A few weeks ago in one of the classes I am teaching, a student revealed to me she is attending school to become a physical therapist. I made a comment to her about how important physical therapists are to medicine and the very difficult education physical therapists have to go through to become one. I also asked if it makes her upset when chiropractors practice unlicensed physical therapy considering all of the hard work she has to put into her attaining her degree. Her response was, ” Oh, no. I love my chiropractor.”
The skeptical community has done an excellent job showing the total scam job chiropractors have put over their customers and insurance companies. From a 2007 episode of Skeptoid, here is the foundation of chiropractic practice:
The cornerstone of chiropractic is something they call a subluxation. The first and most important thing to understand is that a chiropractic subluxation is a completely different phenomenon from an orthopedic subluxation, which is a real medical condition, and is unrelated. [T]he current definition [of subluxation] is “a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health.”
Basically, a pure or traditional chiropractor believes that the nervous system works just like a set of garden hoses for a “fluid” of what Daniel D. Palmer called innate intelligence. If you get a kink in the hose, you simply realign the spine and can cure any disease. In 1895, that might have seemed reasonable, but in 2011 we know quite a bit about the nervous system to know that is not how it works.
I would guess my student probably has a chiropractor that falls into a much more modern category of chiropractor, one that generally follows medical practices and then adds the modern woo of chiropractic subluxation. Really, what most of these chiropractors are doing is practicing physical therapy, but without any formal training. However, they still perform the chiropractic manipulations within the practice, which can negate any of the positive effects of the unlicensed physical therapy.
The other scary thing about these chiropractic adjustments is that they do carry some risk. Actor Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame recently revealed that he experienced both an aneurysm and strokes after a chiropractic adjustment. These are rare occurrences. We could make the argument that there is some temporary relaxation relief and any temporary relief (OTC medication, hot tubs, etc) carry some small risk. And in any medical practice, mistakes can happen. While both points are valid, the chiropractic subluxations have never been shown scientifically to provide any actual relief. If one does a risk/benefit analysis of chiropractic subluxation, I would choose not to get them.
It seems there is no easy way to change people’s minds on chiropractors. This should be an easy choice to make. You either see a chiropractor where you get someone practicing physical therapy without a license, or see a physical therapist who is practicing with a license AND has requirements to keep up with continuing education and the latest research in the field. Seeing a physical therapist for your sports injuries, back injuries, or other minor muscular-skeletal issues would seem to be the best bet in curing what ails you.
Let me be clear that some people probably do get relief from the treatments they get from their chiropractor. The issue I am taking is that chiropractors are not trained as physical therapists and do not get the same education as a physical therapist. They may be doing an “ok” job with their general medical knowledge, but having a chiropractor do physical therapy is like having a dentist do tonsillectomies. I’m sure some dentists could do it, but because their training is not in that area nor are they licensed or required to keep up their knowledge on those surgical procedures, you have a much greater chance of getting a substandard product.
As with any article on medicine by someone who isn’t a medical doctor – talk to your doctor before starting, changing, stopping, or otherwise modifying any medical treatments.
Perhaps the change needs to come from physical therapists themselves. If they marketed themselves like chiropractors with nice storefronts and big ads in the newspaper and yellow pages, maybe people would choose to spend their medical dollars with them – a scientifically-based, fully licensed medical practice. Maybe those chiropractors that do good work in physical therapy should be offered some path to become genuinely licensed as physical therapists. It is important that we properly train, monitor, and license our medical professionals. It is important we use the proper medical professionals. How do we spread the word?