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Is Chiropractic Too Expensive?

Does chiropractic ask too much of patients?Much of my three-decade plus career in chiropractic as a non-DC has been spent giving new meanings to some of the more unhelpful patient behaviors that chiropractors encounter. The underlying theme has been patient education, which morphed into managing patient beliefs. (I regularly assert at speaking gigs that if you have any hope in attracting a tribe of cash-paying practice members, you’re actually in the belief-changing business, not the pain relief business or the spinal curve restoration business!)

More recently my attention has turned to the dynamics surrounding disembodiment. In other words, how “connected” are patients to their bodies? Can they detect subtle changes that warn of the need to make change? Or do symptoms need to be full blown before they can “hear” their body speak to them?

I’ve suspected that there was another facet that explained why chiropractic, despite its common sense basis and side-effect-free success, is unable to gain acceptance, traction and critical mass. I think I’ve put my finger on it. Tell me if you agree.

Chiropractic may be too expensive. Not in the financial sense, but in the obligation to assume self-responsibility sense.

If you successfully avoid the temptation of practicing chiropractic medicine (using adjustments to treat symptoms), then you probably explain to patients that they’re the doctor, they do the healing, you have no idea how they will respond to care, if or when they can expect results (even though you have some general estimates) and that the speed of their recovery is largely out of your hands.

Frankly, most people would rather take a pill.

At least when you take a pill, like millions do, you don’t have to think and you don’t have to take the enormous risk of being an outlier to the wisdom of the herd.

See why chiropractic is so expensive (unattractive)?

Some chiropractors try to soften this by investing themselves in the patient’s recovery. They feel defensive when patients reveal their displeasure with the speed of their recovery. They allow a raised eyebrow or some other cue (the car they drive, their last name, what part of town they live in, etc.) to change their clinical recommendations.

Chiropractic care places many demands on patients that the mainstream allopathic model doesn’t. Simply consulting a non-mainstream healer like you raises countless issues. “What will my friends think?” ‘What if my MD finds out?” “What if it’s just a scam?” “What if it doesn’t work?” "Will my insurance cover it?" “I’m not sure who to trust.”

Over the years, several studies amongst chiropractic patients suggest that they’re generally a more educated bunch. Which stands to reason. Chiropractic appeals to those willing to engage in some critical thinking—something that most people stop doing in their teens and find far more taxing than passively watching television or being a voyeur to Charlie Sheen’s career or Lindsay Lohan's latest meltdown.

Who is most likely to make a great chiropractic practice member? Someone willing to question the status quo, who is in touch with his or her body and willing to take personal responsibility for its condition and longevity. In other words, sadly, not very many people.

Perhaps this is why so many chiropractors have chosen the path of least resistance, bowing to patient pressure and practicing chiropractic medicine. As in "treating" the patient's symptoms. As in going into the "treatment" room. As in using adjustments to relieve [enter symptom here]--the practice of medicine.

Practicing chiropractic is difficult. It requires unwavering focus to avoid succumbing to a patient's allopathic worldview. It demands high levels of confidence to ward off the relentless inroads made by drug manufacturers, skeptics and cynics.

Don’t be bummed out! Having clarity about this subject should set you free. Because it’s not you. Or your technique. Or procedure. Or location. Or fees. It’s that, for many people, chiropractic requires assuming far too much personal responsibility. Which, incidentally, isn't something you can change by a persuasive report or a charming tableside manner!

So, while those who are available to pay the high price of personal responsibility may be modest in number, I bet there are enough of them in your community to populate a thriving practice. Unfortunately, they think you're a back doctor. So you’ll want to acquaint them with the truth about chiropractic. Which brings us back to the subject of patient education.

If you have a better explanation why chiropractic hasn’t assumed its rightful place after over a century of incredibly consistent, side-effect-free results, please let me know.

Comments (7)


Practicing chiropractic is difficult. It requires unwavering focus to avoid succumbing to a patient's allopathic worldview. It demands high levels of confidence to ward off the relentless inroads made by drug manufacturers, skeptics and cynics.


Hi Bill. Just completing yr 1 at McTimoney college in Abingdon. Have thought your understanding of both chiropractic and patient mentality to be profound, for years. Once again, spot on! Can think of no better reason for what happens when patients agree they need dedicated adjustments yet choose not to come back again.

