Chiropractic refers to a regulated health-care profession that involves the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal issues. It is a type of manual therapy in which a chiropractor will use their hands to make adjustments to joints in the body. This involves gentle and controlled movements that are concentrated mainly on the spine. The procedure is considered highly effective for improving mobility and alleviating pain caused by certain back issues.

Chiropractors take a holistic approach to healthcare and the needs of patients. They always consider the psychological and social factors as well as the physical. As a result, chiropractic therapy usually encompasses basic lifestyle changes and other natural treatment alternatives. 

This page will explore chiropractic treatment in depth - looking into the history, uses and what to expect from a session. It will also provide information on how to find a chiropractor that is fully qualified to practice.


The very beginning of chiropractic history is thought to be in 1895. During this year, Canadian Daniel David Palmer founded it as a health profession. 

Palmer had no conventional medical training, but performed the first known chiropractic adjustment on partially deaf janitor, Harvey Lillard. Lillard had reported normal hearing for most of his life, up until one day when he bent over and heard a pop in his back. After this his hearing deteriorated. Palmer examined Lillard's back and found his vertebrae was slightly out of place. He made the assumption that popping it back in to the correct position would return the janitor's hearing to normal. After doing so, Lillard did in fact find that his hearing had returned to how it was before his back popped.

Palmer was soon seeing patients with all kinds of ailments. These ranged from stomach pains to epilepsy. He treated them using his special 'adjustments'. These were later coined, chiropractic. Palmer argued that most ailments in the human body are the result of misalignments of the spine that apply pressure on the surrounding nerves. He believed these are responsible for blocking natural energy flow ('life force') through the body. By making spinal adjustments, Palmer believed he was eliminating the nerve interference, and restoring the proper flow of energy.

Palmer's School of Chiropractic was highly successful and by 1898 was taking on its first students. In the 20th century the treatment gained esteem and has grown to become a worldwide profession. Today chiropractic is used in the primary care environment. Although Palmer's beliefs do not form the basis of treatment, most chiropractors believe that the health of the spine and the associated nervous system can influence the overall health of the entire body.

What does chiropractic treatment involve?

Chiropractors engage with the framework of the muscles and bones that support the body (the musculoskeletal system). They use their understanding of this system to make certain adjustments to tissue and joints. This is to help treat health conditions that may be associated with spinal misalignments.

Chiropractic treatment is available for people of all ages. Chiropractors are trained to use a range of techniques to reduce pain and improve function and mobility. Manual treatment is the primary technique, but in some cases heat, ice, ultrasound and acupuncture are used. Chiropractors are also trained to provide lifestyle advice on exercise, diet, pain management, sports rehabilitation and preventative measures.

The types of manual techniques a chiropractor will use during treatment include:

  • Short, sharp thrusts applied to the spine. These movements aim to remove joint restrictions and improve movement.
  • Gradually moving joints through different positions. This is to reduce tension.
  • Stretching and pulling muscles in certain directions. This intends to strengthen the muscle and improve movement.

What does a chiropractor treat?

Chiropractic therapy is typically associated with the treatment of back and neck pain. It can also treat associated conditions including:  

  • Neck-related headaches.
  • Slipped discs.
  • Leg pain and sciatica (pain caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve).
  • Shoulder pain or problems.
  • Pain or problems with knee, hip and ankle joints.
  • Pain or problems with wrist, elbow or hand joints.
  • Fibromyalgia.

Some chiropractors, however offer treatment for a range of conditions. It is possible to find a chiropractor who will treat:

  • Headache and migraine.
  • Asthma.
  • Allergies.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Painful periods.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Mental health conditions (such as depression and anxiety).

Is chiropractic treatment effective?

Chiropractic therapy is a healthcare profession and not a single treatment. Practitioners aim to enhance the well-being and physical health of their patients using manual treatment and offering lifestyle advice. No medication is provided. There is however evidence to suggest chiropractic is effective for treating back pain.

During the 1990s many clinical trials were undertaken. Results showed that chiropractic treatment was almost more effective for back pain than outpatient treatment. Overall, patients who received chiropractic care were more satisfied than those who had received conventional care. Today, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends chiropractic treatment if you have persistent lower back pain. 

