Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Is My Chiropractic Treatment Program a Scam?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have recently gone to a chiropractor. He took four x-rays and asked me to come back the next day with my husband. We returned the next day and he went through the x-rays, showed us slides, etc. He showed me that I have a subluxation and that my right leg is 4 mm shorter than my left leg. He also showed me that my neck is curving in the wrong way. Not in the normal "C" shape but actually starts off correctly then bends in the opposite direction. Perhaps from a whiplash. He has recommended three visits a week for 12 weeks to adjust my neck and back. He feels that should be adequate for my back. But my neck is far more serious and could need manipulation for up to nine months.

I have been in for a few adjustments and have started neck traction. He has asked me to hang my head off an angled surface for five minutes twice a day. Later he will start hanging a weight off my head to increase the pull backwards.

I have become concerned since the practice tries so hard to get you to sign up at a discounted rate for 12 weeks, and they invite friends, etc., for free visits. I feel this is very much a sales plot. They make you concerned about the angles in my neck, so eventually you feel you have to take this action and get "fixed."

Do you think I should continue? I seldom have lower back pains and no neck pains. I am worried that if I do not take action now, Ill have poor posture, bones, and so on, when I get older.

Answer

I would not continue with this treatment program. It' s not unusual for one leg to be shorter than the other, and I would not consider a 4 mm difference to be significant.

If you are not having neck or back pain, you should not be getting neck or back adjustments. Many people do not have a "normal" neck curve. Such deviations from normal cannot and do not need to be changed, since they may be normal for you. Nine months of neck manipulation, especially the use of weight to force hyperextension of your neck in an attempt to change your cervical curve, could be harmful and would very likely cause neck pain.

There is no reason to worry that you will have trouble in the future if you do not undergo a series of chiropractic adjustments.

It certainly sounds as if you have been given a misleading sales pitch. I would ignore the warning that you have a "subluxation, a short leg, and an abnormal neck curve." If you do not have neck or back pain, you do not need treatment. Regardless, the treatment you have described could be risky as well as a waste of time and money.

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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 June 5, 2002.