A Visit to the Chiropractor: What Just Happened?

me on the weird massage bed
me on the weird massage bed

Having heard that I went to a chiropractor the other day, a friend asked what the doctor did. The most accurate answer I could offer was, “I’m not really sure he actually did anything.”

A few weeks ago, I had some very painful neck spasms that left me laid up in bed all day. Fortunately they subsided, and other than some residual stiffness, I’ve been fine since then.

But despite the improvement, my neck wasn’t 100%, and I had the sense that it went deeper than the muscle tissue. I figured a chiropractor was needed to take a closer look at my spine and perhaps realign it.

Now, I’ve never been to a chiropractor. I didn’t really know anything about what they do. Now, having been there twice, I still don’t know.

At both visits, I spent 20 minutes laying on my back while the table gave me a back massage while a device tickled my upper neck. This was fine, but it was kind of like going to the podiatrist and getting a foot massage–it didn’t seem like the type of thing to happen at a doctor’s office.

Then the chiropractor–who is very nice–cracks my neck twice, my back once, and sends me home.

What just happened?

If you’re reading this as someone who knows anything about chiropractics, I’m genuinely asking, not judging. I truly don’t know what–if anything–happened. Is neck cracking a medical procedure? Am I healed? It feels the same as before.

It’s odd: For so long now I’ve associated doctors with (a) identifying a specific problem through quantitative measures and (b) almost always fixing the problem with some sort of medication or invasive procedure that any other approach seems like pseudoscience. But I don’t want to disregard it just because it’s different.

What do you think? I’m supposed to go back for more visits, but today’s visit was a 90-minute round trip, and I don’t want to spend 90 minutes of my time doing something that amounts to nothing.

12 thoughts on “A Visit to the Chiropractor: What Just Happened?”

  1. I used to go the chiropractor a lot. That “cracking” is exactly what they are all about. Basically, all the vertebrae in your neck and spine get out of alignment from where they are supposed to be. The chiropractor puts them back into place. It usually takes several visits until your muscles help reinforce the correct alignment that the chiropractor has adjusted. I have a friend who is a chiropractor and she is awesome. As somebody who has mild scoliosis that went undiagnosed when I was a kid, she has helped to put me to rights many, many times. Unfortunately I had to move for my job and am looking for a new reputable chiropractor.

    • Did your chiropractor show you before and after x-rays to show the realignment? After my first visit, the doctor sent me to get x-rays. Today the subject wouldn’t have even come up if I hadn’t asked, and he didn’t show me anything. I was a little surprised by that.

      • Yeah, she took x-rays in-house. Unfortunately there are some shady chiropractors out there. I always check their certifications before I visit. And during my visits, it was assessment first, discussion second, then alignment. After everything done, then a massage to loosen the muscles.

  2. Hmmmm. My experiences have been nothing like this. I go to Dr Matt at Thrive for Life, and I really like him! He starts your first appointment with gadgets that do an assessment of your alignment (this part I didn’t fully understand, but he explains the results really well once it’s done). Then he’ll adjust you based on your results and based on what you’re feeling. He describes every thing he’s doing before he does it so I know what’s going on and so I can tell him “no thanks!” If something sounds scary to me. Sometimes I swear he’s a Voodoo doctor, like when he fixed a pain in my leg by tapping on my chest -what?!). But I love how I feel after I go, and I can’t wait for my next appointment. He also doesn’t have a massage table, not sure what that’s all about…

    • Dr. Matt sounds great! I think I’d like to actually see the alignment on the x-ray–I need that to really believe that something is different. But to his credit, the doctor I went to was very nice–he was very good at keeping things casual despite the fact that he was cracking my neck pretty hard.

  3. I do not have any personal experience to share, but I generally advise against relying only on personal opinion on medical matters.

    Chiropractic is not a science-based treatment, and many (all?) of its claims lack evidence.

    You are welcome to read the Wikipedia article on Chiropractic:


    “There is no good evidence that chiropractic is effective for the treatment of any medical condition, except perhaps for certain kinds of back pain.”

