The Myths

The Rumour Mill

Welcome to our Myth-information page. Hopefully I can correct some of the negative myths and mis-information that you may have heard regarding chiropractic.

MYTH #1: Chiropractors are uneducated

Chiropractic, like every healing art, increases its educational requirements on a regular basis. When I started college in the early 1970’s the curriculum required a matriculation program (university entrance) as a prerequisite and was the equivalent of a 5 year university program, compressed into 4 calendar years. Over and above that, we were required to complete an undergraduate clinical internship. By the time I was done, 1 year university was minimum entry.

The current requirements are a university degree for entrance, then 4 years, plus internship. A title of Doctor of Chiropractic is recognized by a great many governments, including the US and Canada, as having the same weight as Dentistry, Medicine, Podiatry and Optometry. The New Zealand Royal Inquiry into chiropractic noted that we are very well educated and, along with the World Health Organization, notes that we are in fact, the only health profession qualified to do what we do.

MYTH #2 – Chiropractors are unregulated

Chiropractors are regulated in no less than 98 countries, including all 10 Canadian provinces and all 50 US states. Most unregulated areas have no chiropractors and therefore no need for legislation. (See World Federation of Chiropractic). In fact, here in Alberta, chiropractic has be regulated since 1923.

MYTH #3: If you go once , you can never stop

That’s just silly! The most important points to consider here are:

a. What is the nature of your problem?
b. What are you hoping to derive from your care?

The research on the management of acute spinal injuries and conditions (both WCB case files and Randomized Control Trials) shows, that, after a short course of treatment, chiropractic gives superior results in both the short and long-term. That is to say, one to two years post-treatment the chiropractic patients are still doing better than the non-chiropractic patients. With regard to chronic problems, the overall advantage still goes to chiropractic patients; but, a much smaller number of these conditions respond adequately to a short course of treatment (approximately 30% versus 80-85% of acute cases.) In the rehabilitation sciences we find that a radically different approach is required to effectively address the large number of slow responders. The other group of patients are those who choose to get wellness or supportive care because they think prevention is better than treatment. Interestingly enough, the Hippocratic Oath instructs doctors to place prevention ahead of treatment and prevention is indeed a never-ending process.

MYTH #4: “Popping” your joints wears them out and may cause arthritis

Quite frankly, there is limited research in this area; but the research that does exist points us in exactly the opposite direction. Years ago there was a study on the elderly and the relationship between “cracking their knuckles” and the presence of arthritis in the hands. This study noted that, as opposed to causing arthritis, the “knuckle crackers” had at least as healthy, if not more healthy, joints in their hands. In the 1980s, a small study done by Ressel showed that with relatively long-term, rehabilitative-type care, osteoarthritis in the neck actually improved rather than worsening. The more modern view of osteoarthritis is that it is the result of long-term joint dysfunction. Proper chiropractic treatment, including appropriate supportive or wellness care, is in fact one of the best ways to promote and maintain proper joint function.

MYTH #6: Chiropractic is witchcraft

It never ceases to amaze me how many people within the Christian church are possessed of the opinion that chiropractic is somehow inherently New Age theology or even witchcraft. I have no idea who started this nonsense, but I am told that the rationale behind it is that the founder, D.D. Palmer (1895), was a magnetic healer prior to his epiphany regarding the relationship between the spine and nervous system. The fact that the spine is a factor in health has been recognized for thousands and thousands of years and, in fact, Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, himself noted that we should “look well to the spine, for it is the requisite for many diseases.” What Palmer did was to determine that a.) the link between the spine and health was neurological and b.) that the lumps, bumps and protrusions on the spine could be used as levers in order to make much more specific adjustments. (Hippocrates’ techniques were very primitive)

For anyone to presume that the belief system of the founder negates the science is simple foolishness. The science needs to be evaluated based on it’s own merit.

The next point of consideration is that because chiropractic is one of the natural healing arts, and because many people in the natural healing arts get drawn into Eastern Mysticism and New Age philosophies, that means all of chiropractic is New Age. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a great many physicians, nurses, psychologists and family counselors are also drawn in to Eastern Mysticism and New Age philosophies, but that does not alter the basic science behind medicine or counseling. Just for fun, let’s take a look at a few lines from the classical Hippocratic Oath (used until 1964) taken by medical doctors:

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgement, this oath and this covenant

Now if you view the chiropractic oath you will find no mention of the Greek gods, but only one God.

So the science is good, the physiology sound, the anatomy congruent and the evidence definitive; chiropractic is both an art and a science, which although it has different philosophical underpinnings than medicine, those underpinnings are based on the body’s ability to heal itself and not on any particular spiritual intervention.

MYTH #7: “Don’t ever let a chiropractor touch your neck, you’ll have a stroke!”

I can’t say this strongly enough – there is absolutely not one single, shred of evidence to support the opinion that chiropractic causes strokes. That being said, human beings have strokes, and the older we get, the more of us there are who have strokes. As a matter of fact, the most recent studies on this have shown that the rate of strokes following care are essentially the same whether you saw a chiropractor or a medical doctor. It’s important to understand that even if adjustments were causative, a chiropractic adjustment is roughly 100 times safer than even the safest over-the-counter medications; it is the safest form of treatment we have for the conditions we address, but remember, none of these studies point to causation, only to a relationship in time. Other activities that have this same relationship include: having your hair washed, looking over your shoulder, sneezing, vomiting, blowing your nose and having sexual intercourse. The problem we have is that, with an incidence rate this low, it is extremely difficult to conduct a proper study. Noted Canadian epidemiologist Dr. Sackett, advises us that in order to mount a proper study we would require 10 to 12 million volunteers, and that given the rarity of this occurrence such a study would represent a complete misallocation of funding. The studies that have been done show us this: a chiropractic adjustment puts less force on the arteries in your neck than turning your own head and that in 73 controlled clinical trials not a single episode of stroke has been recorded. In the past 25 years, Life Chiropractic College West has successfully delivered an estimated 1.5 million neck adjustments with not a single known case of stroke.

Nevertheless, people do have strokes. However, your risk of having a stroke during or immediately following chiropractic care is so far below the medical definition of trivial (1 in 20,000) that it is really not worth concerning yourself over. The current thinking on the relationship between stroke and chiropractic is this:

  • two of the most common reasons for attending a chiropractor are headache and neck pain,
  • two of the most common symptoms of stroke are headache and neck pain.

The feeling is that people who are in the process of having a stroke are seeing their chiropractor and that, unfortunately, it got missed. With an aging population it is reasonable to expect the incidence of stroke, overall, will increase. As more and more people see chiropractors, the incidence of stroke in chiropractic patients will also increase; but, as long as the incidence of stroke in our patients does not rise above general population rates it would seem clear that we are not causing strokes. In Fact, one study I saw reported that chiropractic patients actually had fewer strokes than the general population.

That being said, for your own information, be aware of the following signs of stroke:

  • Headache – the worst you’ve ever known, hits like a thunderclap
  • Dizziness (severe)
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty forming words
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Passing out (drop attacks)
  • Inability to walk
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Shaking of the eyes on movement

Any one of these does not necessarily indicate that you are having a stroke (the first – “worst headache you have ever known”, is often the best indicator); but if you have a collection of these, and especially if you’ve never experienced them before, you should go to the emergency room. If you do choose to consult a trusted family chiropractor, be certain to advise him/her of any these symptoms, and ask if he/she thinks you might be having a stroke.