Maybe you’ve just started to explore the option of chiropractic care. Or maybe you’ve already booked your first chiropractic visit and you’re wondering what you’ve just gotten yourself into. Either way, you’ve arrived at the million dollar question: Is visiting a chiropractor painful?
Short answer: No, going to a chiropractor typically isn’t painful. But like most things, the full answer is a little more complicated.
Most people don’t particularly like going to the doctor. That includes optometrists, dentists, and, yes, chiropractors. It’s not surprising that most of us aren’t terribly keen on making our next medical appointment. At best, the medical practitioner is going to prod, probe, and generally invade your personal space. At worst, the procedure is going to hurt, potentially a lot.
So where do chiropractic visits fall on the spectrum of mildly uncomfortable to unbearable? Like any other kind of medical procedure, your experience at a chiropractor depends significantly on why you’re there. Of course, some procedures are more painful than others, and certain conditions are more painful to treat than other conditions. But don’t let this scare you off from following through with your interest in chiropractic treatment.
Ultimately, the point of visiting a chiropractor is to help you enjoy the highest possible level of health. Many people go to a chiropractor or physical rehabilitation center specifically because they’re experiencing a high level of chronic or recurring pain. While their time in the office might cause a level of discomfort, this is often a trade-off for an overall decrease in pain after their appointment is over.
Does It Hurt to Go to a Chiropractor? How Much?
It’s hard to say the amount of pain or discomfort that you will have while visiting a chiropractor, or whether you’ll have any pain or discomfort at all. To help you know what to expect, we’ll break down some of the biggest factors that will impact your experience.
1. Your Condition or Injury.
Visiting a chiropractor can be an intimidating experience, especially if it’s the first time you’ve had this type of treatment. Particularly if you have a newly diagnosed condition or a recent injury, you might be feeling uncomfortable about your physical symptoms and how a chiropractor might aggravate or worsen them.
If you do have an existing condition or injury, your first few chiropractic visits may be slightly uncomfortable as your body adjusts to the experience. A knowledgeable, communicative chiropractor is key to making your appointment as painless as possible.
On the other hand, some people who seek chiropractic services don’t necessarily have any injury or significant health condition. Many athletes or those who work in manual labor see a chiropractor on a regular basis simply to ensure that they stay in top shape. A chiropractor can provide a significant measure of prevention against future issues by addressing health concerns before they become a major problem. Having adjustments or other preventative care before you have back or neck pain is the best way to keep your chiropractic visits pain-free.
2. The Procedure You’re Having.
Chiropractors don’t just do one thing. Like other medical services, you might be having any of a number of procedures done at a chiropractic office. Think back to the last time you went to the dentist: If you just went in for a routine cleaning, you had a very different experience than someone who had a root canal.
One of the most common procedures that a chiropractor offers is an adjustment. This is what most people associate with chiropractors. During an adjustment, the chiropractor will apply pressure to different points on your back and sometimes on your neck. You might hear popping or cracking noises when the pressure is applied, much like the sound of cracking your knuckles. The popping noise can indicate a release of tension on a joint, which helps ensure proper movement and blood flow.
It’s not uncommon to be sore for about 12 to 24 hours following an adjustment, particularly after the first few appointments. Some people describe the feeling as much like a post-workout soreness that goes away on its own within a day or so. For others, adjustments are not painful at all. In fact, many people feel significantly better immediately or very soon after an adjustment.
A chiropractic office might offer numerous other types of treatment besides adjustments. For example, rehabilitative patients might also receive electrical nerve stimulation therapy or whole body cryotherapy. These treatments are generally not associated with any kind of pain or aftereffects (outside of the potentially unpleasant feeling of the cold itself in cryotherapy).
Massage therapy is another technique commonly employed by chiropractors. This treatment option is a great way to relieve muscle tension, improve circulation, and reduce swelling and inflammation. Massages may be slightly painful to those who are not accustomed to them. But again, most patients consider this a more than fair trade for the greatly reduced pain they enjoy afterward. Your chiropractor will work with you to find an intensity level for your massage that works for you.
3. Your Body and Your Pain Tolerance.
An individual’s pain tolerance is also a major factor. It’s impossible to say exactly how much a particular procedure will hurt for you, as opposed to someone else, simply because the experience is very specific to each individual.
Again, it’s important to talk with your chiropractor throughout the experience and let them know when you’re feeling pain. Be sure that you’re comfortable communicating if you feel that you can’t complete a treatment or that you’ve reached your limit for a particular session.
4. Your Chiropractor.
The amount of discomfort you experience will depend, in part, on your chiropractor. That includes mental discomfort, such as nervousness or fear, and physical discomfort including pain.
