Once you start going to a chiropractor, don’t you have to keep going back every week for the rest of your life?

There is a lot of misinformation about chiropractic out there.  I call them chiropractic myths.  In an effort to clear up the confusion, I will be taking these myths head-on.  I chose to write about this specific myth first, because it is one of the most frequent myths I have heard the last 20 years.

The simple answer to this question is no, of course not. But let me address the underlying questions behind this one. Why do some chiropractors pressure their patients to come in every week?  Why do some people who go to chiropractors have to keep going back?  Doesn’t chiropractic treatment weaken the joints so that you need to keep coming back?

So why do some chiropractors endeavor to have all their patients come every week for treatment until the day they die? When someone brings this up, the first thing I always ask is, “Do you know of any profession that does not have the good, the bad, and the ugly?” Every category of people has some who are good and and some who are bad: clergy, professors, cashiers, policemen, parents, drivers, dentists, surgeons.  In chiropractic, it is no different.  Of course there are bad chiropractors, who are out to make money instead of caring for people.  On the other hand, there are also excellent chiropractors, who genuinely care about their patients and getting them better.

There are people who love their chiropractor, so why do they have to keep going back if he or she is so good? Think about this, once you go the dentist, do you have to go again?  What if you take your car to the auto technician, do you ever need to go back? Do you go to the barber once but never go again?  Some problems in life require more than one visit to someone who can help. Wouldn’t it make sense that if someone has a problem with their neck or back they might need help with it more than once in their lifetime?

I have some patients I see once every year or so, and I have some patients I see every week.  Why would ANYONE need to see a chiropractor EVERY week?  Some patients have advanced pathologies (bad problems) and need more care to keep them out of pain, for example, person who was in a horrible car accident 20 years ago and now has severe pain and biomechanical dysfunction. Another example is an older person who has developed severe arthritis and chiropractic treatment is the only thing that gives them relief from their pain.  The truth is that some people have really bad problems and they need lots of care just to make it through life.  For those people the choice is either to get chiropractic treatment or to live the rest of their life on pain medication.  I hope that make sense.  Some people actually do need treatment on a weekly basis.

What about people who don’t have some advanced pathology?  Does the “average” person need to see a chiropractor all the time?  First let me tell you this: when I see a patient for the first time, my goal is to get them fixed as quickly as possible and for them to stay fixed for as long as possible.  The vast majority of problems a chiropractor treats respond relatively quickly.  Obviously every patient is unique and every doctor is different, but in general, seeing a chiropractor is the quickest way to getting all fixed up.  There is an abundance of research that proves thisWorkman’s compensation studies, private insurance studies, government studies, and large meta-analysis studies have all concluded that chiropractic care gets better results faster, or at least as fast, and is less expensive than traditional medical treatment. So if you want to get better the quickest and cheapest way, see a good chiropractor!

Okay, so the “average person” feels better pretty quickly. That person may never come back, and some patients choose not to, at least not until they are in pain again. Let me ask you something, do you think the best way to take care of anything is to wait until it breaks?  Don’t we do preventative maintenance on important things in our lives?  We change the air filters in our homes to prevent problems with our air conditioning units.  We change the oil, rotate the tires, change filters and tune up our cars to prevent more serious costly repairs.  We vaccinate our pets to prevent them from getting life threatening diseases.  We do all kinds of things to prevent more serious problems from developing in our lives.

There is an assumption that as long our backs feel fine, they are fine.  This assumption is wrong.  It’s not true of the back or anything else in the body.  Many times pain is the last thing to show up when something has been very wrong for a long time.  The wise thing to do is to maintain good back health in order to prevent serious problems from developing. I know I’m crazy, so feel free to call me that if you think what I’m about to say is crazy, but I think everyone ought to see a chiropractor as part of their normal health care to prevent problems from developing.  I even think that this care should start with children!  Seriously, kids have a rough life from the start.  From birth to learning to walk to playing sports, they experience all kinds of things that can cause biomechanical problems.

What about the idea that chiropractic treatment weakens the back, so once you start, you have to keep going back?  The reason this idea is flawed is a basic misunderstanding about back problems.  Simply put, the vast majority of back problems develop because the back gets stuck.  Once a back becomes stuck it gets more stiff and tight and more stuck!  At the most simplistic level chiropractic treatment loosens these stuck, stiff areas and restores them to move the way God intended.  Chiropractic care has nothing to do with making the spine strong or weak.  Making a spine weak or strong has everyting to do with exercise.  People who don’t exercise often, need more chiropractic care because their spine gets stuck and stiff more frequently than those who exercise regularly.  I preach exercise everyday to my patients, and I have written about its importance more than any other topic.  I want my patients to have the healthiest spines possible for their entire lives.

