Chiropractic vs. Chiropractic Medicine

chiropractic-hero.jpg"I just get them well too fast," complained a chiropractor recently.

His struggling practice, so he believed, was due to his considerable adjusting prowess, which produced symptom-free patients so quickly that he didn’t have time to educate them about the value of nonsymptomatic chiropractic care.

I wasn’t convinced. Instead, I’m guessing he was taking the path of least resistance, showing up as a heroic doctor, fixing spines, reducing headaches, basking in the patient admiration and sabotaging any hope of communicating the benefits of periodic chiropractic checkups.

In other words, he was practicing chiropractic medicine.

Granted, practicing chiropractic medicine is probably better than practicing medicine. But if you’re a chiropractor, it might be a wiser strategy to practice chiropractic.

Alleviating symptoms (medicine), instead of helping to restore the patient’s ability to heal (chiropractic), is a distinction lost on many. At first glance, the adjustments look identical, but the intention with which they are delivered couldn’t be more different.

When you have the intentions of a medical doctor, you manifest a medical doctor’s style of practice (symptom relief only), yet are hamstrung by relying on a relatively low-tech intervention, a lack of social authority and are relegated to a narrow spectrum of neuromuscular-skeletal complaints.

No wonder a stable, profitable practice, filled with enthusiastic patients seems so elusive!

Your intention reveals your motive. Your motive reveals how you see yourself, your power, your responsibility, and your role in a patient’s life. And it begins by fully understanding and accepting what chiropractic is and what it isn’t. This is often hidden from struggling chiropractors who rarely reach the conclusion, “I bet my practice is under performing because I’m not exactly clear what chiropractic is.”

However, this is a far too common issue.

Instead, the temptation is to look outside. Like patients who blame germs, the gene pool they inherited, or the notion that it’s flu season, chiropractors are quick to blame circumstances “out there.” You may be familiar with the most convenient—the economy, insurance companies, my town, my location, my staff, etc.

This is an all too common problem. And no wonder. Many chiropractic colleges have reduced or eliminated the contextual aspects of chiropractic. In other words, they ignore the “why” in favor of teaching the “what” and the “how.” The result? Spinal therapists equipped with a fearful, linear, cookbook approach to reducing mechanical compromise to the spine. Hardly the profile of the busiest, happiest chiropractors I know.

Granted, adding energy to a patient’s spine at opportune times and places without the use of drugs and surgery can help a lot of people. However, without a greater context (stress, subluxation, its neurological and whole body effects, patients do the healing, etc.), you’re running a small business dependent upon a constant need for new, short-term customers, subsidized by high fees doled out by the government, insurance companies, or some other stingy third party.

On one level, practicing chiropractic is considerably more difficult than practicing chiropractic medicine. After all, the distinction is largely lost on patients who merely want to feel better rather than enjoy optimum health and well-being.


If you choose the more difficult, narrow path of chiropractic, embrace the challenge of explaining how it differs from medicine. Accept that most patients will have to stop and start care several times (or more) before ever being available to use chiropractic as a long-term lifestyle adjunct. As you do, trusting patients to make the right decision based on their individual circumstances will result in more and more returning and telling others. In a decade or less, you’ll have “collected” enough once-a-monthers to enjoy a practice of like-minded, health-conscious individuals who make practice fun and fulfilling.

If you choose the more allopathic path of chiropractic medicine, your practice style will be different. You’ll befriend orthopedists and other medical practitioners, supplying a form of physical medicine. You’ll add various therapies, decompression, orthotics, stretches, exercises, rehab and other adjunctive services to support your spinal manipulations. As you are seen as a spinal “fixer,” appreciative patients and referring MDs will have their mechanistic beliefs affirmed and your patient education duties will be minimal, or will be reduced to proper lifting, pillow recommendations and maybe even weight loss.

Choose one that fits your beliefs and understanding about chiropractic. Or modify your beliefs and understanding about chiropractic. Pick one. But not both.

Originally posted November 30, 2009