The origins of the word “chiropractic” alone define the basic tenets of this popular wellness option. Stemming from the Greek words cheir (hand) and praktos (done), the practice hails from manual healing methods traced to ancient times. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that chiropractic began forming as a viable profession in the healing arts, with the first chiropractic adjustment credited to Daniel David Palmer in 1895. Two years later, Palmer founded the first chiropractic school in Davenport, Iowa.
Today, chiropractic is highly regulated within the healthcare industry, with stringent educational and competency standards required for licensing by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. There are approximately 20 chiropractic colleges in the United States accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education—an agency officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in 1974. All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, plus more than 40 countries around the globe, license chiropractors.
The basic theory behind chiropractic is that proper alignment of the body’s musculoskeletal structure—particularly the spine—enables the body to heal itself without surgery or medication. Manual manipulation characterized by a sudden, controlled force to a spinal joint to improve spinal motion and enhance the body’s physical function lies at the heart of this practice.
According to Jacob Ross, D.C., of Ross Chiropractic in Wilmington, correcting spinal mechanical dysfunction is the primary objective of chiropractic. “We work a lot on mechanical spine pain and releasing mechanical dysfunction in the spine to increase mobility and alleviate discomfort on the nervous system,” he explains.
Although readjusting the body’s internal wiring—the nerves that run throughout—is an important aspect of chiropractic, Ross asserts that it’s not as simple as wire in, wire out. “There are different nerves between the joints called mechanoreceptors,” he continues. “If they’re not moving properly, they set off pain receptors.”
Ross supports and utilizes various modes of chiropractic care, including traditional work that results in the “popping” sensation most people equate with going to a chiropractor, as well as softer types of adjustments to the spine for myofascial release or a concentrated focus on general range of motion. “We also offer physical therapy,” Ross says. “We believe not only in the chiropractic aspect but also in selectively strengthening muscles to increase stabilization for the spine and body.”
He also promotes stretching and exercises patients can do at home, especially in situations where someone is experiencing chronic pain, adding, “You have to also learn how to manage your pain outside of treatment.”
According to WebMD, roughly 22 million Americans visit chiropractors annually, with 35 percent of patients seeking relief from back pain resulting from sports injuries, accidents and/or muscle strains. Headaches and pain in the neck, arms or legs round out the primary drivers for choosing to see a chiropractor.
“People go to chiropractors for many reasons,” agrees Karen C. Feeney, D.C., a licensed chiropractor at Athena Chiropractic LLC in Wilmington. “Some people are fortunate enough to have been introduced to chiropractic early in life, possibly by a parent who was a chiropractic patient. Parents also may choose to bring a child to a chiropractor for issues related to ‘growing pains,’ sports, and even for the relief of colic and asthma symptoms. Others may choose chiropractic care as part of an overall wellness plan to help keep them flexible as they age or because they do not want to take prescription medication.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 in 4 patients who receive prescription opioids long-term for noncancer pain in primary care settings struggles with addiction. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in the ER for misusing prescription opioids.
“Beyond the risks of addiction and overdose, prescription drugs that numb pain may convince a patient that a musculoskeletal condition is less severe than it is or that it has healed,” Feeney explains. “This misunderstanding can lead to overexertion, a delay in the healing process or even permanent injury. Chiropractic and other nondrug approaches to pain management can be an important first line of defense against pain and addiction resulting from the overuse of prescription opioid pain medications.”
Since chiropractors are not licensed to dispense medication, they rely on a drug-free approach to whole-body wellness—a philosophy that can sometimes fly in the face of Western medicine.
Ross is well aware of American society’s collective desire for a “quick fix” when it comes to seeking medical care. “In Western culture, patients generally look for the magic bullet to fix whatever ails them. But there is no such thing as a magic bullet,” he asserts. “I like to use the analogy of a car: A car is a moving object; our bodies are moving objects. Our cars wear down and need maintenance from time to time to perform properly, like a wheel alignment. Our bodies need the same thing, because we’re a moving entity out there not made of something as strong as steel.”
Driven by a compulsion to help people in pain, Ross originally was headed in a more general medical direction but decided to devote himself to chiropractic care because he believes he can help more people by working in a rehab environment. “What inspires me, keeps me motivated for chiropractic work, is that we help people who are in pain—pain that can radically alter someone’s lifestyle and quality of life. From my experiences being a chiropractor and having had chiropractic treatment in the past, I find it helps improve quality of life and basically makes people feel better.”
In Feeney’s case, she grew up in a family of healthcare providers—chiropractors and nurses, specifically—which spurred her to pursue chiropractic. “Being healthy and encouraging healthy behavior in those around us was always a natural part of life,” she reveals. “After college, I had a heart-to-heart with my father, and he encouraged me to visit chiropractic schools.” She settled on the Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas, Texas, which offered state-of-the-art learning facilities, a strong science background and a solid philosophical/professional base.
Feeney also credits early and regular chiropractic care with her commitment to her craft. “I was the tomboy kid, constantly crashing my Big Wheel or doing stunts on swings,” she recalls. “Had I not been adjusted my whole life, I imagine that I would have significant orthopedic issues today.” In general, she says she is grateful to be able to combine her passions for health and wellness into what she does for a living.