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Chiropractic Overview

The musculoskeletal system consists of the bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Primary functions of the musculoskeletal system include support of the body, provision of motion, and protection of vital organs. The skeletal system serves as the main storage system for calcium and phosphorus and contains critical components of the hematopoietic system. Because many other body systems, including the nervous, vascular, and integumentary systems, are interrelated, disorders of one of these systems may also affect the musculoskeletal system and complicate diagnosis.

Diseases of the musculoskeletal system most often involve motion deficits or functional disorders. The degree of impairment depends on the specific problem and its severity. Skeletal and articular disorders are by far the most common; however, primary muscular diseases, neurologic deficits, toxins, endocrine aberrations, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases, blood and vascular disorders, nutritional imbalances or deficits, and occasionally congenital defects are diagnosed as well.

Disorders of muscles that are part of another body system may induce specific aberrations such as impairment of ocular motion and control, respiratory dysfunction, bladder malfunction, lack of penile retraction, and impairment of mastication and deglutition. Complete paralysis, paresis, or ataxia may be caused by primary muscular dysfunctions of infectious, toxic, or congenital origin; however, in most instances the primary disorder can be attributed to the nervous system (e.g., tetanus, rhinopneumonitis, canine distemper, protozoal myelitis), with the muscular system merely representing the effector organ.

The structural and functional unit of skeletal muscle is the motor unit. It consists of a ventral motor neuron with its cell body in the central horn of the spinal cord and its peripheral axon, the neuromuscular junction, and the muscle fibers innervated by the neuron. Each of these components must be functionally intact for the muscle to contract properly. The ventral motor neuron is the final common pathway conducting neural impulses from the Central Nervous System to the muscle.

Diagnostic procedures to determine the nature, extent, and exact location of the joint disorder include inspection, manual palpation and manipulation, diagnostic imaging techniques, local or intra-articular anesthesia, diagnostic arthroscopy, and laboratory examination of synovial fluid or biopsy of synovial membrane.

The diagnostic and therapeutic options for management of musculoskeletal disorders have greatly expanded during the last few years and allow a return to a useful life for most people if done early in the disease process.

Chiropractic is a health care approach that focuses on the relationship between the body's structure—mainly the spine—and its’ functioning. Although practitioners may use a variety of treatment approaches, they primarily perform adjustments to the spine or other parts of the body with the goal of correcting alignment problems and supporting the body's natural ability to heal itself.

The term "chiropractic" combines the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (action) to describe a treatment done by hand. Hands-on therapy—especially adjustment of the spine—is central to chiropractic care. Chiropractic in the United States is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine.  Complementary and alternative medicines are diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.   Complementary and alternative medicine, (CAM), is based on these key concepts:

  • The body has a powerful self-healing ability.
  • The body's structure (primarily that of the spine) and its function are closely related, and this relationship affects health.
  • Therapy aims to normalize this relationship between structure and function and assist the body as it heals.

Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health.  Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.

Doctors of Chiropractic – often referred to as chiropractors or chiropractic physicians – practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to health care that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling.

The most common therapeutic procedure performed by doctors of chiropractic is known as “spinal manipulation,” also called “chiropractic adjustment.”   The purpose of manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become hypo mobile – or restricted in their movement – as a result of a tissue injury. Tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stresses, such as sitting in an awkward position with poor spinal posture for an extended period of time. In either case, injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function for the sufferer. Manipulation, or adjustment of the affected joint and tissues, restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness, and allowing tissues to heal.

Chiropractic adjustment rarely causes discomfort. However, patients may sometimes experience mild soreness or aching following treatment (as with some forms of exercise) that usually resolves within 12 to 48 hours.

In many cases, such as lower back pain, chiropractic care may be the primary method of treatment. When other medical conditions exist, chiropractic care may complement or support medical treatment by relieving the musculoskeletal aspects associated with the condition.

Doctors of chiropractic may assess patients through clinical examination, laboratory testing, diagnostic imaging and other diagnostic interventions to determine when chiropractic treatment is appropriate or when it is not appropriate.  Chiropractors will readily refer patients to the appropriate health care provider when chiropractic care is not suitable for the patient’s condition, or the condition warrants co-management in conjunction with other members of the health care team.

Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is concerned with human health and disease processes. Doctors of Chiropractic are physicians who consider man as an integrated being and give special attention to the physiological and biochemical aspects including structural, spinal, musculoskeletal, neurological, vascular, psychological, nutritional, visceral, emotional and environmental relationships and are trained in diagnosis so they may treat patients effectively and make timely referral to appropriate health care providers.

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Article Last Updated: 08/26/2015