A good chiropractor will do everything within his or her power to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you. That includes communicating clearly about your injury or condition, the available treatment options, and how the treatment options are likely to affect you. It’s important to find a chiropractor who makes you feel calm and comfortable.
If you’re tense and expect the adjustment or other procedure to hurt, it’s more likely that it will. Conversely, if you feel relaxed, you’re much more likely to have a pleasant experience.
Is Going to a Chiropractor Safe?
Any medical treatment comes with potential risks. Compared to the possible adverse effects of many medications — including dangerous side effects, allergic reactions, and drug interactions — going to a chiropractor is actually much safer than many other types of treatment. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, the chances of an adverse effect from a cervical manipulation (a neck adjustment) were less than one per one million treatments.
Chiropractic therapy is widely considered not only safe, but effective. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that patients with neck pain treated with manual (chiropractic) therapy improved more quickly than similar patients who received physiotherapy or care from a general practitioner. In the study, patients were evaluated based on intensity of pain, quality of life, and other relevant factors.
Within 26 weeks of beginning treatment, patients receiving manual therapy showed faster improvement than patients being treated with the other two methods. Manual therapy was shown to be both more effective and more affordable than seeing either a general practitioner or a physiotherapist.
Is Going to a Chiropractor Worth It?
Since certain procedures might be uncomfortable or painful for some individuals, you might be wondering if going to a chiropractor is worth the possible discomfort.
If you have a condition that can be helped with chiropractic care, it can definitely be worth the small amount of discomfort you might have during the appointment. After all, you wouldn’t avoid getting vaccinated against dangerous diseases just because getting a shot might hurt a little bit.
Chiropractic care can be an instrumental part of pain management or healing for a long-term condition. People who experience whiplash after a car accident or who have an injury to the neck or back can often reap considerable benefits from a chiropractor, even if it might be slightly uncomfortable for a few minutes. Individuals with sciatica, persistent headaches or migraines, and other nerve and muscle issues can also have hugely positive results from regular chiropractic care.
What to Expect from Your First Chiropractic Visit
Intake and Physical Exam
During your first chiropractic visit, you’ll go through the intake process. This will generally include a questionnaire about your medical history, according to the University of Minnesota’s Taking Charge informational website. You’ll often be asked to describe the reason for your visit and indicate on a drawing of a human body where you’ve been experiencing pain. This helps the chiropractor to assess your condition and determine if any pre-existing medical concerns might be affecting your spine or neck.
The chiropractor will typically conduct a physical examination, focusing on the spine. Depending on whether you’ve been referred from a general practitioner for a specific condition or injury, the chiropractor might order more in-depth tests, like a back or neck X-ray. Other common aspects of a preliminary physical exam include reflex tests, muscle strength measurements, range of motion tests, and other ways to gain insight into the underlying problem that’s causing your pain.
Creating a Treatment Plan
With these assessments complete, your chiropractor will be able to make a holistic determination about the nature and extent of your condition. This will take into account your age, previous injuries, and overall health. At this point, your chiropractor will usually talk to you about your goals. For example, you may want to get a good night’s sleep free of headaches, or you might want to get back into high-performance shape after your athletic injury.
Using all of this information, you and your chiropractor will put together a treatment plan. A treatment plan might be as brief as a few weeks, or it could be a year or longer. For chronic conditions, treatment might be ongoing.
Most commonly, a treatment plan will include appointments at regular intervals. This may range from appointments several times a week to appointments several months apart. In many cases, when treating injuries, a chiropractor will recommend frequent adjustments for the first few weeks or months and eventually taper off to less frequent appointments.
Most chiropractic appointments will focus on neck and back adjustments. Sometimes, a chiropractor will also perform adjustments in other areas of the body, such as the wrists, shoulders, ankles, or knees.
Besides manual therapy, these appointments might also include treatments such as applying heat or ice, electrical stimulation, massage therapy, or rehabilitative exercises. A good chiropractor will also be able to advise you about changes to your diet and lifestyle to help you positively impact your health.
Is Seeing a Chiropractor Right for You?
We hope that this article has alleviated some of the concerns you might have about the chiropractic visit in your future. Understanding what a chiropractor does and knowing what to expect can be an excellent way to prepare yourself and help you feel comfortable with this type of treatment.
If you’ve been recommended to receive chiropractic care, or if you think it would be helpful for you, it’s a good idea to do some research into chiropractors in your local area. Look for a practice that has a strong reputation in the medical community and good reviews from patients. If you try one chiropractor and you don’t feel that it’s a good fit, don’t be afraid to keep looking. You should find someone that makes you feel comfortable and confident in your treatment.
If you’re looking for a chiropractor in the Anchorage area, Better Health Chiropractic is here for you. To book your first appointment, please give us a call at 907.346.5255.
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About the Author
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using services designed to help give long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.