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Why I Go to the Chiropractor

I have a horrible confession to make: I have been to a chiropractor twice in the last week. Feel free to throw things at me right now for being a bad skeptic. I know, I know, there is no medical evidence that chiropractic works, it’s all based on woo, why am I throwing away my money??? But I’m about to do something super risky for a skeptic blog: I am going to defend going to an alternative medicine treatment that you know is bunk.


I get headaches. BAD headaches. Not exactly migraines (although sometimes I get those too), not enough to really signal that there’s something really wrong with me, and not enough to send me to the doctor. Most of the time I can take ibuprofen and move on. Sometimes the headaches linger and linger and linger. I also get really bad back and neck pain. I hold lots and lots and lots of tension in my neck and back. When I get massages, they often comment that my muscles feel vaguely like rocks, and proceed to try to beat the rocks out of me (oh it hurts so good). Now if I wanted to, I could take lots of pain medication on a constant basis to treat these headaches and pains. I don’t think that would be a very good idea though, and eventually it would probably stop working.


What does work however is going to the chiropractor. Now as a skeptic and someone who has researched chiropractic, I recognize that this very well might be a placebo effect. It might just be that my muscles get nice and relaxed when I go there and then I get a nice massage, and of course this makes me feel a bit better. I spend some time away from a computer screen and just resting and letting my mind wander. There are all sorts of reasons that this might make me feel better. Many of them probably have nothing to do with chiropractic and I could likely replicate them outside of that setting if I really tried.


But here’s the rub: I never would. I’m not good at requiring myself to take time off or giving myself space to take care of my health. My chiropractor gives me a setting in which I’m required to do this. It’s an insurance covered massage (by someone who is REALLY GOOD at massages). And that placebo effect? Well I probably wouldn’t get that anywhere else. The chiropractor does make me feel better. And if that’s all in my head, or has nothing to do with the thoughts and theories behind the practice, I don’t give a flying teapot in space. Because it makes me feel better.


And my well being, my ability to get through my days without pain, is far more important than any principles about skepticism. Skepticism is a tool that we use to improve our lives. The reason that we criticize alternative medicine is because it doesn’t work. So if it makes me feel better, I have absolutely no guilt about continuing that practice. I might KNOW that the reasons it works are not the reasons that they list in the shiny brochures. And that means nothing to me when I also have years of evidence that this is what allows me to get up in the morning without pounding headaches. No abstract principles should ever come before our mental and physical health.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at


  1. May 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm —

    I believe there’s evidence that chiropractic can work for musculoskeletal problems — it’s like some other forms of massage and physical therapy, it’s just that the “theory” behind chiropractic is rather borked. If you said “I go to a chiropractor and he fixes my subluxations and that cures my food allergies!” then I’d raise an eyebrow, but for muscle complaints? Yeah, that’s plausible.

    If I can give some assvice, however, don’t let them touch your neck. ‘Adjusting’ the neck can rarely lead to vertebral artery dissection, which is a bad bad thing. has some anecdata, and if you want I can source some studies on the subject. Neck massage is probably fine, but anything vigorous is not a good idea. has some info on it.

    • May 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm —

      I’ve never been to a chiropractor, but I know when I do stretches until my back cracks it helps a lot with my (frequent, low-grade) back pain. So I could definitely see it working on that level – basically, just someone helping you stretch and work the kinks out of your body. It’s just all the goofy stuff about it helping with actual diseases that’s the woo part.

  2. May 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm —

    I am glad to hear that you are getting some relief for you pain, but surely you can get this relief by going to a masseur you just need to find one. It seems likely that the chiropractor you are going to is achieving a positive outcome, not because he is a chiropractor, but because he is a massaging you in the right places. So if possible can you find someone who isn’t a chiropractor, or is willing to provide massage that isn’t based on chiropracty, because every time support is provided for this spurious practice, then resources are directed away from something that could genuinely help. What if yours is the case that when you seek out legitimate processes or even massage without the mumbo jumbo that leads to a effective treatment then that could help treat others that suffer for similar problems. Instead by going to a chiropractor who uses chiropracty then that’s another possible effective treatment ignored.

    • May 9, 2013 at 11:47 pm —

      I did say straight out in my post that it’s possible there are other ways for me to get some relief, however this one is covered by my insurance and has a variety of things that meet my needs that would be harder for me to put together in other ways. I’m curious why my choosing to go to a chiropractor would have a negative impact on someone else. You say it directs resources away from other things…well the other things would be getting massages and meditating. If I chose not to go to the chiropractor then my insurance simply wouldn’t pay anyone. Those resources wouldn’t go anywhere if I didn’t visit my chiropractor. I have yet to see a good argument about why my choice to do something that’s effective for me is bad for anyone else.

      • May 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm —

        I understand the issue with insurance. But that is how it is affecting others. My insurance money is going towards chiropractors and acupuncturists instead of massage therapists.

        Of course, you personally choosing not to make use of a chiropractor will not fix anything. It would take a large number of people and companies demanding change to do anything. But everyone who uses a chiropractor and goes back again makes it that much harder.

        No one in a comment section has the right to tell you what you need to do for your pain, but just like everyone who gets a vaccine makes life some infinitesimal bit better for the population as a whole, everyone who calls their insurance to request science based treatments to replace woo based ones push the system in the right direction.

        Also second the suggestion for checking to see if a insurance covers a physical therapist. You get the same massage and a better chance of finding a more proactive solution. You could also check with your employer to see see if they have ergonomics counselors. Ours has a person come by and help with everything from adjusting chairs properly, to ordering appropriate foot rests and monitor stands.

  3. May 10, 2013 at 4:07 am —

    Your insurance doesn’t cover actual massage therapy by someone who is actually licensed to do massage therapy?

    I knew the US healthcare system was messed up, but I didn’t know it was THAT messed up. Still, as long as you don’t let a chiropractor touch your neck, you’ll probably be fine.

    • May 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm —

      I’ve never heard of insurance covering massage therapy, except as part of physical therapy (after a car accident, etc). That seems like a pretty luxury kind of health plan.

  4. May 13, 2013 at 11:27 am —

    Hey, Olivia. I used to work for a chiropractor back in my early college days (before I was a skeptic) and he wasn’t as wooish as what I’ve heard of most recently. But I believe the relaxation parts of chiropractic therapy do work.

    You may also consider looking into whether or not your insurance will cover physical therapy. I went for physical therapy on my neck and shoulders after getting terrible pain in my neck and headaches. It helped me strengthen my muscles and now they’re not always so tight. And, I also got a massage at the end of every session, which was awesome. Again, I’m not sure if your insurance will cover it, but it might be a better long-term solution if it does. Eventually I was able to get past my neck pain, although I still have issues from time to time when I over stress myself from spending too much time in front of the computer or just from being tense from stress.

  5. May 17, 2013 at 5:20 am —

    You are probably getting symptomatic relief from chiro but the underlying issue will probably remain or get worse. Doesn’t your health insurance cover physiotherapy?

  6. May 20, 2013 at 8:47 pm —

    I was wondering if your chiropractor’s office offers other altmed products or therapies. If so, have they ever tried to “upsell” you?

    • May 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm —

      Nope, they don’t do anything but chiropractic. They don’t even give you any woo about what they’re doing. All I’ve ever gone there for is headaches, and they said that my spine is out of alignment and they’re going to relax the muscles with hotpads and then do some adjustment of the spine.

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