A natural and comprehensive medical approach
Chiropractic (also known as chiropractics or chiropracty) is a natural and comprehensive medical approach focused on the diagnosis, treatment, prophylaxis and rehabilitation of functional disorders and pain syndromes concerning the musculoskeletal system, as well as their biomechanical and neurophysiological consequences. The spinal column, pelvis and peripheral joints play a pivotal role in diagnostic and therapeutic plans.
Chiropractic is a therapy for certain functional and pain disorders relating to the musculoskeletal system, as well as to their effects on other functions, such as biomechanical and neurophysiological ones. It enables them to be diagnosed, treated and, where possible, prevented.
"Those who practise with their hands..." and much more!
Hence, chiropractic goes well beyond the strictly manual treatment that gives the therapy its etymology (from the ancient Greek chiro "hand" and praktikos "practical"). Instead, it encompasses patient orientation towards a lifestyle that meets the needs of their musculoskeletal system.
Distant origins, recent developments
Founded on universal practices dating back to ancient times, it was rediscovered and scientifically grounded in the United States during the 19th century. However, chiropractic did not gain its right to citizenship in Europe and Switzerland until the middle of the 20th century.
Used already in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome...
Chiropractic does not date back to the beginning of time, but joint manipulation does. In fact, this treatment method was known to the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks. At the time of Imperial Rome, Galen was already using this therapy to get gladiators back on their feet.
Scientific grounding in the United States in the second half of the 19th century
The scientific era of chiropractic dates back to little over a century ago with Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913). While in Europe Louis Pasteur was discovering the role that certain microorganisms played in the onset of infectious diseases, in the Midwestern United States, D.D. Palmer was rediscovering the benefits of spinal manipulation. To this day, we do not know how this scholar acquired his knowledge. Perhaps it was the result of coming into contact with Native American healers. In any case, he observed that the importance of the spinal column goes beyond its function of supporting the body. Located at the crossroads of the central and peripheral nervous systems, it plays a crucial role in maintaining health: disturbances relating to the spinal mechanism are likely to have a knock-on effect on the neurological system, and if the spinal column functions poorly, the information transmitted by the nervous system will be disrupted. The study of this theory would be continued by its founder’s son, Bartlett Joshua Palmer (1882-1961). At the end of the 19th century, the Palmers marked the entry of chiropractic into science by founding the first research and teaching institute, the Palmer College of Chiropractic, in Davenport, Iowa.
Zurich: Swiss pioneer in the first half of the 20th century
It was in the 1920s that the vocation encouraged the first Helvetians to leave their country and cross the Atlantic, heading for the austere lecture theatres of the Palmer College in the USA. On their return home, with their diplomas in hand, these new doctors successfully provided care for patients who had not found any relief in conventional treatments. Word leaked out and methods were developed with such vigour that, despite the scepticism of the medical profession at the time, politicians had to legislate for it. It should be noted that a chiropractor from Lucerne, who was sentenced to prison for practising his art, received a triumphant reception on his release. In Zurich, on 22nd January 1939, following a campaign that was as passionate as it was virulent, a public consultation granted chiropractic its freedom. Gradually, canton after canton, practice rights were extended throughout Switzerland. Finally, on 5th July 1962, after having collected 394,390 signatures, the petition launched by Pro Chiropraktik (a patient association) was successful, and chiropractic was included among compulsory social insurance services.
A full-blown discipline of scientific medicine
Chiropractic is an individual discipline of scientific medicine which mainly uses non-invasive and non-medication interventions. It is fully integrated within a modern approach to health. Doctors of chiropractic have full medical training as well as specialist skills in the diagnosis, manual treatment and prevention of malfunctions of the musculoskeletal system and resulting disorders.
An officially recognised medical profession
Chiropractic is one of five academic disciplines of scientific medicine. It has been recognised by the federal law on medical professions (MedBG) since 01/09/17. Like doctors and dentists, for example, chiropractors hold the title of doctor. They can be seen directly by patients, without needing a referral. They practise autonomously, make their diagnoses and prescribe any further tests and treatments. Their services are covered by basic health insurance.
These effects may be local, in the form of limited movement, pain and contractures, or distant, such as headaches, radiation to the limbs, etc. There have been cases in which internal functions were affected. Chiropractic treatment is indicated as soon as there is a disturbance in the statics or dynamics of the human body. This disturbance may be caused by a disease, an accident, or simply, the time that passes each of us by.
Of course, chiropractic also takes care of one-off ailments such as lumbago, non-surgical herniated discs, the notorious whiplash, etc. Chiropractors restore normal function, mobility and articulation. They work with their hands, achieving their aims by administering carefully measured impulses to the joint whose function is disrupted. To understand what happens during the manipulation of a joint, all the "components" involved, and their functions, must be known.
Among other things, chiropractic treatment aims to break the cycle of pain through the restoration of joint mobility. It deals with the disturbance in the spinal joint concerned and, in this way, decreases the abnormally increased flow of information to the spinal cord. The affected muscles therefore receive the usual amount of information once again, normalising the nominal tension. Muscle function is improved, the abnormal load is decreased, and the irritations and inflammations are scaled back.
The famous cracking...
Chiropractors have a variety of manual techniques that enable them to deal with the stiffening of a joint, improving its mobility. The principle involves subjecting the joint, within its physiological limits, to precise and accurately measured manual impulses in order to free blocked surfaces, therefore restoring and improving mobility.
In most cases, manipulation is accompanied by a cracking sound. Although dramatic, it is painless; as they resume their movement, a depression between the two bony elements of the joint occurs. Certain synovial fluid components are turned into a gaseous state. These are the "gas bubbles" that pop and create the cracking which is characteristic of chiropractic manipulation. Manipulation does not just aim to normalise joint function; it also aims to have a reflex action on the surrounding tissues (muscles, tendons, nervous system).
Array of resources
The therapeutic arsenal belonging to modern chiropractors is not, however, limited to manipulation. According to indications, chiropractors perform a variety of muscle and reflex treatment methods, joint mobilisation methods, cranial massages and physiotherapy procedures (controlled extension, ultrasound, electrotherapy, cryotherapy). Prescribing orthopaedic aids, support bandages, stretching exercises, and nutritional and ergonomic advice also comes under the everyday activities of a chiropractor. These may even include the use of acupuncture and acupressure. Where necessary, they also prescribe additional medication or nutritional treatment (painkillers, anti-inflammatories).
As a general rule, chiropractors have their own X-ray equipment. They may also rely on external providers for the radiological or laboratory investigations required to establish a diagnosis.
Systematic history taking
A thorough anamnesis is the prerequisite for any treatment. In addition to the common investigation methods (orthopaedic, rheumatological, neurological), chiropractic also applies specific investigation processes, such as the static and dynamic palpation of the musculoskeletal system. A variety of advice, notably concerning posture and exercises, constitutes part of the treatment.
As with all therapy, chiropractic has its limits, and teaching them represents an integral part of clinical training (contraindications to chiropractic treatment).