It is estimated that about 27 million Americans visit a doctors of chiropractic each year, and millions more receive chiropractic care throughout the rest of the world. Chiropractic is the third largest primary health care field (after medicine and dentistry).
Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is based upon the understanding that good health depends, in part, upon a normally functioning nervous system (especially the spine, and the nerves extending from the spine to all parts of the body).
"Chiropractic" comes from the Greek word Chiropraktikos, meaning "effective treatment by hand." Chiropractic stresses the idea that the cause of many disease processes begins with the body's inability to adapt to its environment.
It looks to address these diseases not by the use of drugs and chemicals, but by locating and adjusting a musculoskeletal area of the body which is functioning improperly.
The conditions which doctors of chiropractic address are as varied and as vast as the nervous system itself.
We use a standard procedure of examination to diagnose a patient's condition and arrive at a course of treatment. Chiropractors use the same time-honored methods of consultation, case history, physical examination, laboratory analysis and x-ray examination as any other doctor. In addition, they provide a careful chiropractic structural examination, paying particular attention to the spine.
The examination of the spine to evaluate structure and function is what makes chiropractic different from other health care procedures. Your spinal column is a series of movable bones which begin at the base of your skull and end in the center of your hips. Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves extend down the spine from the brain and exit through a series of openings. The nerves leave the spine and form a complicated network which influences every living tissue in your body.
Accidents, falls, stress, tension, overexertion, and countless other factors can result in a displacements or derangements of the spinal column, causing irritation to spinal nerve roots. These irritations are often what cause malfunctions in the human body. Chiropractic teaches that reducing or eliminating this irritation to spinal nerves can cause your body to operate more efficiently and more comfortably.
We also places an emphasis on nutritional and exercise programs, wellness and lifestyle modifications for promoting physical and mental health. While chiropractors make no use of drugs or surgery, Doctors of chiropractic do refer patients for medical care when those interventions are indicated. In fact, chiropractors, medical doctors, physical therapists and other health care professionals now work as partners in occupational health, sports medicine, and a wide variety of other rehabilitation
Many of us are familiar with the terms "slipped disc" and "herniated disc." But few people outside the medical profession truly understand how critical their spinal discs are. Without discs, our vertebrae would grind against each other and our spines would collapse under the strain.
A whole host of things can go wrong with a vertebral disc over a lifetime. A traumatic injury can crush or misplace a disc. An excessive pulling or lifting accident at home or on the job can force a disc out of position. And for some of us, simply getting older can cause a disc to deteriorate. This is usually called degenerative disc disease.
First, what exactly is a disc?
Vertebral discs are the shock absorbers that are found between vertebral bodies. Each disc is essentially sandwiched between two vertebrae supported by ligaments. Composed of collagen, discs have a tough outer core and a soft inner core. When you are born, these discs are mostly water. As you get older, the discs slowly lose their water content and get harder. As they dehydrate over time, your discs provide less of that soft and cushy support they provided when they were new. Because they have no blood supply and few nerve endings, discs are unable to repair themselves. Disc degeneration can be painful in later years; in some cases, the inner core of the discs leak proteins that can inflame the nerve roots.
Common disc disorders
Disc disorders are generally classified as contained discs or noncontained discs. Contained discs are discs that are essentially intact, but protruding where they do not belong. Noncontained discs are ruptured discs that also may protrude into another area of the spine, leaking their fluid and causing havoc.
A common contained disc disorder is a bulging disc. Bulging discs may push into the spinal canal. A common noncontained disc disorder is a herniated disc, which has ruptured, usually at its weakest point. The fluid inside herniated discs is an irritant to the delicate soft tissues of the spinal cord, none the least being the nerves. Nerves that have become exposed to this fluid often swell in response. In some cases, parts of a herniated disc's tough outer shell can break off into the spinal canal, causing further irritation.
The vast majority of herniated discs occur in the lower back or lumbar region. When a lumbar herniated disc presses on a nerve root, it can cause radiating pain, numbness and weakness in other areas of the body, including the buttocks, leg, ankles and toes. Ironically, in many cases, a person with a herniated disc will not feel back or neck pain.
Cervical (neck) discs that have herniated can cause radiating pain and numbness down an arm and into the wrist and hand. Other types of symptoms include shoulder pain and numbness, as well as muscle and reflex weakness.