Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience? Benefits & Risks Explained

Are you feeling a little out of alignment lately? Perhaps you’ve been considering visiting a chiropractor to help you get back on track. Before you make your appointment, it’s important to understand the potential risks and benefits of this form of healthcare. Some people swear by chiropractic care, while others dismiss it. So, is chiropractic pseudoscience? What are the potential chiropractic benefits and risks? How can you find a legitimate practitioner? Do you really knead a chiropractor? (Yes… pun intended)

With an unbiased scientific view towards chiropractic adjustments, let’s see if this popular form of alternative medicine actually aligns with our expectations.

Let’s get cracking and separate fact from fiction! Keep reading to learn more.

Chiropractic Benefits 101

Note: This article contains affiliate links, meaning In On Around will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps me maintain the site. As always, I value full transparency & only work with brands I love and trust.

The Origins of Chiropractic

Chiropractic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, especially those affecting the spine or vertebrae. It’s based on the belief that the alignment of the body’s structure affects its function and health, and that manual manipulation of the spine can restore proper alignment to promote healing.

Daniel David Palmer (D.D. Palmer), a self-taught healer, developed chiropractic in the late 19th century. Palmer believed that if your spine isn’t aligned correctly, it can make you sick or cause problems in your body’s natural healing process. Some people believe that Palmer was a fraud or charlatan since he called chiropractic a “religion.”

Chiropractors use a range of techniques such as spinal manipulation, mobilization, chiropractic massage, and stretching to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal issues. They may also offer lifestyle advice, nutritional counseling, health coaching, exercise programs, and other drug-free complementary therapies, if properly licensed.

Over 35 million Americans are treated by chiropractors every year, which is about 10% of the US population.

American Chiropractic Association

Different Kinds Of Chiropractic Care

There are many different kinds of chiropractic care, such as:

  1. Spinal Manipulation: Involves applying force to the joints of the spine to improve mobility and reduce pain.
  2. Extremity Adjusting: Focuses on adjusting joints in the arms, legs, hands, and feet to relieve pain and improve function.
  3. Flexion-Distraction Technique or Cox Flexion-Distraction Technique: Gentle, non-invasive techniques that involve a specialized table to stretch and decompress the spine, which can help relieve pressure on spinal discs and nerves.
  4. Gonstead Technique: Uses a specific set of diagnostic tools to identify and correct misalignments in the spine, with a focus on the pelvis. Gonstead adjustments tend to be more aggressive with popping and cracking.
  5. Thompson Drop Table Technique: Uses a specialized table with drop sections, which allow the chiropractor to apply a precise, gentle adjustment to the spine.
  6. Activator Method: Uses a handheld instrument to apply a precise, low-force adjustment to the spine.
  7. Motion Palpation: Manual examination of the spine to identify areas of restricted motion or misalignment, which can then be corrected with an adjustment.
  8. Applied Kinesiology: Uses muscle testing to assess the function of the body’s organs and systems, which can help guide treatment.

This is not an exhaustive list – there are many more techniques not listed here. Some chiropractors may use a combination of these techniques based on the patient’s needs.

Are Chiropractors Doctors?

Chiropractors are not medical doctors, rather they are licensed healthcare professionals who have completed a nationally accredited four-year chiropractic degree graduate program. Their curriculum consists of a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom, laboratory, and clinical internship training.

They are trained to diagnose and treat conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, mainly by manipulating and adjusting the spine. While chiropractors study many similar subjects as medical doctors, they are not to be confused with MDs.

A Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree is NOT the same as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree.

Some chiropractors on social media only refer to themselves as “Dr.” which can be confusing to the average person. Yes, chiropractors are doctors, but they should specify what kind of doctor, otherwise it’s misleading. Transparency is key!

Chiropractic Adjustment

Let’s dive into what chiropractors are licensed to do…

What Chiropractors Can Do:

  • Perform manual therapies and adjustments to treat musculoskeletal conditions
  • Diagnose and treat musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and headaches
  • Develop and implement treatment plans, including exercises and nutritional counseling
  • Use imaging to diagnose within their scope of practice (or write scripts for imaging, like MRIs)
  • Provide guidance & education on ergonomics and lifestyle factors affecting musculoskeletal health
  • Collaborate with other healthcare providers for comprehensive care
  • Manage their own practice or work in a healthcare team

What Chiropractors Can’t Do:

  • Prescribe medication (depending on the state)
  • Perform surgery
  • Administer anesthesia
  • Provide mental health therapy or counseling
  • Provide OBGYN care (obstetric or gynecological)
  • Diagnose and treat medical conditions outside of the scope of chiropractic practice
  • Claim to cure or treat diseases unrelated to musculoskeletal issues
  • Perform x-rays or other medical imaging without proper licensure – always ask to make sure they’re properly licensed to do so
  • Practice outside of the scope of their state’s chiropractic laws and regulations

If your chiropractor does any of the following, without the proper licensure or education, it’s a major, major red flag. Run for the hills!

