Chiropractic examination — what to expect

Chiropractic care focuses on adjusting misalignments in the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, with the belief that a properly aligned body is important to overall health. Many patients who see a chiropractor do so because they are experiencing pain or stiffness in some part of their spine, which could be due to a degenerative condition, an injury, overexertion or poor posture. The goal for many is to find relief by exploring nonsurgical treatment options.

Once you have chosen a chiropractor, either from personal research or through a referral from your doctor, you may be wondering what to expect. Typically, your first visit will involve a chiropractic examination that includes a review of medical history, physical evaluation and a series of chiropractic tests.

The stages of a chiropractic examination

There are several stages of a chiropractic examination, including:

  • Medical history. The practitioner will ask you about your family medical history and your personal medical history. Make a list of any illnesses or surgeries you’ve recently had, any medications you’re currently taking, symptoms you’re experiencing and any health issues that run in your family.
  • Physical exam. Your chiropractor will perform a physical exam that involves palpation, which is a diagnostic technique done through gentle touching to check for abnormalities like tenderness, swelling, misaligned vertebrae and joint function.
  • Chiropractic tests. A gait test, movement test and straight leg raise test are all ways that a chiropractor can check for flexibility, muscle strength, neurological function and proper spinal alignment.
  • Medical imaging. Displaced spinal anatomy may be detected through the use of X-rays, CT scans or MRI, though not all chiropractors will use imaging as a diagnostic tool.

Preparing for your chiropractic examination

When you arrive for your chiropractic examination, you want to be able to describe all of your symptoms to the chiropractor as accurately as possible. It may be a good idea to keep a journal of symptoms for several days or weeks before your exam. This way, you have a record of the frequency, location and severity of all your symptoms. For instance, many patients who suffer from degenerative spine conditions like herniated or bulging discs write down instances of pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness so the chiropractor can understand which level of the spine is affected and whether nerve compression is the underlying cause.

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