Chiropractic is a regulated healthcare profession that involves the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal issues. It’s a type of manual therapy, in which a chiropractor will use their hands to make adjustments to joints in the body.
It 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 back issues.
This page will explore chiropractic, including what it can help with and what to expect from a session. You’ll also find information on how to find a qualified chiropractor.
What does a chiropractor do?
Chiropractic care is a healthcare profession (rather than a single treatment), in which practitioners aim to enhance the well-being and physical health of their patients by using manual treatment and offering lifestyle advice.
Chiropractors engage with the framework of the muscles and bones that support the body (the musculoskeletal system) to make certain adjustments to tissue and joints. This is to help treat health conditions that may be associated with spinal misalignments.
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.
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.
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. For example, chiropractors can provide lifestyle advice on exercise, diet, pain management, sports rehabilitation and preventative measures.
What’s the difference between a chiropractor and an osteopath?
There are many similarities between chiropractic and osteopathy. However, there are subtle differences between the two techniques which may make one treatment more suitable for you than the other.
Chiropractors tend to focus on the alignment of the spine as the primary means to relieve pain by preventing any compromise of the nervous system. Whereas, osteopaths assess the function of the body as a whole to help improve its function by correcting overall posture and alignment.
Osteopaths use soft tissue massage and movement to rebalance the body’s structure in a way that enhances blood flow and nerve function. Chiropractors, on the other hand, use manipulation to adjust the position of the spine and joints in order to improve nerve function and healing ability.
Rest assured, whichever treatment option you decide is right for you, both osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by law and have to be registered with their regulatory council.
To find out more about osteopathy and whether it might be right for you, visit our osteopathy page.
What does a chiropractor treat?
Chiropractic care is typically associated with the treatment of back and neck pain.
A chiropractor 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 the knee, hip and ankle joints
- pain or problems with wrist, elbow or hand joints
Some chiropractors offer treatment for a range of other conditions, such as:
- headache and migraine
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- painful periods
- high blood pressure
- mental health conditions (such as depression and anxiety)
Does chiropractic help?
There is evidence to suggest chiropractic is effective for treating back pain. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends chiropractic if you have persistent lower back pain.
Where can I get chiropractic therapy?
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, which means not everyone can access chiropractic 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.
Find a chiropractor using our advanced search tool. Enter your postcode in the location box to browse chiropractors near you.
What to expect in a session
When you first meet with a chiropractor, you will undergo an assessment. They 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 any past injuries or surgeries. This knowledge will be factored into your chiropractic treatment.
The initial consultation will involve taking your medical history and a full physical examination. The objective is to find out about you, your condition, and your health expectations and goals. Please bring any relevant health or X-ray reports with you.
The examination involves a full postural analysis and assessment of your spine, joints, nerves, muscles and ligaments using orthopaedic testing. Any findings will be explained to you along with a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
- Therapist Katie Hopper explains what you can expect from an initial chiropractic consultation.
Your physical examination 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 is 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 following video explores five things you can expect during your first chiropractic visit.
What techniques are used in chiropractic adjustment?
The range of techniques your chiropractor 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 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.
Does chiropractic hurt?
Chiropractic should not be painful. There should only be a 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 chiropractic safe?
Chiropractic is a very controlled treatment, and individuals of all ages can reap the benefits. As with any therapy, there is a possibility of side effects and risks, but this is very rare.
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, you must 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.
Chiropractic sessions generally last around 15 to 30 minutes and prices can 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.
What training and qualifications does a chiropractor need?
Anyone who wants to practice as a chiropractor in the UK must register with and hold a qualification recognised by the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), which regulates the chiropractic profession. Furthermore, The Chiropractors Act 1994 provides statutory regulation for the profession. It also protects the title 'chiropractor' under the legislation. Therefore, it’s a criminal offence for anyone to call themselves a chiropractor if they're not registered with the GCC.
If you’re 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.