Are All Chiropractors Licensed?

Licensure requirements can vary from state to state. Each state has its own board of chiropractic examiners, which sets the standards for licensure and regulates the practice of chiropractic medicine in that state. The requirements for licensure typically include completing an accredited chiropractic degree program, passing a national exam, and obtaining a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience.

Some states may also require chiropractors to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses. It’s important to check the specific licensing requirements in your state & country.

Over 70,000 chiropractors are currently registered in the United States. [1, 2]

Physical Therapy Vs. Chiropractic – What’s The Difference?

There’s a lot of overlap between physical therapist and chiropractors. Both professions focus on non-invasive, drug-free treatment options and both are very knowledgable about the musculoskeletal system.

The main approach of physical therapy is to utilize exercises and stretching, as well as techniques involving manual therapy such as joint mobilization and massage, with the goal of enhancing flexibility, strength, and mobility.

On the other hand, chiropractic mainly focuses on the spine and the nervous system, and typically utilizes spinal adjustments to rectify misalignments and relieve pain. Both can potentially help with low back pain. [3, 4]

Chiropractors are not physical therapists.

Why Do Some Chiropractors Require X-Rays?

Some chiropractors require x-rays in order to start as a patient in their practice. This is typically needed for diagnostics prior to beginning treatment. While x-rays release radiation (which is always something to keep in mind and weigh the risks), they’re used for a number of different things, such as:

  1. Help find problems like fractures, tumors, or infections that may be causing a patient’s symptoms
  2. Provide important information about a patient’s spinal health (especially if it’s properly aligned) to help determine the best way to treat any misalignments
  3. Track a patient’s progress over time and see if adjustments are working as planned

The Benefits & Risks Of Chiropractic Treatments

Let’s dive into the potential health benefits and health risks that come with chiropractic care.

Potential Benefits

There are a number of potential benefits from chiropractic treatment, such as:

  • Relief from musculoskeletal pain, such as back pain, neck pain, and headaches
  • Improved joint mobility and function
  • Reduced inflammation and muscle tension
  • Improved posture and balance
  • Better athletic performance and flexibility
  • Enhanced immune system function
  • Improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia
  • Improved digestive function
  • Reduced stress and anxiety

While there are certainly potential benefits, many claim these are in the short term only. Chiropractic adjustments for babies aver very gentle and can potentially help with bowel movements and constipation.

Potential Risks

While there are potential benefits, it’s essential to also weigh the potential risks like:

  • Soreness or discomfort in the treated area
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Minor bruising or swelling
  • More serious risks, which are rare
    • Stroke
      • About 1-3 incidents per million treatments [5]
    • Permanent nerve damage
    • Herniated discs (especially in the neck area)
    • Death (very rare) [6]

Patients with certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis or spinal cord compression, may be at higher risk for complications. Aggressive chiropractic adjustments can also lead to patient fear.

Chiropractic Massage

Can You See A Chiropractor While Pregnant?

Yes, pregnant women can see a chiropractor for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy, but you MUST talk to your OBGYN beforehand. Chiropractors who specialize in prenatal care can provide gentle, non-invasive techniques to help alleviate back pain, sciatica, and other pregnancy-related symptoms. It’s best to steer clear of aggressive adjustments.

However, pregnant women should ALWAYS consult with their OBGYN or healthcare provider before seeking pregnancy chiropractic care. It’s certainly not for everyone.

What To Expect During A Chiropractic Visit

These steps can obviously vary depending on your specific chiropractor, however, they typically follow these initial steps when onboarding a new patient:

  1. Initial Consultation & Physical Examination:
    • At the start of the visit, the chiropractor will ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms. They may also inquire about your lifestyle, including your diet and exercise habits.
    • The chiropractor will conduct a physical examination, which may involve assessing your posture, range of motion, and muscle strength.
  2. Diagnostic Testing
    • X-rays can also be used to evaluate your condition. Oftentimes, this is completed in a separate radiology office.
  3. Treatment Plan:
    • If chiropractic care is deemed suitable for your condition, a personalized treatment plan will be developed. This may include spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapy, and other techniques to alleviate your symptoms.
  4. Follow-up:
    • The chiropractor may recommend follow-up appointments to track your progress and adjust your treatment plan if necessary, depending on your condition.

