by Dr. Brian S. Seaman, DC, FRCCSS(C), FICC

When people think of Doctors of Chiropractic, it often brings to mind problems such as neck pain, headaches and back pain.  But a common question is “What does a chiropractor do?”

At your first appointment, you will be asked to provide patient information, and fill out a general health questionnaire. Although you may only be seeing your chiropractor for lower back pain, there could be a number of other health conditions which may have a bearing on how your back problem is dealt with.  For instance, if you have had a bone density study your chiropractor will want to know if it is normal, or if it determined that your hip or spine is osteopenic (some bone loss) or osteoporotic.  Depending upon the results (what is called your “T-score”) this can play a role in the chiropractor’s decision as to what types of treatments can be contemplated or, if an alternative approach should be considered. It is important to complete the forms and answer all the questions. Be sure to list any medications you are on as well.

Your chiropractor will review the information you provided as well as any reports or x-rays you  bring along to your initial appointment.  He or she will then discuss your problem or problems in detail, asking such questions as:

  • Where does it hurt?
  • How long have you had this problem?    
  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Does it radiate into your arms or legs?
  • Does it bother you at certain times of the day, or at night?


Be sure to answer every question as completely as possible.  It is also important to describe your pain in your own words.  This helps your chiropractor formulate a list of potential causes, of your problem(s).  Once your chiropractor has thoroughly reviewed the “history” of your difficulties, he or she will start an examination. 

In most cases, bringing along shorts to your appointment, helps to facilitate some of the examination procedures, and you may be asked to wear a gown to allow for direct examination of the spine.  The examination tests would be selected by your chiropractor based on what type of problem you have.  For example, this could include postural analysis, assessment of how the joints in your spine are moving, the overall movement (called active motion) of your neck and back, orthopaedic type testing and a neurological evaluation (such as reflexes, testing sensation, and evaluation of muscle strength).  Additional testing and examination will be undertaken if your injury involves a joint of one of your extremities---like a shoulder, or knee.

If your injury is due to sports or a fitness activity, your chiropractor may refer you to a chiropractic sports specialist.  Sports chiropractors have advanced training in the field of sports and athletic injuries which leads to the designation of a Fellow of the College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences (Canada); FRCCSS(C).

Your chiropractor will also consider whether manipulation or adjustment techniques are appropriate for you based on a thorough history, examination, and if necessary additional investigation (such as a referral to a medical or chiropractic specialist) or imaging studies (ie. x-rays).  Once your chiropractor has completed the examination, all the relevant information will be considered in determining what the most likely cause of your problem is – what a health care professional refers to as a clinical impression or diagnosis.

Prior to initiating your treatment, your chiropractor will also discuss what you should expect as far as a response to chiropractic care including the frequency and duration of your appointments.  If it took ten years for your lower back problem to develop, it obviously will not resolve in just one or two visits!  However your chiropractor will be able to provide you with some information in this regard and please – do not hesitate to ask questions or clarify any information you may be unsure of. Periodic examinations may be scheduled to assess your response to treatment, and determine if further chiropractic treatment or follow up care is necessary or clinically indicated.  In some instances, the chiropractor may recommend a therapeutic trial over a short period of time (perhaps 2 to 4 weeks), to determine your response to the treatment.

In addition to the manipulation or adjustment techniques that were mentioned earlier, your treatment may include ice therapy, a rehabilitative exercise program (very important to help strengthen the injured areas), ergonomic suggestions (when sitting at your desk or the computer), and advice to assist you in maximizing the benefits of your treatment.  If you need to start a generalized fitness program, your chiropractor may recommend that you check out a new web based program www.fitin15.ca. This was designed by chiropractors for individuals wanting to get active again.

Most importantly, if you have any questions about your conditions or your health in general, please be sure to ask questions and discuss these with your chiropractor.

Reprinted with permission of
The Seniors' Advocate. P.O. Box 5005, Waverly, Nova Scotia, B2R 1S2
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