Topic Overview

What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a hands-on therapy based on the theory that subluxations in the spine may cause many medical disorders (especially disorders of the nervous system). Chiropractic medicine originated in the late 1800s in the United States.

Chiropractic treatments usually involve adjusting the joints and bones in a person's spine using twisting, pulling, or pushing movements. Some chiropractors use heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help relax the person's muscles before doing a spinal adjustment.

The primary theory behind chiropractic therapy is to help the body heal itself by correcting subluxation of the joints, particularly the bones of the spine (vertebrae).

What is chiropractic used for?

Research has shown chiropractic therapy to be effective in treating low back pain1 and to be helpful in treating neck pain and headaches. The effects of chiropractic treatment on nonspinal conditions, such as high blood pressure or asthma, have not been scientifically proven.

Is chiropractic safe?

Discuss with your chiropractor any potential risks associated with chiropractic treatment. Side effects may include minor pain or discomfort at the point of manipulation, headaches, and fatigue. Most of these effects go away within a day.

Rare but serious problems, such as a herniated disc and cauda equina syndrome, may occur when chiropractic therapy is used to treat back pain. These conditions can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the buttocks and down the legs. And they may affect bladder and bowel control.

Rare but serious problems, such as a stroke or a tear in the artery in the neck, can occur when chiropractic therapy is used to treat neck pain.

Chiropractic students must have a minimum of 3 years (90 credits) of undergraduate study before applying to a chiropractic college. After completing a 4-year program, the chiropractic student receives a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree. Chiropractors are licensed in every state and must pass a four-part exam with the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.



  1. Chou R, Huffman LH (2007). Nonpharmacologic therapies for acute and chronic low back pain: A review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7): 492–504.

Other Works Consulted

  • Chiropractic (2004). In L Freeman, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2nd ed., pp. 307–332. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby.
  • Redwood D (2006). Chiropractic. In MS Micozzi, ed., Fundamentals of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 139–164. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Ernst E (2002). Manipulation of the cervical spine: A systematic review of case reports of serious adverse events, 1995–2001. Medical Journal of Australia, 176(8): 376–380.
  • Leon-Sanchez A, et al. (2007). Cervical spine manipulation: An alternative medical procedure with potentially fatal complications. Southern Medical Journal, 100(2): 201–203.


Author Eileen Ellig
Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Maria Essig
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Last Updated June 30, 2009

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.