How to Find A Qualified Chiropractor

If you’re on the hunt for a chiropractor, follow these steps:

  1. Always look into their licensing and education! Never, ever work with an unlicensed chiropractor.
    • Check out the American Chiropractic Association for all licensed practitioners or search for your specific state’s licensing examiners website to verify licensing numbers (here’s an example for New York)
    • If a chiropractor is claiming that they can “heal” or “cure” all of your symptoms, it’s a red flag. Chiropractic isn’t the end-all-be-all. If they’re claiming to cure scoliosis, cancer, autism, autoimmune disorders, ADHD etc… there is no evidence to support those claims.
    • Do some research on the chiropractor. Have they previously been sued for malpractice or negligence? If you’re allowing someone to manipulate your neck and back, do your due diligence and research!
  2. Tell your chiropractor about your health history, including all medical conditions, so they’re fully aware
    • Make sure to discuss any medication use
  3. Instead of aggressive popping and cracking, opt for gentler, more specialized chiropractic care
    • Opting for gentler chiropractic manipulations reduces your risk of injury
  4. Opt for a single chiropractor who knows your medical history in depth
    • Focus on one specialist instead of a group of multiple chiropractors seeing a long list of patients every day
  5. If you decide to see a chiropractor, it’s essential to focus on the root cause of the issue. Work to strengthen your muscles, as needed, instead of relying on a weekly chiro visit
    • You can also incorporate physical therapy and personal training

If you’re interested in another method to potentially reduce pain, check out this article: Red Light Therapy At Home: Uses, Benefits, and Risks. If you have sore muscles or trigger points, try using an affordable at-home massage gun on a regular basis.

Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience Or Legit?

So… is it legit? This is a topic of much debate!

A ton of controversy surrounds chiropractic care in the scientific community. In the alternative medicine space, chiropractic medicine is legitimate (and potentially life-changing) when done properly. Key phrase: when done properly.

For most people, chiropractic care is safe and effective, but if you choose an unqualified chiropractor, you could get hurt. As with any medical treatment, it’s important to choose a qualified and licensed practitioner who can provide personalized care and help you achieve your specific health goals.

The science surrounding chiropractic care is very split.

The Science Behind Chiropractic

Designing studies to isolate only the effects of chiropractic adjustments from other factors (like exercise, physical therapy, or medication) can be a challenging aspect in evaluating the effectiveness of chiropractic care. However, there are still robust evidence-based studies that prove the positive impact of chiropractic care.

A 2015 study showed improvement in neck pain, shoulder, and neck trigger points, and sports injuries with chiropractic care, but not back pain. [7] A 2018 study in the Spine Journal, however, shows moderate evidence that chiropractic can reduce low back pain and improve function. [8] This is especially relevant since low back pain is the most common cause of disability globally. [9, 10]

Many other chiropractic studies show no more than a placebo effect or very minimal improvement. [11, 12] Some studies show no evidence of an increased risk of stroke associated with chiropractic care, while others show an increased risk. [13, 14, 15]

All-in-all, there is proof that chiropractic care (when done gently & properly) can help with back pain, neck pain, and trigger points, but there is also some degree of risk. [16, 17]

Let’s Get Feedback From The In On Around Community…

I sent a poll out to over 19,000 Instagram followers via stories to learn more about their chiropractic experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly! Here are their responses:

Good Feedback:

1 – “Seven-month-old has eczema and constipation. After 2 visits, significant improvement!”
2 – “F4, back-to-back earaches. One chiro visit and her nose drained like a faucet. Lymph nodes drained well!”
3 – “Started getting adjustments and sports massages two years ago. Pain in joints are gone. I’m sold!”
4 – “My chiro is the only one who made my neck feel better and actually educated me about proper posture while working and how to set up my desk. My other doc pushed pain meds.”
5 – “My chiro saved my pregnancy! I hate that so many other doctors consider this field nonsense.”
6 – “Our chiropractor saved our son from having tubes put in his ears!”
7 – “I love mine! He is so honest. On the first visit, he reviewed all forms and took x-rays.”
8 – “Had daily postpartum headaches until I went to a chiro – totally gone on the same day!”
9 – “I had chest pains and panic attacks. I went to the chiro. They did an adjustment on my ribs and mid-back. Immediate relief.”

