I was recently on a flight to Atlanta for a conference, and I started talking to the gentleman sitting next to me. We had the usual small talk you make with the person sitting next to you on a flight: where are you from; where are you going; are you traveling for fun or work. When I told him that I was a chiropractor, I was surprised when he immediately asked me, “You know, I’ve always wondered, are you guys really doctors?” I must admit my initial knee jerk reaction was to think, “I better be after 2 bachelor’s degrees and 10 semesters of Chiropractic College.” Instead, I asked him, “Why do you ask?” He responded, “Well, I know you guys don’t prescribe medication, so doesn’t that make you along the lines of a massage therapist or a physical therapist?”
Actually, I have to give this gentleman credit because he asked me a question that I’ll wager at least half of the new patients in my office are wondering as well. If you come into this question with the presupposition that “real doctors” are only ones that prescribe medication and perform surgery, then I guess chiropractors wouldn’t fit into your definition of a “real doctor”. However, from a legal perspective, a doctor or physician is someone who is licensed to diagnose and treat a condition. By state and federal standards, chiropractors fall under that definition. By state laws we are licensed to (and expected to) diagnose any patient that comes into our offices. We need to be able to determine if that low back pain that you’re suffering from is something as simple as a pulled muscle or as complex as an abdominal aortic aneurysm or metastatic bone cancer. All three of which, I’m sorry to say I’ve seen in my office. This is also what makes us different from the massage therapists and physical therapists – they are not licensed to diagnose.
Now obviously I don’t treat every patient that comes into my office. The patients with the aortic aneurysm and the bone cancer, I refer out – just like your primary care doctor would if you went into his office with the same problems. But what makes chiropractors different from medical doctors is, what I believe, brings patients to us that aren’t getting better in the medical environment. As chiropractors, we treat patients whose health is affected by the body’s muscular, nervous and skeletal systems. Interference with these symptoms impairs your body’s normal functions and lowers its resistance to disease. The chiropractic approach to health care stresses the patient’s overall well-being. It recognizes that numerous factors affect health – including exercise, diet, rest, environment, and physical stress. Chiropractors utilize natural, drugless, non-surgical health treatments and rely on the body’s inherent recuperative abilities.
The main form of chiropractic treatment is a chiropractic adjustment. Nerves that connect your brain with every cell in your body exit the spinal cord through openings between each vertebrae of the spine. If the spine is not functioning properly, interference is placed on those nerves. This causes the nerves to send altered communications between your brain and the parts of the body those nerves innervate. By restoring normal function to the spine, your body is able to heal itself naturally from illness and injury.
So for all of you out there who were wondering but were afraid to ask, chiropractors really are doctors. We just may not fall into your pre-conceived idea of what a doctor is.