Chiropractic Care

Help for Common Complaints



"Most people visit a chiropractor because they are in pain and seeking relief, although some initially visit for general health,” says Keith Overland, president of the American Chiropractic Association and a practicing chiropractic physician in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Every doctor of chiropractic should first perform a complete and thorough exam and develop a diagnosis to determine the best approach to the patient’s condition.”

Rick Burns, a doctor of chiropractic and professor of chiropractic technique at Palmer College of Chiropractic, in Davenport, Iowa, notes that more than 100 techniques and endless permutations of adjustments and thrusts can be used to help bring the body back into alignment and health. “Most chiropractors integrate several methods, depending on the needs of the patient,” he says.

While chiropractors undergo four years of post-graduate training, like medical doctors, they specialize in, “… making certain the brain communicates 100 percent of the time through the spinal cord to the nerves,” explains Burns. Miscommunication between the brain and the nerves caused by spinal misalignments, called subluxations, are at the heart of the science of chiropractic adjustment.

Most chiropractic schools give students a basic toolbox of techniques before individual practitioners go on to obtain certification in advanced techniques; much like medical specializations, says Overland. His specialties include treating sports injuries and he has many Olympic athletes as patients.

Most Common Techniques

Diversified: This catch-all term encompasses the short thrust spinal adjustment approach used by an estimated 80 percent of all chiropractors, says Dr. Cynthia Vaughn, an Austin, Texas-based chiropractor and member of the board of governors of the American Chiropractic Association.

It is characterized by what is called the high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust (HVLA), resulting in the popping sound familiar to most people that have experienced chiropractic care. Although the adjustment is painless, some patients instinctively tense their muscles.

Waking up with a stiff neck or shoulder or back pain sends 20 million Americans to the chiropractor each year.
~ American Chiropractic Association


“Adjustment is a sneak attack, ‘My reflexes being faster than yours,’” remarks Burns. “The average muscle contracts in about a quarter of a second. We do a lot of speed training so we can do the adjustment in one-tenth of a second.”

Activator: The activator technique, used by about 20 percent of chiropractors as part of an integrated practice, employs a small, spring-loaded, rubbertipped device, slightly larger than a pen, which applies a small amount of force to a specific area. It makes a stapler-like sound and the recipient usually feels only slight pressure.

“Not everybody can tolerate the more aggressive manipulation that is performed as a foundation in chiropractic, especially elderly people or very young children,” says Overland. “The activator technique claims to be faster, more specific and less forceful than manual adjustment.”

Applied kinesiology: Also known as muscle testing, applied kinesiology evaluates muscle strength at various specific points to help determine if a specific type of adjustment or even Chiropractor Adjustmenta nutritional supplement might be helpful to an individual patient as a treatment. This individualized treatment is popular among chiropractors and their patients. “It is a way to glean a tremendous amount of diagnostic information to specifically tell where the subluxations (imbalances) are,” says Vaughn, “and is used by about 20 percent of chiropractors.”

Sacro-occipital technique (SOT): Another form of non-forceful adjustment, SOT usually involves having the patient lie face down on a table. Inserting a variety of wedges asymmetrically distributed under the pelvis creates a helpful torque.

“Gravity causes the adjustment to happen very subtly in about 10 minutes,” explains Vaughn. “It is effective for the elderly and people with osteoporosis that can’t tolerate more vigorous adjustments.”

Gonstead: Similar to the HVLA technique, a Gonstead approach pays particular attention to the lower spine and the effects of its misalignments on the rest of the body. These practitioners generally prefer to adjust the neck with the patient in a sitting position.

More than half of all chiropractors use some form of the Gonstead technique. It involves detailed structural analysis of the spine, which can include various types of palpitation, nervoscope analysis of heat and nerve pressure along the spine, and X-rays.

“All of these techniques require extensive education and thousands of hours of training,” concludes Overland.

Adds Burns, “Each patient is evaluated and diagnosed individually. So try different techniques and see what works for you. The goal is to unlock the body’s ability to heal itself.”


Kathleen Barnes is a natural health advocate, author and publisher. 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health: A Take Charge Plan for Women, written with Dr. Hyla Cass, is among her many books. Visit KathleenBarnes.com.

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