Red Flags of a questionable chiropractor

So, you're thinking of visiting a chiropractor.  I would guess you want to find a really good chiropractor.  Maybe even the best chiropractor.  I'm sure you've heard a range of stories about chiropractors and whether or not they are helpful. One friend may say "My chiropractor saved my life" while a family member swears we're all crooks and quacks. So, where's the truth?  As is usually the case, it lies somewhere in the middle. 

Chiropractors wouldn't still be around if they didn't offer some relief. But, like several other healthcare professions, many chiros don't like to admit there may be limitations of our treatments. Also, like all healthcare practitioners, chiropractors make more money when we see more patients. This makes unbiased decision making virtually impossible, especially if it's not a mutual decision with an informed patient. 

So, with that in mind, I wanted to make a list to help anyone seeking or currently seeing a chiropractor know what a good chiropractor would NOT be doing. 

1. Chiropractors should never tell you that you need an exact number of visits. And they should NEVER ask you to pay for all of them upfront.  Now, let's be clear, they should give you an estimate for how long it may take to get you better, and have an outline for that time frame. But if they're telling you that it will take 12, 24, or 36 visits, and you need to book them all on your first day, they're probably full of it.  If they ask you to pay for all of those treatment before they happen, they're DEFINITELY full of it. A good chiropractor will set up a treatment plan, maybe something like 2 times a week to start, and will lay out a plan to decrease treatment frequency as you get better.  When you tell them you're feeling better, they shouldn't fight you about keeping your visits, and they definitely shouldn't be scared to discharge you if you feel 100% healed.  If they stall when you're ready to be done, they're probably more concerned with the bottom line than your recovery.

2. Chiropractors shouldn't be x-raying every person that walks in the door.  Listen, X-rays can be a good tool when ordered properly.  But research shows they add little to improve patient outcomes for low back pain, the most common problem chiropractors treat.  If the chiro suggests an x-ray, don't be afraid to ask "why?"  If they suspect fracture, dislocation, or a pathological process like psoriatic arthritis or, God forbid, Cancer, there is good reason to see what's going on inside the body. If you fall into a certain age group (usually 60+) it may be good to screen for bone density, fracture, or pathology on a higher percentage of patients. If they just want to see the curves of your spine to find out where to adjust, they're practicing in the stone age. Or maybe just trying to run up the bill. Either way, it's not good. If they are advertising free x-rays to patients before they even know their problems, I advise to find another office.

3. Chiropractors shouldn't be anatomically body shaming their clients.  I had an old friend call me up and ask me if they thought a chiropractor they had visited was any good.  The conversation went something like this: 

Friend: "Hey, I  was having some neck problems and went to see this chiropractor, and I'm not sure I should go back"

Me: "Let me guess, they said the curve in your neck is a little too straight, and if you don't come into get at least 12 adjustments over the neck 3 weeks, your neck would become terribly arthritic and you were doomed to a life of pain and misery."

Friend: "Almost to the word, how did you know?"

Me: "Because most people with neck pain have tight muscles, which straightens your neck, and crappy chiropractors tell that story to everyone to scare them into coming often enough to finance their summer homes."

Well, it may be your neck, a short leg, an uneven curve, or a tilted pelvis, but chiropractors will find an anatomical assymetry or imperfection to explain your pain, and make themselves the only hero that can fix it. It's so effective, I've noticed more and more Physical therapists joining the game and claiming muscle imbalances or pelvic position is the cause of ailments. But there's two simple facts: Everyone is assymetrical, has weird curves, or some sort of imbalance.  Even if they were the cause of pain, which they're not, they're not changed by adjustments in the long term anyway. So, it's just another excuse to fatten pockets. 

4. Chiropractors shouldn't be making outlandish claims. Unfortuantely, it's the practice for which we're best known and most criticized. We're pretty good at treating back and body pains.  But if your chiro is telling you they can DEFINITELY cure your chronic ear infections with an adjustment or that your food allergies have something to do with your muscle strength, be skeptical.  



Dr. Todd Peterson, DC, Cert MDT. Dr. Todd Peteson Dr. Todd Peterson is a chiropractor and certified provider for Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy (MDT, aka the McKenzie Method). Dr. Peterson played football at the University of Nebraska, where he was a 4 year letter winner and Academic All American. He briefly played professional football in 2009 before returning to Chiropractic School in 2010. He earned his doctor of chiropractic (DC) degree from National University of Health Sciences in 2013, graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors.

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