Chiropractors care for patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal adjustments, manipulation, and other techniques to manage patients' health concerns, such as back and neck pain.
Chiropractors typically do the following:
- Assess a patient's medical condition by reviewing their medical history, listening to the patient's concerns, and performing a physical examination
- Analyze the patient's posture, spine, and reflexes
- Conduct tests, including evaluating a patient's posture and taking x rays
- Identify health problems
- Provide neuromusculoskeletal therapy, which involves adjusting a patient's spinal column and other joints by hand
- Give additional treatments, such as applying heat or cold to a patient's injured areas
- Advise patients on health and lifestyle issues, such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits
- Refer patients to other health care professionals, if needed
Chiropractors focus on patients' overall health. Chiropractors believe that misalignments of the spinal joints interfere with a person's neuromuscular system and can result in lower resistance to disease, as well as other conditions of poor health.
Some chiropractors use procedures such as massage therapy, rehabilitative exercise, and ultrasound in addition to spinal adjustments and manipulation. They also may apply supports, such as braces or shoe inserts, to treat patients and relieve pain.
In addition to operating a general chiropractic practice, some chiropractors concentrate in areas such as sports, neurology, orthopedics, pediatrics, or nutrition, among others. Chiropractors in private practice are responsible for marketing their businesses, hiring staff, and keeping records.
Chiropractors held about 44,400 jobs in 2012. Most chiropractors work in a solo or group practice. About 37 percent were self-employed in 2012. A small number work in hospitals or physicians' offices.
Chiropractors typically work in office settings that are clean and comfortable. They may be on their feet for long periods when examining and caring for patients.
Although most chiropractors worked full time, about 1 out of 3 worked part time in 2012. Chiropractors may work in the evenings or on weekends, to accommodate working patients. Self-employed chiropractors set their own hours.
Chiropractors must earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree and a state license. Doctor of Chiropractic programs typically take 4 years to complete and require at least 3 years of undergraduate college education for admission.
Prospective chiropractors are required to have a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree—a postgraduate professional degree that typically takes 4 years to complete. In 2012, there were 15 Doctor of Chiropractic programs on 18 campuses accredited by The Council on Chiropractic Education.
Admission to D.C. programs requires at least 90 semester hours of undergraduate education, with courses in the liberal arts and sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. However, most students earn a bachelor’s degree before going on to a chiropractic program.
Chiropractic education consists of classroom work in anatomy, physiology, biology, and similar subjects. Chiropractic students also get supervised clinical experience, in which they train in spinal assessment, spinal adjustment techniques, and diagnosis.
Following graduation, some chiropractors complete postgraduate programs leading to certification and diplomate credentials. These programs provide additional training in specialty areas, such as orthopedics and pediatrics. Others may choose to earn a master’s degree in a related topic, such as nutrition or sports rehabilitation. Some D.C. programs offer a dual-degree option, in which students may earn a master’s degree in a second topic, while completing their D.C.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states and the District of Columbia require chiropractors to be licensed. Although specific requirements vary by state, all jurisdictions require the completion of an accredited Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) program. Some states require chiropractors to have a bachelor’s degree.
In addition, all jurisdictions require passing the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners exam, which include basic and clinical sciences, clinical case studies, and a practical exam. Many jurisdictions also require applicants to pass a state-specific law exams. All states require continuing education to keep the license. Check with your state’s board of chiropractic examiners or health department for more specific information on licensure.
Decision-making skills. Chiropractors must determine the best course of action when treating a patient. They must also decide when to refer patients to other health care professionals.
Detail oriented. Chiropractors must be observant and pay attention to details so that they can make proper diagnoses and avoid mistakes that could harm patients.
Dexterity. Because they use their hands to perform manual adjustments to the spine and other joints, chiropractors should be well-coordinated to perform therapy effectively.
Empathy. Chiropractors often care for people who are in pain. They must be understanding and sympathetic to their patients' problems and needs.
Interpersonal skills. Chiropractors must be personable to keep clients coming to them. Also, because chiropractors frequently touch patients in performing therapy, they should be able to put their patients at ease.
The median annual wage for chiropractors was $66,160 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,030, and the top 10 percent earned more than $142,950.
Chiropractors tend to earn significantly less early in their careers and then earn more as they build a client base and become owners of, or partners in, a practice.
Although most chiropractors worked full time, about 1 out of 3 worked part time in 2012. Chiropractors may stay open in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate working patients. Self-employed chiropractors set their own hours.
Employment of chiropractors is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. People across all age groups are increasingly seeking chiropractic care, because most chiropractors treat patients without performing surgery or prescribing drugs.
Chiropractic treatment of the back, neck, limbs, and involved joints has become more accepted as a result of research and changing attitudes about additional approaches healthcare. As a result, chiropractors are increasingly working in hospitals and clinics as part of a team-based model of patient care.
The aging of the large baby-boom generation will lead to new opportunities for chiropractors. Older adults are more likely to have neuromusculoskeletal and joint problems and they are seeking treatment for these conditions more often as they lead longer, more active lives.
Demand for chiropractic treatment is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. Although most insurance plans now cover chiropractic services, the extent of such coverage varies among plans.
For information on a career as a chiropractor, visit
For a list of chiropractic programs and institutions, as well as for general information on chiropractic education, visit
For information on state education and licensure requirements, visit
For information about licensing exams, visit