An article about chiropractic caught my attention. Let me show you its final section which, I think, is relevant to what we often discuss on this blog:

If chiropractic treatment is unscientific, then why do I feel better? Because lots of things alleviate pain. Massage, analgesia and heat – but also a provider who listens, empathises and bothers to examine a patient. Then there is the placebo effect. For centuries, doctors have recognised that different interventions with unclear pathways result in clinical improvement. Among the benefits patients attributed to placebo 100 years ago: “I sleep better; my appetite is improved; my breathing is better; I can walk further without pain in my chest; my nerves are steadier.” Nothing has changed. Pain is a universal assignment; no one has a monopoly on its relief.

The chiropractic industry owes its existence to a ghost. Its founder, David Palmer, wrote in his memoir The Chiropractor that the principles of spinal manipulation were passed on to him during a séance by a doctor who had been dead for half a century. Before this, Palmer was a “magnetic healer”.

Today, chiropractors preside over a multibillion-dollar regulated industry that draws patients for various reasons. Some can’t find or afford a doctor, feel dismissed, or worse, mistreated. Others mistrust the medical establishment and big pharma. Still others want natural healing. But none of these reasons justifies conflating a chiropractor with a doctor. The conflation feels especially hazardous in an environment of health illiteracy, where the mere title of doctor confers upon its bearer strong legitimacy.

Chiropractors don’t have the same training as doctors. They cannot issue prescriptions or order advanced imaging. They do not undergo lifelong peer review or open themselves to monthly morbidity audits.

I know that doctors could do with a dose of humility, but I can’t find any evidence (or the need) for the assertion on one website that chiropractors are “academic overachievers”. Or the ambit claim that most health professionals have no idea how complicated the brain is, but chiropractors do.

Forget doctors, patients deserve more respect.

My friend’s back feels better for now. When it flares, I wonder if she will seek my advice – and I am prepared to hear no. Everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor. But no patient should visit a chiropractor thinking that they are seeing a doctor.


I would put it more bluntly:

  • chiropractors are poorly trained; in particular, they do not learn to question their own, often ridiculous beliefs;
  • they are poorly regulated; in the UK, the GCC seems to protect the chiros rather than the public;
  • chiropractors regularly disregard essential rules of medical ethics, e.g. informed consent;
  • many try to mislead us by pretending they are physicians;
  • their hallmark intervention, spinal manipulation, can cause considerable harm;
  • it generates hardly any demonstrable benefit for any condition;
  • chiropractors also cause considerable harm, e.g. by interfering with real medicine, e.g. vaccinations;
  • thus, in general, chiropractors do more harm than good;
  • yes, everyone is entitled to see a chiropractor, but before they do, reliable information should be mandatory.

24 Responses to No one should see a chiropractor thinking they are seeing a doctor

  • no one should see a vet or a dentist thinking they are seeing a “doctor” either? what about psychologists? i do agree that is our duty to make sure it states in every written format that Dr. *** is a doctor of chiropractic. i know its hard to believe but the medical profession does not have ownership on the title “doctor”… such is life…

    • nobody is talking about the doctor title here, Dr Almog!

    • In the UK a practising clinical psychologist will have a first degree (from a proper university) in psychology, have worked as a psychology assistant for some time before being accepted on to the 3 year clinical psychology doctorare programme (again at a proper university), imght even be required to undertake a master’s degree in the meantime.. This involves a mixture of university-based teaching, supervised clinical practice and a research dissertation, all of which must be successfully completed in order to be awarded the relevant doctorate. This takes almost as long as medical training.

      Chiropractors? Less so…

  • Great post.

    One small point re the second bullet: “in the UK, the GMC seems to protect the chiros rather than the public”

    Shouldn’t that be the GCC (General Chiropractic Council)?

  • The family of the late John Lawler made a similar point, didn’t they? That when you see “Doctor” in a ‘clinical’ setting, you tend to assume the person displaying it is medically qualified.

  • Let me correct your title

    No one should see a chiropractor thinking they are seeing a medical doctor.

    You’re welcome

  • For an example of chiropractic at its worst, I suggest reading this article from the blog of a guy who calls himself “The Emergency Chiropractor.”

    His articles appear irregularly but they’re always rife with attacks against mainstream medicine & science. His vitriol is Trumpian in its relentless self-serving hate-filled diatribes.

  • Chiropractors deliberately adopt all the verbiage of doctors as well.

    They call their clients – patients

    They call their clinics- surgeries

    They use the term prescribe and diagnose

    They offer Masters at University where they should state weak unacademic courses

    It is all to mislesd the public

    • I know a couple; she is a medical practitioner with double bachelor’s degrees, and he is a scientist with a PhD. The scientist maintains that he is the only “doctor” in the family, his wife just calls herself one.

      • I’m a dentist and would never style myself “Dr”.

        (Mainly because we’re surgeons and don’t want people thinking we’re one of those physician types)

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