Holistic medicine

Chiropractic - treatment, effects and risks

Chiropractic - treatment, effects and risks

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Chiropractic is derived from the Greek words for hand and work. What is meant is not a craftsman, but a method that is used to cure diseases by manipulating the spine. The approach assumes that the nervous system is the key to health and that most diseases are based on subluxations of the vertebral bodies.

Manual medicine

Chiropractic falls into the group of manual medicine, spinal medicine, spinal mobilization and osteopathy. The followers of this therapy also want to cure non-orthopedic diseases with spinal manipulations. Chiropractic is one of the methods of manual therapy - it is only treated by hand.

Chiropractic - the most important facts

  • Chiropractors assume that shifts in the vertebrae are the cause of diseases, some claim that almost all diseases have this cause.
  • That is why they constrict these vertebrae, stretch the joint bodies and manipulate the nerve reflexes.
  • The direct connection from muscle tone to the vertebrae and nervous system suspected by chiropractors contradicts today's scientific knowledge.
  • The study situation on chiropractic is thin, there is no compelling proof of the effectiveness of the manipulations on the spine.


Spinal manipulations have a very old history. Bone setters, which treated ailments by bending joints and pressing bones, were known in ancient times. Hippocrates was convinced that he could cure certain diseases with just pressure on the bones.

Chiropractic in the narrower sense did not begin until 1895, when the American named Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913) his method "Chiropractic". He allegedly would have given a hard-working gatekeeper a shifted vertebra using the spinous process of the vertebra as a lever after the man said that his hearing loss had arisen after lifting something heavy. Palmer claimed that the man could hear again after the vertebra had moved in.

It remains to be seen whether this story is fictional. In any case, there is much to suggest that Palmer had previously learned the method from Jim Atkinson in Iowa and created his own founding myth to be able to market the idea as his. He now claimed to revolutionize the theory and practice of healing.

A pastor, Gustav A. Zimmer, then brought chiropractic to Germany, Dresden, in 1927. His followers were primarily naturopaths. From 1959, Willi Schmidt headed the "Working Group for Chiropractic and Osteopathy".

Chiropractic Training

In Germany, "chiropractor" is not regulated as an apprenticeship and is not part of the state health system. Practitioners are either doctors or have an alternative practitioner permit. They often have additional training as massage therapists or describe themselves as homeopaths or offer other "alternative medical" procedures.

“Chiropractors” stand out from these who have completed at least five years of university study at a recognized university abroad and consider themselves specialists in orthopedics, neurology, rheumatology and internal medicine. There are only 128 of these in Germany.

Degrees are "Doctor of Chiropractic", "Master of Chiropractic" or "Master in Health Science - Clincal Biomechanics". In Germany, "chiropractors" are not recognized as doctors and therefore work as naturopaths. Chiropractor is not a legally protected professional term in Germany and everyone can call it that.

Subluxation in chiropractic

In chiropractic, subluxation refers to a vertebra that has shifted. He is now misaligned to the vertebrae above and below him. This disrupts the nerves, blocks the nerve pathways and prevents neural impulses from being transmitted.

This can be caused by the effects of violence, also as a result of an accident; but they can also be innate, as well as lack of exercise, bad posture or stress.


The aim of chiropractic is to correct this malposition using manual impulses and thus to restore the undisturbed flow of information in the nervous system. Chiropractors use various techniques to ensure that the joints and muscles are fully functional and pain is relieved:


Here the joint parts are pulled apart to relieve pressure, relieve pressure and relieve pain. The ligaments should also stretch and the joint capsule should become more flexible. Very fast manual impacts are supposed to extend the vertebral joints beyond their normal passive range of motion.

Soft tissue therapy

Here massages and stretching exercises are applied so that the muscles expand and adapt to the newly acquired game of the joints.


The core of the therapy, which is based on the assumption first announced by Palmer: here subluxations on the vertebrae are to be postponed in order to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerves as the cause of the respective disease.

Reflex therapies

With these, chiropractic wants to influence muscle tension and the perception of pain - by manipulating the nerve reflexes. Chiropractors believe that they can also change the central nervous system in this way.

What should chiropractic help against?

Chiropractors mainly treat

  • Pain in the spine,
  • Bronchial asthma,
  • Migraine,
  • A headache,
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • and cardiovascular problems.

Chiropractic for tennis elbow and sore throat

Today's chiropractors have very different ideas about which misalignments of vertebrae have which effects, depending on whether they are based on Palmer or develop their own ideas.

For example, misalignments of the cervical vertebrae due to their connection to the blood supply in the head and to the middle and inner ear are the trigger for:

  • Tinnitus,
  • Dizziness,
  • Migraine,
  • Insomnia,
  • Lack of concentration
  • and memory loss.