Lisa Berry:

Once again Bill, you have spoken truth. Not only is the actual money cost for most people too much, the recommendations of the DC are way beyond what most people will commit to for any long period of time.
As I embark on a new office, in a new state, I know that an adjustment-focused, cash, community-based (those who work and live 5 miles around me can easily integrate a weekly or bi-monthy adjustment into their schedule), appointment-optional, high energy, health resource, 7-day a week office will be a 'success'. Success being defined as adjusting as many people as possible, using whichever technique the DC is drawn to (I am so OVER the haters criticizing which technique is best, in my opinion holding us back as a profession), so that there is less interference to the patients/practice member's innate expression of their personal gifts/talents/energy which they then can go out and create, share, and prosper in a loving expression unique to them. A planet of self- expressing, joyous, ADIO people of all ages enjoying life. (-: LIsa

Hi Bill,
I've had the honor of serving the wonderful people of the Abingdon area for 32 years. How much better could I have served them had the clarity you've just revealed been available...LOTS.
You have hit the preverbial nail on the head on this one.
I sure hope there are a lot of young chiropractors reading your material. If so, we will in time turn the tide!

Thanks Bill. What a great can of worms! This is very insightful. I agree that a common experience in our immediate gratification culture is that chiropractic is "too expensive" - "too much time", "too much effort" (an exam, a report, adjustments AND education, progress checks - yikes!), too much asked of me (you want me to open my mind and possibly see something differently), "too expensive" (you want ME to pay???), and "too much risk" (what if it doesn't "work", what will my friends think?). Too much of a lot of things, and yes, a pill, an injection, even surgery is an easier option for many people with busy lives. And even if it somehow alters a symptom - what does nullifying the best way my body could tell me to pay attention - have to do with my health and well-being? Not much.

You're right though - personal responsibility does! Perhaps many of us don't take personal responsibility because for some reason or other we aren't hopeful - we don't believe our efforts will be successful, and before that, maybe we aren't even aware of how the body works and there is an option that takes a different approach. Not just a different modality - a different approach.

I think this is where we truly come in. First, in understanding not only "pathology", but actually how natural systems do work, and that we are part of those systems. Second, to be able to communicate that in a way that is meaningful and offers hope. Why does everyone love a makeover show? The before and after makes you see possibility for yourself.

We are tasked with demonstrating meaningful change for people. If this is occurring in practice it makes it a little easier. If not, are we selling something we don't offer?

Your point about creating more awareness is critical. More awareness allows us to self-assess and self-regulate more effectively, making us more functional (from a cellular level upward), resourceful, and adaptable.

This to me is exciting, and the reason I practice. The goal is resourcefulness and the access is awareness, both through learning opportunities and body awareness as part of our technique and approach.

I think those of us who practice really have to ask ourselves if what we do actually offers the opportunity for what we're promoting. Does our approach truly create nervous system learning and flexibility, or does it create dependence upon us to nullify a symptom as a way to "check out" and not have to experience the body as a reflection of their lives? Do our office systems support this? What are we engaging patients/clients about on a daily basis? Pain only - or what they are newly experiencing as a result of their body getting more resourceful?

I suppose the short version here is:
1. We can create learning opportunities for people to know there is another approach, and also find hope in other people's experiences of meaningful change.
2. We follow up with an approach in communication and technique that allows for body awareness, learning, and adaptability.

People will self-select before 1 and 2, but we will be offering something truly valuable that empowers people. That is rare and remarkable. If someone gave you that - who wouldn't you tell? To me that is key.

So what of the majority? Do we give them up for lost?

WDE: Or misdirected. Or confused. Or deceived...

Didn't you answer this before when you talked about the favorite ice cream flavors? The first rung in the ladder takes the lions share and the remainder is divvied up between the next few places. No matter how much we deny it medicine and chiropractic are on the same ladder and we all know who has the top rung. We can try to put ourselves on another ladder, but the public will just keep putting us back there. That being said I enjoy being with and helping people who are willing to take responsibility for their health. I'm not sure how I'd fare with an obese, diabetic smoker who checks out at the front desk and wants me to "fix" them.

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From November 1, 2012 6:30 AM

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 1, 2012 6:30 AM.

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