Chiropractors care for patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal adjustments and manipulation, as well as other clinical interventions, to manage patients’ health concerns, such as back and neck pain.

Duties

Chiropractors typically do the following:

  • Assess a patient’s medical condition by reviewing the patient’s medical history and concerns, and by performing a physical examination
  • Analyze the patient’s posture, spine, and reflexes
  • Conduct tests, including evaluating a patient’s posture and taking x rays
  • Provide neuromusculoskeletal therapy, which often involves adjusting a patient’s spinal column and other joints
  • 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 healthcare professionals if needed

Chiropractors focus on patients’ overall health. Chiropractors believe that malfunctioning spinal joints and other somatic tissues interfere with a person’s neuromuscular system and can result in 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 specialize 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.

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Work Environment

Chiropractors held about 50,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of chiropractors were as follows:

Offices of chiropractors                   63%
Self-employed workers 30
Offices of physicians 4

Chiropractors typically work in office settings. They may be on their feet for long periods when examining and treating patients.

Work Schedules

Most chiropractors work full time. Chiropractors may work in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients. Some chiropractors travel to patients’ homes to give treatment. Self-employed chiropractors set their own hours.

Education and Training

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.

Education

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 2017, 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, and some D.C. programs require a bachelor’s degree for entry. Most students typically earn a bachelor’s degree before applying to a chiropractic program. Schools have specific requirements for their chiropractic programs, but they generally require coursework in the liberal arts and in sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. Candidates should check with individual schools regarding their specific requirements.

A D.C. program includes classwork in anatomy, physiology, biology, and similar subjects. Chiropractic students also get supervised clinical experience in which they train in spinal assessment, adjustment techniques, and making diagnoses. D.C. programs also may include classwork in business management and in billing and finance. Most D.C. programs offer a dual-degree option, in which students may earn either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in another field while completing their D.C.

Some chiropractors complete postgraduate programs that lead to diplomate credentials. These programs provide additional training in specialty areas, such as orthopedics and pediatrics. Classes are taken at chiropractic colleges.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states and the District of Columbia require chiropractors to be licensed. Although specific requirements vary by state, all require the completion of an accredited Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree program and passing all four parts of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) exam.

Many states also require applicants to pass a background check and state-specific law exams, called jurisprudence exams. All states require a practicing chiropractor to take continuing education classes to maintain his or her chiropractic license. Check with your state’s board of chiropractic examiners or health department for more specific information on licensure.

Personality and Interests

Chiropractors typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a chiropractor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Chiropractors should also possess the following specific qualities:

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for chiropractors was $70,340 in May 2019. 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 $35,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $147,480.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for chiropractors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of physicians                         $88,020
Offices of chiropractors 69,460

Earnings vary with the chiropractor’s number of years in practice, geographic region of practice, and hours worked. Chiropractors tend to earn more as they build a client base and become owners of, or partners in, a practice.

Most chiropractors work full time. Chiropractors may work in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients. Some chiropractors travel to patients’ homes to give treatment. Self-employed chiropractors set their own hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of chiropractors is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. People across all age groups are increasingly becoming interested in integrative or complementary healthcare as a way to treat pain and improve overall wellness. Chiropractic care is appealing to patients because chiropractors use nonsurgical methods of treatment and do not prescribe 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 to healthcare. As a result, chiropractors are increasingly working with other healthcare workers, such as physicians and physical therapists, through referrals and complementary care.

The aging of the large baby-boom generation will lead to new opportunities for chiropractors because older adults are more likely than younger people to have neuromusculoskeletal and joint problems. Members of the aging population will likely continue to seek treatment for these conditions 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 More Information

For more information on a career as a chiropractor, visit

American Chiropractic Association

International Chiropractors Association

Discover Chiropractic

For a list of chiropractic programs and institutions, as well as for general information on chiropractic education, visit

Association of Chiropractic Colleges

The Council on Chiropractic Education

For information on state education and licensure requirements, visit

Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards

For information about licensing exams, visit

National Board of Chiropractic Examiners

 

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