If you've never been to a chiropractor before (or you have and didn't think it was right for you), you should know that there is a vast difference amongst Doctors of Chiropractic (DC). There are almost as many unique combinations as there are practitioners. So how do you choose a chiropractor and know that they will provide the right care for YOU?
Before you decide, it's helpful to understand what makes this profession so diverse...
Although we all receive the same education, which is similar to medical doctors, and have to pass the same board exams, there are many things that set chiropractors apart once they get into practice.
First off, there are two different philosophies held in the chiropractic profession: mechanists and vitalists. Mechanists align more closely with allopathic medicine. A mechanist believes that we are the sum of our parts, operating in systems under the laws of science, and are more closely aligned with the allopathic profession. A mechanistic doctor will find a problem and do their best to intervene and treat it. On the other hand, vitalists believe the body has an innate intelligence, meaning that it possesses all of the knowledge and resources to heal itself. A vitalistic doctor will seek to uncover why your body is unable to heal itself, and help facilitate the restoration of that process. There is no inherent right or wrong view point, and both can exist, and even overlap at times, but they serve as a contrast within this profession.
Secondly, over 200 named techniques fall under the chiropractic scope of practice, each providing a different patient experience. Most chiropractic techniques are done only by hand (as the name "chiropractic" implies; derived from the Greek words for "hand"- cheiros and "done by" -praktos), but there are some that use instruments, such as Activator Technique or DNFT. Some techniques also utilize different specialized tables, such as Leander, Thompson or Cox. There is also a difference in the force used to apply the chiropractic adjustment. Some techniques, such as Diversified or Gonstead, use a fairly shallow, high speed thrust, that may elicit an audible cavitation (the "pop" or "crack" often heard). On the other end of the spectrum are low-force techniques, such as Network Spinal Analysis, Sacro-Occipital Technique, Logan Basic, and many others. There are many chiropractors who practice these named techniques exclusively, but there are also doctors who utilize aspects of several techniques which they integrate into their care.
There are also additional certifications that a DC may choose to pursue, allowing them to specialize in pediatrics, sports, rehab, nutrition, primary spine care, and animal chiropractic, to name a few. Some doctors may also continue their advanced studies to become diplomates in radiology, neurology, sports, rehab, nutrition and more.
As if this weren't complex enough, there are also chiropractors who believe that only a chiropractic adjustment is necessary, while others will include soft tissue work, nutrition and supplement recommendations, rehab exercises, physiotherapy or other services, in addition to the chiropractic adjustment.
There is also a difference is examination procedures. Some chiropractors will manually examine you only, while others require x-rays or utilize other pieces of examination equipment. There are also chiropractors who will examine you on the first visit, and then wait to treat you until after they have reviewed their findings with you on the second visit. Others will offer treatment to you at your initial appointment, following the exam. You may also be asked to follow a specific treatment plan up front, or follow up with your doctor as needed.
The environment is another element that factors in to your overall experience and the spaces in which doctors provide care are as diverse as they are. Many practitioners treat in private rooms, but open adjusting areas are also widely utilized. You may prefer a zen, spa-like experience with soft lighting and serene music; perhaps a family friendly office with a kids corner suits you best; you might find you like a sports chiropractic office that is bright and up beat with a game on TV; or you may be most comfortable in a space that resembles your medical doctor's office.
Payment and time are additional items that set chiropractic doctors apart. Some take many types of insurance (in or out-of-network), while others offer a cash discount or operate as cash-only. Some visits may be relatively brief (5-10 minutes or less), while others may be scheduled for 15, 30 or even 60 minutes. The price for a chiropractic appointment is often based on the time spent with the individual, what is included in the visit, competitors pricing, region or location of the practice, and additional training or specializations that the doctor possesses. You will also want to consider the office hours of the practice and how that meets your scheduling needs.
All of these aspects contribute to the broad array of chiropractic practices and practitioners. I have personally visited &/or been a patient in over 30 offices, and have yet to meet 2 people who practice in exactly the same way. So back to the original question- how do you choose a chiropractor that's right for you?
The first recommendation is to determine what you want from your care. As you were reading this, hopefully you found aspects that resonated with you and that would be more important to you when choosing a chiropractor. Perhaps you're intrigued about the various types of techniques and want to learn more. This article is only a brief summary of the variances in chiropractors and chiropractic practices, but hopefully it got you thinking about what you want to look for. When determining what you want, consider ranking the items discussed above: Do you need a practitioner who is close to work and takes your insurance? Are you willing to drive to find someone who specializes in a certain technique or holds a specific certification? Do you want to get in and out quickly, or have someone spend more time with you? Considering these questions will help you get the best experience.
Download this spreadsheet to help you organize your search!
If you are interested in a specific location, a simple Google map search will give you a starting point, but if you are concerned with other specifics, start there. Technique and certifying organizations often list their qualified practitioners on their website or you can often call their main office to get more information.
Asking for referrals is another way to help you find the right chiropractic doctor. If you know someone who is seeking treatment for a similar reason and they are experiencing great results, it might be worth getting their recommendation for a practitioner. Keep in mind that you may not get the same results, but if a friend or family member has had a positive experience with their chiropractor, that's another great place to start your search!
Once you have a list of what you are looking for, and hopefully a few good leads, take the time to peruse each of their websites. If everything still seems like a good fit, give them a call. You can often ask the staff or doctor specifics about the office and details about appointments. Many doctors are willing to schedule a phone consultation to discuss more details (although check in advance, because some will charge a fee for consultations). Get as much information as you can and then do a gut-check. Does this feel right? Can I see myself happy with this doctor and their practice? Hopefully you've found a doctor that you are excited to see and can schedule your first chiropractic appointment!
I hope that you find a chiropractor who you can continue with for life, just like having a good dentist or a trustworthy mechanic! Although you may not always need to see them weekly or even monthly, establishing a good relationship with a chiropractic doctor is a valuable resource, and an important part of your wellness team!
Have more questions? Want to share your search for the right DC? Send me an email or comment below!