Research has also been carried out on the efficacy of chiropractic and other manual therapies for helping people with conditions such as migraine, neck-pain and headaches. This is still ongoing, but many chiropractors provide treatment for these conditions. It is not known, however, just how beneficial chiropractic therapy is for healing ailments such as asthma, IBS, period pain and high blood pressure. Despite this, it is possible to find a chiropractor who provides treatment for these conditions.

Chiropractic and the NHS

Complementary therapies are not usually available on the NHS, but chiropractic is an exception. Despite this, use of the therapy on the NHS is limited. As it stands, just over a quarter of doctor surgeries are able to provide chiropractic treatment or make referrals to NHS chiropractors. This means not everyone can access chiropractic treatment on the NHS in their local area.  

As a result, many people prefer to find a chiropractor that practices privately. Your GP can refer you to a practitioner for private treatment. Or you can arrange to see one yourself by using our online directory. 

What to expect in a session

When you first meet with a chiropractor, you will undergo an assessment. He or she will ask you a series of questions about your medical history, diet and lifestyle. This will help them to form a picture of your current health, circumstances and of any past injuries or surgeries. This knowledge will be factored into your chiropractic treatment. 

Next, your chiropractor will conduct a physical examination. This will focus mainly on your spine and posture. This stage may also involve medical tests such as taking your blood pressure. An X-ray or CT scan are often used to help your chiropractor make a diagnosis.

Once the initial consultation is complete, your chiropractor will then devise an appropriate treatment plan. This will be based on the previous assessment and diagnosis. The range of techniques he or she decides to use will be tailored to treat your specific needs. Your treatment may include the use of soft tissue therapies such as massage.

Generally you should expect treatment to involve manual adjustments to the joints, muscles and bones of your spine. You will be asked to sit or lie down and you may have to remove upper body clothing so your chiropractor can access your spine. You will be offered a gown if you need to undress. 

You will also be advised on rehabilitation exercises and lifestyle changes. This will help to make sure long-term health is maintained - during and after treatment. You may also be given homework such as daily stretching to improve your mobility.

Is it painful? 

Chiropractic treatment should not be painful. There should only be discomfort if your chiropractor is treating an injury that is painful and inflamed. If you experience significant discomfort and pain while having treatment, you should tell your chiropractor immediately. 

Is it safe?  

Chiropractic therapy is a very controlled procedure, and individuals of all ages can receive treatment. As with any therapy there is a possibility of side effects and risks, but this is very rare. Furthermore, the chiropractic profession is fully regulated in the UK by the General Chiropractic Council (GCC). This means it a criminal offence for anyone to practice as chiropractor if they're not registered with GCC.

Please note, however, that chiropractic is not recommended for patients who have:

  • Inflammatory spine conditions.
  • Recently experienced a fracture or severe osteoporosis.

If you are considering chiropractic treatment, it is important that you give your chiropractor as much information as possible so they can determine whether it is suitable for you. This also includes any medications you may be taking as some are found to contradict treatment.

How many sessions are needed?

The number of sessions you will need will depend on your medical history and the severity of your condition. Generally though, most conditions can be treated within four to 12 sessions. In some cases your chiropractor may suggest having regular maintenance therapy once your initial problem has improved. This is recommended to prevent you from experiencing the same ailments again. However, there is little research into the effectiveness of this treatment.  

Chiropractic sessions generally last around 15 to 30 minutes. Prices range from £30 to £80 for a 30 minute session. Some chiropractors may offer discounted rates for concessions. Details of this can be found on individual profiles. You can find a chiropractor near you using our advanced search tool.

What training and qualifications does a chiropractor need?

In order to register, a practitioner must hold a qualification recognised by the GCC. As aforementioned, General Chiropractic Council (GCC) regulates the chiropractic profession. Anyone who wants to practice as a chiropractor must register with this professional body. Furthermore, The Chiropractors Act 1994 provides statutory regulation for the profession. It also protects the title 'chiropractor' under legislation. Therefore it is a criminal offence for anyone to call themselves a chiropractor if they're not registered with the GCC. 

They must also agree to adhere to a strict code of ethics and conduct. Foreign applicants who hold an equivalent qualification must also take a competency test. 

If you are looking to find a chiropractor, our directory only lists practitioners who comply with our policy. This means they have the relevant qualification and insurance cover and are members of the GCC.

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