    “There is no consensus on the effectiveness of manual therapies for neck pain.”

    Its founder believed that joint misalignments in the backbone interfere with the body’s innate abilities to heal itself, and cause all sorts of problems unrelated to back-pain. Some modern practitioners still believe that.

    Some practitioners who believe that will also give patients unnecessary X-rays several times a year, not to mention unnecessary spinal manipulations that often lead to permanent disabilities or death.

    • Thanks Ori! I looked into chiropractic a little bit before reading this article, and most of the articles I read seemed to focus on the founder, which doesn’t matter to me–I’m interested in modern applications. But I’m also interested in some kind of proof that it actually does something–that’s why I keep asking about the x-rays in the comments. 🙂 I still appreciate the anecdotal evidence, though, as it’s something to work from!

  4. What Katherine said. What Lindsay said too – I’ve been to chiros who use instruments and those who don’t. I think the instruments make some chiros more comfortable with figuring out which areas to treat, but I don’t think they’re necessary. I’ve never been on a massage table, but I’ve been on a roller table that steamrolled my back a bit before treatment. It’s to help loosen and stretch muscles around the spine to help make it easier to adjust. They take x-rays to make sure you don’t have a bulging/ruptured disc or other obvious injury that would make chiropractic treatment dangerous and unwarranted.

    Usually your spine has to be out of alignment (subluxation) for some time before you feel pain. That’s why they like you to go approx. monthly for a maintenance adjustment so you can avoid the pain part. By the time you feel pain, the muscles tend to spasm, or at least tighten, around the area which can try to pull you into misalignment again once you’re adjusted. It’s not magic, but I’ve been doing it for long enough here and there over the last 25 or so years that I know it’s working great for me. If I sleep wrong and can’t turn my head in the morning… regular doctor will just give pain meds and tell me to rest; that “treatment” has taken me two or more weeks to feel better. The chiropractor will massage, adjust, ice and possibly use kinesio tape to prevent spasm. No pain meds necessary, and I’m good in a day or three depending on the severity of my original situation. I’m big into treating pain by fixing the cause rather than just taking pain meds.

    I’ve been to plenty of chiros who’ve all had different techniques. I’ve learned that a regular maintenance adjustment ought not be painful. I’ve learned that those different techniques are usually the difference between painful and painless – find what works for you. After trying many chiros who ended up being good but too expensive, retiring or inconveniently located for me, I finally found one who’s fantastic. He’s the team chiropractor for the 49er football team and travels with them when they play. He’s been able to treat even a shoulder injury (injured through overuse, not trauma) that an orthopedist and several cortisone injections hadn’t helped appreciably.

    I know this is long; I’ll end with this last anecdote. My brother had never been to a chiro. He’d done something in lifeguard training that had tweaked his back badly and left him hardly able to walk. My first suggestion was seeing a chiro. He resisted – went to his normal doc and got meds and was told to rest. After a week of that where he still couldn’t walk upright, he finally went to my chiro in spite of being nervous about the unknown. He came out of there and called me to express his complete awe that he could now walk upright with at least 75% pain reduction immediately upon treatment. He went back for a couple more treatments and was 100% after those. So I made a believer out of him. Chiropractic isn’t for everybody or even for everything, but the right chiropractor sure can help in a lot of situations!

  5. If a detailed examination WITH xrays were not performed on the first day, I would advise seeking someone who does a detailed examination. Chiropractic is an amazing thing, but it needs to be done right. I hope you try it again because it has changed my life and my families and it sounds like it has the potential to do the same for you. That being said, it’s not for everyone.

    Here is a great website with research for kids and pregnant moms: https://icpa4kids.org/Chiropractic-Research/

    a more recent article on back pain: https://www.jmptonline.org/article/S0161-4754(14)00032-3/abstract?cc=y=

    and one on neck pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805006/

    Good luck Jamey and best wishes!

    • Thanks Jay! The chiropractor did send me to get an x-ray after the first visit, and on the second visit I asked him what he saw on the results. He said he didn’t see anything abnormal.


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