A Chiropractor Does More Than “Crack Backs”

I’ve been going back and forth with myself about whether or not to write this post, but I’ve finally decided that it’s time to share my perspective on the matter:

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently in school to become a chiropractic physician– emphasis on the second word. Yes, chiropractors are physicians. We are licensed to diagnose and treat human diseases under the Medical Practice Act of 1987 along with MD’s and DO’s. The only difference is that we aren’t licensed to utilize drugs or surgery — and most of us don’t want to, either. Many folks don’t realize that there’s a lot more to medicine than prescriptions and stitches, and there’s a lot more to the practice of chiropractic medicine than the infamous “adjustment.” I’ve encountered a lot of people that look down on my profession or have called me a “quack” because they don’t understand what I do. Once I got over being offended by these ignorant comments, I realized that such attitudes come from a place of misinformation and lack of understanding about the chiropractic education, training, and scope of practice. To explain all this, I’ll start with my own story of why I chose to become a chiropractic physician.

My Story: Becoming a Chiropractor

Throughout my teenage/young adult life, I’d always been interested in human biology. I loved learning about the body, how our organs work, and understanding different diseases. I was also really interested in nutrition, and enjoyed learning how lifestyle influenced health and disease prevention. So, I decided to become a doctor so I could help people stay healthy through nutrition and lifestyle. I wanted to show others that they could prevent the need for drugs and surgery — that there was another path to good health.

So, my junior year of college, I took the MCAT and applied to exactly one medical school. I didn’t get in.

This really confused me. First of all, I’d been pretty confident after seeking counsel and spending hours in prayer that becoming a doctor was God’s will for my life. Plus, my grades were excellent, my MCAT score was solid, and I had quite a bit of experience under my belt working for a doctor.

After another five months of tears and deliberation, I took the MCAT again, reapplied to medical school (this time to three schools) and fared much better: I was waitlisted at one school but got into the other two. I was even offered a full-ride scholarship to one of them!

Then, I declined all the offers.

See, between the time when I submitted my application (end of summer) and when I started getting acceptance letters (February ish) I realized that undergoing the standard medical training that one would receive at an MD or DO school would not equip me with the tools I would need for offering natural/holistic approaches to patients.

From talking with my friends in both MD and DO schools and reviewing the curriculum, I realized that I wouldn’t be getting any training in advanced nutrition, the use of supplements, or lifestyle therapies for treating diseases or preventing them. Drugs and surgery can save lives, but they aren’t necessary until things get really bad. I wanted to help people keep their health problems from getting to that point. Drugs and surgery didn’t interest me, and I didn’t want to dedicate 10 years of my life to something I wasn’t 100% passionate about.

Then, I learned what chiropractors (can) do, and I took a 90-degree turn down an alternative path. (Pun intended!)

A picture of me from my white coat ceremony, the summer I started my program.

What Is Chiropractic Medicine?

Yes, chiropractors can “crack backs” as most people think of that phrase. But adjusting/manipulating the spine is just one of many techniques in which chiropractic physicians are trained to alleviate symptoms of disease. Adjustments aren’t helpful in treating all conditions, and some chiropractors don’t adjust at all. (When I graduate, I’ll probably fall into that category of non-adjusters because I’m a small woman and not very muscular.)

I also want to point out that chiropractors aren’t just glorified massage therapists. (Not to knock massage therapists — I love me some soft tissue work! But there’s more to our training and scope of practice.) We also aren’t self-proclaimed health gurus, offering the same limited advice as you’d find on an internet health article. The diagnostic approach of chiropractors — like other physicians — cannot be substituted for a google search regarding symptoms or supplements. There’s so much more to clinical natural medicine than walking into a health food store and reading advertisements.

Many people don’t realize that chiropractors are licensed to do everything else that other physicians are licensed to do — aside from prescribing drugs or surgery.

What this means is that we are able to evaluate patients, conduct physical exams, order diagnostic imaging, read laboratory and blood test results, take nasal swabs to test for influenza, complete PAP smears, administer skin-prick tests, pregnancy tests, test blood sugar and blood pressure, and refer to other specialists. We also can diagnose everything from prostate cancer to lupus, and we often do. Therefore, our medical education is both comprehensive enough and detailed enough to empower us to do this. We even receive education about when and how drugs and surgery should be used — so that we can refer appropriately.

However, I will note that because we don’t receive training in how to administer drugs and surgery, we don’t receive as detailed of an education about the more serious conditions that warrant such invasive approaches, such as how to select among different chemotherapy drug cocktails based on the subtype of cancer one might have. I truly have the utmost respect and admiration for surgeons and specialists who dedicate their own lives to savings those of others. The purpose of this post is not to detract from the expertise of other healthcare professionals but rather to help readers understand how much chiropractors have to offer, too.

In the spectrum between a perfectly healthy individual and one who is battling a potentially fatal illness, there are a wide variety of diseases and symptoms that can effectively be managed by chiropractic physicians and other primary healthcare providers, preventing such diseases from worsening and even allowing them to resolve altogether. We can treat heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoarthritis. We can correct thyroid hormone imbalances, reduce subluxed shoulders, and treat GERD. We are trained in botanical medicine, nutritional therapy, acupuncture and tissue therapy. We counsel patients about infertility, anxiety, and irritable bowel disease. Chiropractors can treat so much more than back pain. When we identify conditions we can’t safely treat with conservative therapy alone, we refer to those with the necessary training, just as any other primary care physician would.

Here’s a picture of my “studying process” for one of my finals in my medical program. This was for my class titled “Fundamentals of Imaging: Chest and Abdomen” and was one of eight radiology courses in my curriculum

The Main Takeaways

Chiropractors are physicians. We diagnose and treat diseases just like any other doctor. But since we don’t prescribe drugs or surgery, we find every possible alternative to those last-resort therapies to help patients recover through the most minimally invasive route.

Chiropractors are scientifically trained, just like any other doctor. Our therapies are determined by research outcomes, just like any other medical approach. We complete just as many hours of coursework in human anatomy, physiology, pathology, and biochemistry as any other physician. We dissect cadavers. We learn how to complete an abdominal exam. We learn how to draw blood and interpret the laboratory results. We are clinically-minded.

Chiropractors fill the void left by a “drugs-and-surgery-only” approach to medicine. In the age of the opioid crisis, the need for alternative approaches to healthcare is becoming more and more obvious. Chiropractors can help prevent narcotic prescriptions for back pain (which might seem obvious) but we also can help prevent Lipitor prescriptions for high cholesterol, Metformin prescriptions for diabetes, and contraceptive prescriptions for hypothalamic amenorrhea.

Chiropractors are an important part of the medical system. The perspective we bring to the table saves patients money by helping prevent the progression of their symptoms and subsequently preventing them from needing drugs or surgery. In situations where drugs and surgery aren’t as helpful, our therapies offer options for health and healing so patients can return to lives they love. We view healthcare holistically rather than simply taking a band-aid approach.

My prayer in writing this post is that your understanding about the role of chiropractic physicians in the medical system has been expanded. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments or concerns!

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