Can a Chiropractor Sign Short-Term Disability for Time Off Work?


Navigating the world of short-term disability requirements can be difficult. This fact is compounded when you’re injured, in pain, or ill. The last thing you need is to visit the wrong kind of doctor who isn’t eligible to sign you off work. That’s why we get questions about chiropractors signing people off work for short-term disability.

There’s no answer to whether a chiropractor can get you time off from work for a short-term disability. Mainly, this comes down to whether your employer is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), what kind of disability insurance you’re covered by, and what your medical problem is.

The Basics of Short-Term Disability

Before we get into the details about chiropractic care and time off work for short-term disability, let’s get the basics out of the way.

Although the exact details may vary depending on the employer and insurance plan, short-term disability is generally characterized by:

  • A medical condition (illness or injury) that prevents you from doing your job.
  • The illness or injury from which recovery will be only 6 months or less.
  • Certain certified medical professionals can prove the illness or injury.
  • A well-documented mental health issue for which you’ve been seeing a psychiatrist.

The Right Doctor for the Job

When determining if you’re eligible for short-term disability, you’ll want to consider the right doctor for the job. For example, if you were having a mental health issue, you wouldn’t want to see a foot doctor for it.

In order to receive short-term disability, you generally have to see a specialist and have that specialist document your injury or illness. Even seeing a general practitioner isn’t often enough to get approved for disability. Insurance companies want to see notes and documentation from a specialist.

But, here’s where things get a little tricky. Chiropractors specialize in the musculoskeletal system. According to a chiropractor’s job description, they are, by all accounts, specialists. So one would assume that, if you had a back or neck problem, a chiropractor would be a legitimate specialist that you could see to potentially get short-term disability approved. However, this isn’t always the case. It depends on many factors, which we go over below.

Chiropractors and the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 does accept chiropractors as an acceptable medical professional. However, a chiropractor’s scope of practice may not be useful to you when seeking short-term disability. This is because they look for specific things when deciding whether to approve your short-term disability. These things include:

  • An x-ray of the spine.
  • The doctor of chiropractic having performed spinal adjustments in order to treat a subluxation, which is an umbrella term for spinal misalignment.
  • The chiropractor must believe that your injury is enough to keep you from doing your job.

So, if the chiropractor doesn’t take an x-ray of the spine, or is treating you for anything other than spinal subluxations, you won’t receive approval under the FMLA. And even then, there is no guarantee that you will be approved. Just as there is no guarantee you will be approved under any kind of medical professional.

It all depends on your injury, the specific doctor, and the FMLA’s rules and regulations, which are too much to cover in detail in this article.

Now, it’s also important to know whether or not your employer is covered under the FMLA because not all employers are. You can ask your HR person, or you can see if your company meets the following criteria:

  1. Your employer is part of the private sector and has 50 or more employees during 20 or more workweeks during the preceding year.
  2. Your employer is a local, state, or federal government agency.
  3. Your employer is a private secondary or elementary school.

Chiropractors and Social Security Disability

Although social security disability deals more with long-term disability, it’s worth mentioning here. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not consider the opinions of chiropractors when deciding on a claim.

However, if your chiropractor has taken x-rays, these could be useful in your approval, in addition to other information from a medical doctor. But, since the SSA won’t contact your chiropractor for these records, it will fall on you to get copies of the x-rays and deliver them to the social security office handling your claim.

Chiropractors and Employee or Employer Insurance

When it comes to insurance, either private or through your employer, there is no set rule for chiropractors. Some insurance plans accept the opinions of doctors of chiropractic when determining short-term disability. Other insurance plans do not.

It’s worth talking to your employer about this or checking with your own private disability insurance. Depending on your issue, you may be wondering whether you should see a chiropractor. Many people complain that their regular doctors take a “wait and see” approach to deal with back pain.

If this is the case for you, and you haven’t seen a chiropractor, you may be surprised at the results. Chiropractors may be able to help you heal quickly so you don’t need short-term disability. Studies show that chiropractic care is effective for many different musculoskeletal issues.

When Can a Chiropractor Give You Time Off Work?

You need to check with your employer to learn when or if a chiropractor can give you time off work. Whether you need a week or ten weeks off, it’s best to check with your employer of private disability insurance to see what the best options are. Just keep in mind that what’s best for gaining disability is not always what’s best for the healing process.

Check to see if your employer is covered by the FMLA. If it is, and you have had x-rays and spinal adjustments, you could be eligible for paid leave until your back heals.


Dr. Brent Wells

About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells is an actively practicing chiropractic physician that has personally led over 10,000 Alaskans to more active, pain-free lifestyles since 1998. He is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Anchorage and Juneau where he brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic care. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.

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