People are, of course, free to choose what they want to do with their backs.  I have patients who only come in when they can barely walk, and I do my very best to get them walking and feeling great as soon as possible.  I also have patients who see me for preventive care on a regular basis, and I do as much as I can to stretch the time between treatments as long as possible.  However, in both cases my chiropractic treatment does nothing to weaken a patient’s back causing the need to come in for the rest of his or her life.


22 Responses to Once you start going to a chiropractor, don’t you have to keep going back every week for the rest of your life?
  1. Taylor
    October 25, 2011 | 8:55 pm

    Very interesting! Thanks!

  2. karen
    November 17, 2011 | 3:32 pm

    If you go to a chiropractor should you see the same doctor on each visit for adjustment?

    • Dr. Kilcup
      November 17, 2011 | 3:38 pm

      Karen that is a great question. I can’t imagine high quality care and a patient seeing different doctors. One of the things that makes for excellent care is seeing a patient from one visit to another. Its seeing the progress of a patient that helps me know what to do.

  3. Richard
    December 2, 2012 | 9:15 pm

    I have a pain in my leg due to my injury on my back i went through physical therapy for both but my pain in my leg hasn’t gone away. Should i see a chiropractor? its getting more difficult to walk everyday

    • Dr. Kilcup
      December 2, 2012 | 10:25 pm

      Sorry to hear that Richard. The first thing you need is a good diagnosis. The exact cause of the pain needs to be understood. After the problem is understood what kind of treatment you need is pretty straightforward. The right doctor to help you could be a Chiropractor, MD or a DO. You need a GOOD doctor.

      Hope that helps.

  4. Michelle
    February 12, 2013 | 3:41 am

    Hi, I’ve been regularly seeing a chiropractor in the past six months. He’s been asking me to come back every three weeks, which is just the right amount of time until my neck pain reappears. He’s very clear and respectful. However, I’ve read somewhere that neck manipulation can be dangerous over time. I also had a one-time extreme vertigo experience two months into chiropractic care. Could the neck manipulations have caused the vertigo? Thanks and great article! Very informative and objective.

    • Dr. Kilcup
      February 12, 2013 | 9:35 am

      Michelle thanks for stopping by! Depending on your age, history and occupation the 3 weeks could be very reasonable. There is nothing dangerous about manipulation over time. Keeping the spine working is what manipulation does and that is super good for you.

      Couple things on vertigo. First is I wrote about this. Just plug “vertigo” into the search box. Second is this is something your chiropractor should talk to you about. Vertigo can happen at anytime with certain head positions.

      Blessings to you!

      • Michelle
        February 12, 2013 | 3:23 pm

        Thanks, Dr Kilcup. Very enlightening article on vertigo. All the best!

  5. Mary
    May 15, 2013 | 11:54 am

    Had pain in neck. Loss of mobility, making it hard to turn neck to drive. sometimes stiffness in morning with a headache. The headache would go away after up and about.

    Saw the chiropractor for 3 months total of 24 visits. Treatments done: X-ray of cervical, Electric muscle stimulator, cold pack, cold laser, CMT spinal adj of 3-4 (gun type of machine, that went up and down the spine), manual therapy on neck, therapeutic exercises,traction and massages.
    Felt great after 3 months. Within 3 weeks I went back in pain. Had a massage and 2 more visits with spinal adj and traction. It has now been 3 weeks and I feel good but he wants me to come back every 3 weeks to a month. Didn’t say for how long even tho I feel good. I do get a little stiff but then I do my excersises and feel better. I am very careful not to hurt my neck with jerking movements.
    I think a massage once a month could do me good b/c that did help a lot in the treatment.
    I am 62 years old, not on any medications, don’t exercise on a reg basis but I am active.

    Do you think I NEED TO BE ADJUSTED MONTHLY? I don’t understand how once a month can help b/c the feel good of the treatment doesn’t last past a day or so.

    • Dr. Kilcup
      May 15, 2013 | 1:05 pm

      Hi Mary! Thanks for the great comment. Obviously all I can do here is give you my impressions based on what you’ve told me.

      It sounds like your problem is like most musculoskeletal problems. You have joint, muscle and fascia that are not working right. As you get older the muscle, fascia and joints are going to try to shorten and stiffen. The massage helps the muscles and fascia. However if all you do is maintain the muscle/fascia the joints will slowly get stiffer.

      The basic question you need to ask yourself is do you want to maintain the function of your neck and keep it working as good as possible or just seek help when you have pain. I can promise that overtime your neck is not going to get better without help. It may feel fine for a year or more but it will most likely start to hurt again. When it does come back it will be more difficult to “fix”.

      When I see patients once a month I rarely conclude (and so does the patient) that they didn’t need it or benefit from the treatment. In those rare times where a patient really doesn’t have anything wrong I will have the patient come back in 2 months instead of one.

      So the answer to your question is something you need to answer. If you want to be proactive and prevent as much trouble with your neck as possible then go in once a month. If you only want care when it hurts then only seek care when it hurts.