Bad Feedback:

1 – “Ugh – I badly herniated my L5 S1 from a chiro. I needed surgery, it was so bad!”
2 – “Heard they aren’t even licensed… the only funding is from internal sources.”
3 – “I saw a chiro for over a year, spent over $1000 in total, and was gifted with sciatica! My original pain started in T8 and has no previous hip/lower back injuries. Finally resolved left side sciatica after 6 months of additional chiro. Then I got adjusted on my neck a few weeks later and started having sciatica on the right side. Chiro told me he restarted the cycle with that neck adjustment. I saw no end to my chiro journey and experienced more pain than ever before.”

I also asked my followers how many had a positive, neutral, or negative experience. A total of 187 responses were recorded. Here are the results: 153 people had good experiences (81.8%), 20 people had neutral experiences (10.7%), and 14 people had negative experiences (7.5%).

Chiropractor Poll

My Personal Experience

I used to visit a chiropractor weekly for about 3 months. When I had my initial consultation, she told me that x-rays were needed to ensure they were targeting specific areas of my body and that the reports were confidential. When she was out of the office, however, other chiropractors stepped in (without reviewing my scans) as a substitute.

If you’re using the x-rays to adjust my treatment, why would you allow other chiropractors to work on me without reviewing my medical history? I wasn’t aware of the changes in advance and this discouraged me from returning to that practice.

What I also didn’t like was the lack of education about how to improve my posture and prevent further issues with my spine while at home. Instead, the focus was continually shelling out money (out-of-pocket, of course) on a weekly basis for rushed 10-minute chiropractic visits.

Final Thoughts – Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience or Legitimate Healthcare?

So, is chiropractic pseudoscience? No… but can you get hurt from it? Yes, you can. Is it everything that they claim it to be? No.

There is some scientific basis that chiropractic adjustments can help with back and neck pain, but there are many chiropractors who exaggerate the potential improvements. If you live with chronic pain, try finding a qualified chiropractor in your area, but do your due diligence and look into their background in depth. Opt for gentler adjustment methods or skip the chiro and find a physical therapist.

If you’re reading this and have found chiropractic to be effective for you, that’s wonderful! I don’t want to dismiss your personal experience whatsoever. Many people have benefitted from chiropractic medicine.

That said, the science is still very split, so take it all with a grain of salt and weigh the risks vs. rewards.

Pin this “Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience?” pic on Pinterest for future reference!

Chiropractic Adjustment

Frequently Asked Questions – Chiropractic Benefits

Click on the below FAQs to learn more about holistic healthcare, neck pain relief, back pain relief, mind-body medicine, posture correction, and more.

Can Chiropractors Improve Posture?

Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience?

Yes, chiropractors can help improve your posture using treatments like spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapy, and exercises.

Is Chiropractic Care Safe During Pregnancy?

Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience?

Chiropractic care can be safe and beneficial during pregnancy when performed by a qualified chiropractor with experience in prenatal care. Always use caution and speak with your doctor first.

How Effective Is Chiropractic Care For Migraines?

Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience?

Chiropractic care can be effective in reducing the frequency, duration, and intensity of migraines for some patients, but the science is still split.

Is Chiropractic Care Dangerous?

Is Chiropractic Pseudoscience?

Chiropractic care can be dangerous if performed by an unlicensed practitioner, especially if they’re using aggressive techniques. It’s generally safe and associated with few serious adverse events.

Have You Been To A Chiropractor?

Let me know your thoughts and key takeaways in the comments below!

You can watch our web story here.


Want to read more? Check out my other articles here!

Other references on Chiropractic Pseudoscience & Facts: Healthline, Cleveland, Cross River Therapy, Oviedo, Advanced Chiropractic, Dr Kaster, Big Think, Science-Based Medicine, Time, The Joint, Harvard, Wirth, McGowan, Chiro Denton, Better Health Alaska, EIH MD, NIH, Dr. Heidi,

Copyright In On Around LLC 2023 ©. The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this website should not be used as individual medical advice and you should always consult your doctor for individual recommendations and treatment. The information contained in this site is provided on an “as is” basis. Related to this site, there are no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or timeliness. In On Around LLC assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site.

About Catherine Power

Catherine Power is the Founder and CEO of In On Around. She is a Harvard-educated Ingredient Safety and Environmental Toxins expert. Catherine has a background in Food Science, Personal Care Quality, and Regulatory Compliance.

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