A chiropractor is specially trained to use their hands to manipulate joints and muscles to improve the way they operate and bring about pain relief. The soft tissues of the body - the muscles and tendons - can also be treated by a chiropractor through different forms of massage and stretching techniques.
New regulations were introduced in the UK in 2001 to legally protect the term chiropractor and it can now only be used by someone who is registered with the general council governing the profession that oversees training and standards.
Before treatment begins, a patient should be thoroughly examined, as not every condition can benefit from this form of therapy. In addition to a physical examination a patient's medical history will be taken and other tests may need to be carried out, for example x-rays of the part of the body that is causing problems.
Most cases dealt with are connected to back and neck pain but sometimes the nervous system may also be affected. This can cause symptoms such as tension headaches and sciatica. As with osteopathic treatment, a cracking or snapping sound can sometimes be heard during the manipulation process and this is caused by the small bubbles of gas in the fluid between joints.
This form of treatment has been called into question in the last few years as medical research in Canada and the UK suggest that there may be a link between neck and spine manipulation and an increased risk of a stroke, especially in people aged under 45. It is therefore important to ensure that a practionioner is properly qualified and registered with the appropriate profession body before undergoing treatment.