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Chiropractic Research Review

Defining the Typical Chiropractic Patient

An estimated 42% of Americans used alternative health care in 1997; 31% of those visits were to chiropractors. The number of chiropractic patients has doubled over the last two decades and is projected to double again by the year 2010.

Despite these data, minimal information is available on why patients seek chiropractic care.

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark


The authors of this study selected six locations (of varying levels of scope of chiropractic practice) throughout the U.S. and Canada for the focus of their research. One hundred thirty-one chiropractors and 1,275 of their patients completed surveys on reason for visit; health status and beliefs; pain level (on a modified Roland Morris Scale); mental health; and satisfaction with treatment. Data were compared to those from the general population and medical back-pain patients.

Over 70% of patients specifically listed back or neck problems as the primary reason for seeking care, whereas only 6% listed nonmusculoskeletal problems (e.g., allergies, reflux, etc.). Chiropractic patients scored significantly lower on all general health scales (on an SF-36 instrument) than matched subjects in the general population. Chiropractic patients also scored lower than medical back-pain patients on mental health tests of emotional well-being and role limitations because of emotional problems, despite similar pain levels between the two groups. Health beliefs and attitudes were similar between DCs and their patients; patients were very satisfied with chiropractic treatment.

The authors conclude that chiropractic use may be due to similar doctor/patient health beliefs and inadequate treatment of conditions by traditional medicine providers. They also write, "We believe our data are most consistent with the 'strain and pain' theory of chiropractic use, as nearly all the patients in our study sought care for musculoskeletal symptoms."

Note: The authors state limitations to this study, which include selected patient populations and the fact that only certain chiropractors agreed to participate in the study. The data may demonstrate results specific to the populations studied and may or may not be applicable to all chiropractic patients.

Coulter ID, Hurwitz EL, Adams AH, et al. Patients using chiropractors in North America: Who are they, and why are they in chiropractic care? Spine 2002:27(3), pp. 291-298.

Chiropractic Research Review

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