The Truth About Chiropractors

Making a visit to the back doctor could help you stave off injury, reach your fitness goals, and be pain-free. Here's what you need to know about the joys of being manipulated.

Prop styling by Robin Finlay.

Who's Doing It

Chiro's resurgence is being fueled by high-powered CEOs, Hollywood studio execs, and A-listers—mostly via concierge services in their homes or offices or on movie sets. "A patient of mine asked if I would leave my practice and travel around the world with him to treat him," says Los Angeles–based Brad Fazekas, D.C. The paparazzi snapped Leonardo DiCaprio leaving a chiropractic office in New Orleans; Kim Kardashian tweeted, "Chiropractors really are life savers. . . . I'm obsessed!"; and Jessica Alba is reportedly a fan.

Why They're Doing It

Because it's not just about easing back problems. Karen Erickson, D.C., a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, says, "Besides relief of muscle soreness and pain, patients often report an overall feeling of well-being and reduced stress." Getting straightened out can have benefits for both your sedentary life and your gym performance. "When you're always on the computer or an i-whatever, the upper back starts to round," Fazekas says. "We can correct that." And because you're eliminating stiffness and pain, you will be able to work out harder.

How It Works

Chiropractors ease muscle pain by unlocking stiff joints. "We restore range of motion, and that will stop the nerve irritation and release any muscles that are in spasm," says Erickson, who adds that the chiropractic "pop" is caused by a change in pressure in the joint. "It's like pulling the cork on a bottle of champagne," she says. You should feel immediate relief with most issues, although some take at least three to four treatments to get results. Chiropractors also recommend occasional check-ins.

What the Skeptics Say

In the sixties and seventies, the American Medical Association tried to abolish the "unscientific cult" of chiropractic medicine. Fifty years later, research is still lacking, and a multitude of specializations and licensing laws have made the profession disjointed. "We've all seen the results," says Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon and the author of the FrameWork book series. "But we need scientific research that shows what chiropractors can do." For serious pain, DiNubile recommends that an orthopedic or sports-medicine specialist be your first stop.

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When Crack Goes Wack

Unlike pizza, publicity, and blow jobs, there is such a thing as a bad chiropractor. Beware these red flags, from Dr. Brad Fazekas.

The Rough Adjustment "A chiropractor should never 'slam' on you. The process of moving the bones should be very gentle."

The Lab Coat "Medical doctors wear lab coats because they are doing dirty work. A chiropractor in one is trying to be something he's not."

The Quickie "When I first see a patient, the appointment is at least an hour. There's a lot of discussion that needs to happen prior to adjustment. Follow-ups are usually around 15 minutes."

The False Claims "If someone calls himself a healer, run. We're just here to facilitate the rehabilitation process."

The Bad Habit "Maintenance every once in a while is one thing, but this business of multiple visits per week for months is just not necessary."

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