Other consequences of slipped cervical vertebrae include:

  • Vocal cord and larynx infections,
  • Shoulder pain,
  • poor vision,
  • Eye problems,
  • Fainting,
  • Sore throat,
  • Tennis elbow
  • and acne.

Chiropractic for pregnant women

Chiropractors also offer their services to pregnant women. Their basic claim is that an optimal mother's nervous system is important for the child to develop well. A correct position of the lumbar spine and pelvic bone is therefore crucial, since misalignments of the mother's pelvis can lead to tension in the uterus and inhibit the development of the baby. It is also possible that a fetus does not turn upside down before birth.

The chiropractor changes the breech position of the baby by bringing the sacrum into the correct position and stretching the ligaments. The tension in the uterus would disappear.

Chiropractic treatment of children

Chiropractors also promise a lot when it comes to treating children. For example, misalignments of the vertebrae in children initially expressed themselves not as pain, but rather through a disturbed nervous system. This shows up as an insecure walk, disturbed perception or hyperactivity.


After the interview, the chiropractor undertakes a thorough examination of the body, especially scanning the spine. As a rule, he supplements this with an X-ray image.

Computer-aided scanning is popular today. First, the heat of inflammation transferred to the skin is measured, then the muscle tone in the spine is determined, and thirdly, skin resistance, skin temperature and heart rate are measured.

A spinalizer measures the statics of the body. The patient stands up for this, then the tensioned strands of the spinalizer are aligned with the midline, pelvic bones, shoulders and head in a frame. This shows crooked attitudes.

Side effects of chiropractic treatments

According to the professor of alternative medicine, Ezard Ernst, possible side effects are severed arteries and a stroke when the upper spine is manipulated. So-called caudal syndrome can occur with therapies of the lower spine.

According to the professor, there would have been hundreds of serious incidents, and in rare cases the victims would even have died. According to this, around 50 percent of those treated by a chiropractor would complain of minor side effects such as numbness in certain regions of the body or a general feeling of being unwell.


The risks of chiropractic are mostly indirect. For example, focusing on chiropractic treatment can effectively hinder or delay effective conventional therapies, and this is a danger in serious illnesses.

Since Palmer's ideas about the development of diseases have been scientifically refuted, the diagnoses based on this world view are also unreliable and run the risk of serious diseases being overlooked.

Scientific basis

Palmer believed that muscle tone put pressure on the nervous system. Various diseases could arise if vertebrae were faulty and subsequently put the wrong pressure on the spinal nerves. He thought of straightening these vertebrae as a kind of panacea.

According to Edzard Ernst, the evidence is anything but valid, the effectiveness of chiropractic for back pain remains uncertain. Further conclusions are problematic because there is little data and existing studies are of poor quality.

According to current anatomical knowledge, there is no connection between the diseases treated with chiropractic and displaced vertebrae. The same applies to Palmer's presumed muscle pressure on the nervous system. However, physiological effects, such as reducing muscle tension, are possible through pressure on the vertebrae.

According to Ernst, there is no compelling evidence of its effectiveness for the manipulations on the spine. Natural healing and placebo effects could explain improvements reported by patients.

When should you definitely not see a chiropractor?

Chiropractic techniques should not be used if you have the following symptoms:

  • Deformations of the vertebral bodies,
  • arthrosis
  • or a broken bone.

Likewise, should

  • Tumors,
  • acute infections
  • as well as a herniated disc

be treated with other procedures. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Ernst, Edzard: Practice naturopathy. Scientific evaluation. Risk-benefit analysis. Decision support, Pohlheim, 2001
  • Doucet, Chantal; Bussières, Andre; Fradette, Catherine: Perceived level of knowledge and skills about clinical management of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis among undergraduate chiropractic students and clinical faculty at a Canadian chiropractic program: cross – sectional study, in: Scoliosis 2014 9 (Suppl 1): O60. Published online 4 December 2014, NCBI
  • Nelson, Craig F .; Lawrence, Dana J. et al .: Chiropractic as spine care: a model for the profession, in: Chiropractic & Osteopathy, Volume 13, 2005, NCBI
  • Mirtz, Timothy A .; Morgan, Lon et al .: An epidemiological examination of the subluxation construct using Hill's criteria of causation, in: Chiropractic & Osteopathy 17:13, 2009, BioMed Central
  • Walker B.F., French S.D., Grant W., Green S .: Combined chiropractic interventions for low-back pain, Cochrane (accessed on October 30, 2019), Cochrane

Video: 5 Health Benefits of Chiropractic (December 2022).