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Chiropractic vs. Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractor as superhero image"I just get them well too fast," complained a chiropractor recently.

His struggling practice, or so he believed, was due to his considerable adjusting prowess that 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 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 hamstrung by relying on a relatively low-tech intervention, a lack of social authority and relegated to a narrow spectrum of neuromuscular-skeletal complaints.

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

Your intention reveals your motive. Your motive reveals how you see yourself; your power, your responsibility and your role in the patient’s life. And it begins by fully understanding and accepting what chiropractic is and what it isn’t. This fundamental is often hidden from struggling chiropractors who rarely reach the conclusion, “I bet my practice is underperforming 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, ignoring 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 dependant upon a constant need for new, short-term customers subsidized by high fees doled out by the government, insurance companies or a 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, more and more will return and tell 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 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.

Comments (5)


It's good to see that there is a fair argument for both choices. I know which one I choose.

However, I didn't consider that my choosing "the more difficult, narrow path of chiropractic" may challenge my recommending orthotics and pillows - and visa versa.

Something to think about in my journal.

Thanks Bill,


Brian Deal:

Making a distinction between the allopathic and chiropractic models of care is and will be one of the most difficult tasks we face as DC’s. The constant barrage of outside-in thinking makes it difficult to understand what the course is let alone tying to stay the course. When our objective becomes to treat how someone feels, looks or behaves we set ourselves as well as our clients up for failure. When our mission is to remove interference and allow the innate wisdom of the body to fully express itself without treating feelings, looks, or behaviors peoples lives will change. It is a monumental, profound, and honorable journey.

I take the road less travelled, educating, trying to give the people that come into my practice proper information so they can make an informed decision.
I was a bit taken back though with your inclusion of weight reduction (proper diet, chemical stress), pillow reccomendations (physical stress) as an allopathic method. People that are looking for wellness care, are curious about what else they can do to stay healthy, after all if they knew the answers to those questions they would already be in our offices 2 x a month.
So I am not sure that giving proper diet, exercise, even lifting recomendations is going against a wellness approach, as long as they first know the importance of a properly functioning nervous system, and the ways to minimize the 3 stresses that cause its breaking down.
I don't choose both, I choose the path that will give my practice members what they are looking for. If I can't give them what they are looking for, I refer them to a place that will.

Dr. Melville:

So, how DO you say the right things that people get it -- that Chiropractic is a whole - body treatment and the foundation of health?

Tony Russo:

Good Bill,
Love the picture. He looks like Mighty Mouse, "Here I come to save the daaay". Excellent! I graduated from a Chiropractic School that I believe drafted this nonsense around 1994. I witnessed first hand, the proverbial fitting the square head into the round hole and shoving that term down our throats by a group of failed practitioners become teachers. And a survey of Chiropractors who graduated in my year reveals a 50% drop out rate from the Profession. One very close friend, same age, same last name, different part of Italy, went right back to being a drug rep. like he was before getting into Chiropractic Medicine.
You were right.

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From November 30, 2009 3:29 PM

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