The primary thing that you should see a doctor of chiropractic for instead of a medical doctor is joint dysfunction, sometimes chiropractors will call this “subluxation.” The problem is the same with either term. “What is that?” Medical doctors and chiropractors use different terms so I’ll try to list some of the more common diagnoses terms and explain why and how a DC should be preferred over an MD for those conditions.
Back pain of any kind. I say this, knowing that there are causes of back pain that a chiropractor cannot treat. They should be a first line provider when it comes to back pain. The advantage of seeing a chiropractor first for back pain is that it is their expertise. They have had more class and clinical hours studying and treating the back than the average MD. So, even if they can’t treat it, they are better equipped to diagnose and refer to the right person. They can also treat most back pain generators. Even the studies with the worst outcomes show that chiropractic is at least as good as standard medical treatments (most show better results) for low back pain with higher patient satisfaction, and lower risk. The second reason to see a chiropractor is cost. A full treatment plan with a chiropractor will cost about the same as the initial MRI at a hospital ER.
If you’ve been in a car accident, after visiting the ER, and in the absence of life threatening findings there you should proceed to your chiropractor. The ER doctors will often say something along the lines of well we can’t find anything on our tests, it looks like you have a little (fill in the blank…whiplash, sprain/strain, pulled muscles, bruising, etc…). They will usually send you home with a prescription for some pain medication. They don’t deny the pain or the injury, they just don’t have any medication to treat these injuries. These injuries are what chiropractors deal with. Like with MDs, DCs cannot cure a sprain or a strain, but they can improve healing time, and reduce pain without the risk/side effects that medication has.
Pregnancy back and muscle aches. This statement is not intended to negate medical monitoring of a pregnancy. Chiropractors should not be substituting for an OB/Gyn if that is the care you choose. With pregnancy however most medications are out, due to possible harm to the baby. In this circumstance you want your treatments to be as conservative as possible. Again, that is a chiropractors realm, conservative care.
Headaches are one of those areas that are middle of the road. Most headaches are just tension headaches, and chiropractic has a very high success rate treating them. The problem is most people don’t go to their doctor for the average tension headache, they go for chronic headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, etc… With these I wouldn’t say one was better than the other. Because the cause of headaches vary so much you could start either place. The big advantage that I would give chiropractic in this case is that it is more conservative, and they won’t start with drugs. If you aren’t seeing some results with a chiropractor within 2 weeks I would recommend looking into other things, and for that matter the chiropractor should be looking to refer you about that time.
Difficulty moving, such as when you bend down and can’t stand back up, or you can’t turn your head properly to back up your car. Stiffness or soreness is also something to go see a chiropractor about. Basically anytime you have a mechanical problem be it muscles, bones, or joint structures head to your chiropractor.
Repetative stress injuries, whether they be work related, sports related, performance related, or what ever. RSI’s are something that I’ve discussed in depth previously. See here for the start of the discussion series.
I’m sure that I’ve missed many, and I hope that my chiropractic friends will correct me with comments to this post, but I hope this is a good starting point for those of you who are looking for a way to judge who you should go see.
A chiropractor can be a primary care provider and at times are. You should be able to go see your chiropractor for any reason, and he should be able to help you either through chiropractic treatment or by referring you on to the person who you should see. However, if there is a medical doctor around you would save time by skipping the chiropractor and going straight to the MD if you have a fever, bowel and bladder problems, you are oozing fluids, or have cancer. Those are things chiropractors don’t usually deal with.