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What to Look for (and Look OUT for) in a Chiropractor

October is chiropractic awareness month! Funny enough, most people I talk to are fully aware of #chiropractic, and have a strong opinion about it at that. One person will say they LOVE chiropractic. Another person will say that they would NEVER even think of seeing a chiropractor! Why such disparate experiences? In every profession (healthcare or not) there are good ones, and there are bad ones. So how do you choose Dr. Right and stay away from Dr. Wrong? Read on to learn how to show to select a great chiropractor as part of your healthcare team.

1) Sticks to the chiropractic scope of practice

Every healthcare professional has a scope of practice. There is plenty of research evidence that chiropractic care can help patients in a number of different ways. There is very little evidence that chiropractic care can cure conditions like food allergies and cancer, but unfortunately you will find chiropractors who boldly promise to do so. Would you go to a podiatrist for an eye exam? Would you go to a florist to refinish your hardwood floors? Who knows -- you may get lucky and find a handy florist! For your best odds, though, you should always choose the most qualified professional for the job. If you are having joint and muscle pain, and specifically spinal pain, an April 2017 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recommends chiropractic manipulation as a first line of defense for acute low back and neck pain (read a summary here). Do your research, and be skeptical of chiropractors promising the moon. Find a chiropractor who works with a team of healthcare providers. You want a doctor who won’t hesitate to refer you to the appropriate specialty when your condition is outside the scope of what we do.

2) Performs a thorough evaluation for new patient exams

A good chiropractor should perform a thorough evaluation for your first visit, and continue to perform reevaluation examinations as you progress through care. You should not expect to walk in, get your back cracked, and walk right back out. Prepare to discuss your family history, pain experience, past injuries, etc. If you find yourself in a situation where a chiropractor wants to perform a treatment without assessing your unique situation, then you are not getting the care that you deserve or the care that is most likely to improve your pain.

3) Requests x-rays when necessary, but not every time

Certain red flags during a chiropractic examination will justify the need for an x-ray before further treatment is delivered. Your chiropractor should absolutely evaluate you as a candidate for care and assess whether you will need an x-ray before beginning a treatment plan. This may be necessary to determine what form of treatment you would benefit from the most. However, patients who do not show a positive test result during the exam should not be offered unnecessary x-rays. Beware of the “everyone gets an x-ray” approach. This may be less beneficial to you and more beneficial to the chiropractor who may be reimbursed by your insurance for x-ray imaging. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recently joined the Choosing Wisely campaign that aligns with the most current protocols for x-ray analysis. You can read more about proper treatment guidelines here.

4) Recommends a treatment plan based on your needs (not based on what your insurance will pay for)

Most chiropractors will run an insurance eligibility check so that they can discuss your payment responsibility with you. Once eligibility is determined, a trial course of care should start at a few times a week for 2-4 weeks. After that time, the doctor should provide you with another evaluation to determine if you are on the correct path. Watch out for chiropractors who tell you that you need 20+ visits after just one initial exam. While some conditions will warrant a longer treatment plan, the majority of cases should not. This one can be tricky, so trust your gut. Your chiropractor should inform you of what your insurance will and will not cover, but should never base a treatment recommendation on the insurance reimbursement potential.

5) Stays current

All chiropractors are required to take Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) to maintain our licensure. Some of us use this as an opportunity to enhance our knowledge, skills, and certifications. There are a lot of techniques and specialties that I have personally learned during my post-graduate years such as Mckenzie Method (MDT) and SFMA. There are other chiropractors who simply go through the motions in order to get enough hours to meet the requirement. So how do you know if your doc is an over achiever or an under achiever when it comes to continuing education? Just ask! Your provider should be able to tell you exactly what he or she does to be current in the field, stay up-to-date-on the latest research, and continuously improve patient outcomes.

6) Doesn't practice as a “one trick pony”

Chiropractic is not a “treatment” as some people think. A chiropractic adjustment is just one possible treatment that you would receive from a chiropractor, but it is just one tool in our toolboxes. A good examination will determine what type of therapy you would benefit from the most. In order to get the best results for your condition, find a chiropractor who incorporates more than one modality into his or her treatment plans. Exercise rehabilitation, massage techniques, and self-mobilization can all enhance your outcomes. Steer clear of chiropractors who tout their technique as the "magic pill" for any and all musculoskeletal conditions.

What do you look for in a chiropractor? Feel free to comment your advice below!


Dr. Van Wagner at Excel Chiropractic and Rehabilitation is accepting new patients in #Pittsburgh #Robinson and surrounding areas! Request your appointment online today, or call us at 412-489-6036 to schedule.

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