Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Was My "New Patient Evaluation" a Scam?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

QuestionI am new to chiropractic and recently visited a chiropractor for a "new patient evaluation" which included an exam and full x-rays (which I now regret). I wish I had found your site before I took the advice of a co-worker and went to a chiropractor for my frequent sinus infections, headaches, slight neck pain, and poor posture.

On my second visit, the chiropractor showed me and two other patients a video about vertebral subluxations. He then showed us some sample x-rays and a model of the spine and explained how subluxations happen, etc. Afterwards, he took me into another room to look at my x-rays. He told me that he had very bad news: I have seven subluxations and my neck is curved the wrong way. He said he also had some good news: He could help me, and he and his wife would take me on as a patient.

When the chiropractor showed me my x-rays, my spine looked frighteningly crooked. He said that the area where I had subluxations was in the bladder and menstrual area (I had told them on my first appointment that I was experiencing menstrual irregularity) and that I was in "Phase 1" of spinal degeneration that could only get worse. Also, he showed me an x-ray of my neck and said that it is curved the wrong way. He then gave me my first adjustment and manipulated my neck. It was extremely uncomfortable and felt very unnatural. He twisted my head so far to one side that it was painful and I let out a little "yelp." He thought I was bothered by the noise. But it wasn't the noise, it was the uncomfortable position.

To make a long story short, they are insisting I come back with my husband to talk about my "treatment." They also require their patients to attend evening "health classes" at their office once a month. I have been reading your site, and it sounds like what they told me is inaccurate. I am perplexed and worried because I want to become pregnant soon and I have irregular menstrual periods. So what if they are right and the subluxations are causing my menstrual problems? Also, why did my spine look so crooked? Was it the way they positioned the x-ray, or do spines vary in how they look? They had drawn blue and red lines on the x-rays showing where the spine should be and where mine was. I am concerned because the x-ray did look pretty scary.

Answer

The evaluation and treatment program you have described is typical of the scare tactics and misinformation used by some chiropractors who exploit their patients by treating imaginary subluxations and harmless spinal curvatures. I am angered when I hear of chiropractors using such methods. And I am saddened that persons seeking health advice and relief from pain become victims of unethical practitioners who attempt to brainwash every member of the family into becoming a lifelong chiropractic patient. I wish everyone could read your letter and use it as a guide in avoiding this type of chiropractor.

A "new patient evaluation" that requires an x-ray exam of every portion of the spine is the first clue of what is to follow. A "report of findings" requiring the presence of the husband or wife or a parent, the use of videos and mandatory "health classes" to explain the chiropractic subluxation, and a proposed long-term treatment program are signals to cancel further appointments. Chiropractors who use this type of salesmanship always find "subluxations" and/or abnormal spinal curves an recommend months of chiropractic adjustments and years of "preventive maintenance."

You can rest assured that you do not have "seven subluxations" that must be corrected with spinal adjustments. It's not unusual to have an abnormal neck or back curve, which is usually harmless or insignificant. Such curves cannot be corrected by manipulation. Patients are often told that they are in a "Phase 1" stage of spinal degeneration and that they need spinal adjustments to halt the progress of a curvature and to prevent spinal degeneration from progressing to "Stage 3 or Stage 4." This is pure nonsense.

No matter what your spine looks like, it has nothing to do with sinus infection or menstrual irregularity. Neck pain and tension headache can sometimes benefit from appropriate spinal manipulation that stretches muscles and loosens joints. But such treatment should not be painful, and it should be done only as-needed by a chiropractor who does not use any of the tactics you described.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on July 2, 2002.