      I hope that helps

  6. Betty
    August 3, 2013 | 2:50 pm

    I’ve had 4 treatments for my neck and back from an Nhs chiropractor and he says I only need one more and I should be fine. My last one was on Monday and my next is on Tuesday next week. It’s my mid back and neck he’s been treating and my pain hasn’t been returning until maybe a day before my treatment but today my back is really hurting so I can’t believe one more treatment will be enough. I only get 5 on the Nhs free do u think that’s why he said he thought I’d be ok after my 5 th session? Thanks

    • Dr. Kilcup
      August 3, 2013 | 4:34 pm

      Could be Betty. He might think differently when you tell him that the pain returned so quickly. I’m not a fan of any sort of insurance for chiropractic care. This is why. If a person NEEDS treatment is should not matter how many treatments are “covered”. Good luck!

  7. anne
    September 13, 2013 | 7:39 am

    Thankyou for this article. It is very helpful to use as back up for those ignorant fools out there who don’t understand why chiropractic is very good for the body.

  8. Lisa
    October 20, 2013 | 12:40 am

    Have found your site to be very helpful. I have suffered chronic pain in right arm and shoulder for months saw a chiro had said X-ray shows prob with neck and nerves before massage can start I will need 24 treatments over 12 weeks have had 7 up to date still in pain and neck stiff please advise

    • Dr. Kilcup
      October 20, 2013 | 9:25 am

      Lisa its really hard for me to give you advice. In general if a patient is not improving after 3 treatments I either change my treatment or stop treatment. Are you any better?

  9. Allie
    January 9, 2014 | 7:36 am

    I recently went to the chiropractor for the first time because of a sudden onset of pain in my back and neck and after only three adjustments the pain has gone away; however, the doctor wants to see me three times a week for the next several months to correct some curves and misalignments I have in my neck and my lower back. I can’t deny that my x-rays are showing curvatures where there shouldnt be any, but is going three times a week too much? And if he somehow corrects the issues after the 5 months of treatment, will my spine just go right back to the way it was if I don’t keep going for the wellness treatments that he suggests after my rehab? I don’t want to waste my time knowing I’m not going to be a lifelong patient of his. Thanks

    • Dr. Kilcup
      January 9, 2014 | 9:58 am

      Allie in my opinion this is the wrong target. IF the doctor can do what he claims (and I don’t believe it is possible to make every spine look like a textbook spine with perfect curves) it doesn’t mean that your back is “fixed” for the rest of your life.

      The truth is like everything else we all are unique. It is true that to have the curves like the doc explained to you is best. However there are lots of reasons that a person may not have the perfect spinal curves.

      When I work on a patient I focus on restoring function to all of the joints in the spine. I find that all of my patients with less than perfect spinal curves do great. The key is getting everything working and then keeping it working. Like I wrote some people need very little treatment to keep things working and others require more treatment.

      I hope that give you some guidance.

  10. Mark Ives
    April 18, 2014 | 8:46 am

    Dr. Kilcup….I thought your article was very informative as well as your responses to the questions people sent in. I have degenerative disc disease as well as arthritis in my neck. I first went to PT and although it worked the symptons eventually came back. My insurance would only cover 20 visits per calendar year so when my visits ran out, and I was still in need of care, someone recommended a chiropractor. Other people told me of the bad stories and suggested I just get surgery. I decided to try the chiropractor and have been very happy with the results. I’ve been going for several months now and have progressed from 2X per week to every two weeks. Last month because he was out of town, I had to wait 3 weeks and was just a little sore. I went this past week and they had a different chiropractor that day and I tried her. The next day I felt worse. My lower right back is sore and my right upper thigh is very painful. I can’t say the other chiropractor did something wrong, but I agree with your response to another person indicating you should keep going to the same doctor since they know your history. I am going back on Monday to see my original doctor. Thankfully my insurance covers unlimited visits…so I would imagine they understand that they may be seeing many visits in my future and will agree to keep paying the bill. I could never afford to pay the full cost myself.

    • Dr. Kilcup
      April 20, 2014 | 3:56 pm

      Love your story Mark. Thank you for taking the time to share it.

      Continued health!

  11. Sara
    February 25, 2015 | 10:27 pm

    Thank you so much – this article has cleared a lot up for me. I’ve had mixed feelings about chiropractic, mostly due to seeing “bad” practitioners, and having the experience that they are trying to hook me/sell me, etc. You have given me the conviction to decrease my visits from once a week to once a month–and more as an as-needed basis. I am worried my chiropracter is going to try to talk me out of this, which is super akward, because I know him pretty well and we’ve always gotten along–I just hate the sales tactics. I get the feeling he isn’t try to dupe anyone but he believes that weekly sessions, once a patient is stabalized, is the best thing for him/her. Apparently he gets adjusted once a week.

    • Dr. Kilcup
      February 26, 2015 | 3:08 pm

      Sara thank you for the feedback! I’m glad this helped you! In my opinion very few people need more than a once a month “tune-up”. Good luck!

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