Most chiropractors begin the treatment during the patient's first visit, although some may wait until the next appointment at the chiropractic clinic. Here is an overview of the typical goals of chiropractic care, available treatment options, and average length of treatment.
Goals of Chiropractic Care
The chiropractor will establish specific goals for a patient's individual treatment plan:
- Short-term goals typically include reducing pain and restoring normal joint function and muscle balance.
- Long-term goals include restoring functional independence and tolerance to normal activities of daily living.
To reach these goals, a specific number of chiropractic visits will be recommended, depending on the patient’s diagnosed condition and treatment plan.
Length of Chiropractic Treatment Plan
For most types of lower back pain, a treatment recommendation of 1 to 3 chiropractic visits per week for 2 to 4 weeks will be prescribed, followed by a re-examination by the chiropractor. While not all studies agree, some research suggests that having a few chiropractic treatments per week for a few weeks may be beneficial for reducing back pain:
- One study found that having 3 to 4 chiropractic treatments per week for 4 weeks provided substantial back pain relief.1
- Another study looked at people who visited a chiropractor over a period of 6 weeks, getting anywhere from 0, 6, 12, or 18 sessions with hands-on adjustments. While all groups with chiropractic treatment saw benefits, the group who had gotten 12 treatments over 6 weeks (2 per week) had slightly better results.3
Depending on the condition, sometimes a chiropractor may recommend a maintenance program that involves continuing with exercises and occasional spinal manipulations. While some people report benefits of maintenance chiropractic care, this method is not validated by clinical studies and more research is needed to establish its efficacy.3,4
Chiropractic Treatment Options
A chiropractor has numerous treatment methods and recommendations, which may include some or all of the following:
- Spinal manipulation, which involves the high-velocity, low-amplitude treatment that is usually performed by a chiropractor using hands to make spinal adjustments.
- Spinal mobilization, which is gentler than spinal manipulation but still puts the joints through the full range of motion.
- Strengthening and/or stretching exercises to improve muscle balance, strength, and coordination.
- Patient education to improve posture and motor control, as well as possibly reduce anxiety.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS), which is typically a small unit that sends low-voltage pulses to the area of pain to help alter sensations and provide relief.
- Cervical traction to help lift the head and reduce pressure on the spinal discs and nerve roots, which may temporarily relieve neck, shoulder, and/or arm pain.
Other treatments used by a chiropractor could include massage, ultrasound, nutrition guidance, heat therapy, and/or cold therapy.
Chiropractic Evaluation of the Treatment
At the re-evaluation, the chiropractic doctor will measure the response to treatment and determine whether to:
- Continue chiropractic treatment, if appropriate.
- Release the patient from chiropractic care, if treatment goals have been met.
- Refer the patient to another health care specialist if treatment goals have not been fulfilled.
Because this profession has a large variety of practice philosophies and chiropractic techniques, individuals should feel comfortable asking questions to understand their chiropractic treatment program. If the chiropractic treatment does not help in relieving pain and the associated symptoms or if the pain worsens, a second opinion is advised.