What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a health profession specialising in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health.

Are chiropractors doctors?

Yes. In South Africa all qualified and registered chiropractors are allowed to use the title “doctor” and are called doctors of chiropractic (DC for short).

What are the qualifications of chiropractors in South Africa?

Chiropractors in South Africa have to complete a 5-year theory programme, work in the on-campus clinic, complete an internship programme and complete a master’s dissertation. They hold the degree of Masters of Technology in chiropractic.

This is the minimum qualification of a chiropractor in South Africa. Chiropractors often attend extra courses during and after their studies to acquire extra skills. Some chiropractors also hold other degrees.

Can a chiropractor break my neck “hollywood-style”?

No. Your neck consists not only of a spine, but also af numerous, very strong muscles and ligaments. It is simply impossible to break someones neck with their bare hands, as they aren’t strong enough to overcome the strenth and force of the muscles, ligaments and bones in the neck.

Is chiropractic dangerous?

No.Chiropractic adjustments are very specific and gentle. Chiropractors are well-trained to perform spinal and extremity adjustments with specificity and skill.

As with all medical professions there are , however, risks involved. Expected risks include post-treatment soreness, bruising and stiffness. This is common, especially after the first treatment session and usually indicates that a change is taking place in the body.

The more dangerous risk that exists is vertebro-basilar artery insufficency (VBAI).

VBAI refers to a type of “mini-stroke” experienced when the arteries supplying oxygen to the brain gets compromised. Compromisation of these arteries can occur in the chiropractic office after cervical adjustment, especially involving a lot of rotation. When this happens, the artery is usually already being compromised, and the adjustment is just the final blow. The final blow could also occur when looking back to reverse a car or going to the hairdresser. Chiropractors are well trained to look out for signs of VBAI and perform alternative treatment if they suspect VBAI. Incidence of VBAI following chiropractic adjustment is currently 1 in 2 million adjustments (0.00005%). Strokes following general surgery occur in about 0.08% to 2.9% of cases.

What is the difference between a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?

The fields of interest of chiropractors and physiotherapists often overlap, making it confusing to know exactly what the difference is, and if there is even a difference.

Definition of chiropractic: A health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health.

Definition of physiotherapy: Physiotherapists assess, plan and implement rehabilitative programs that improve or restore human motor functions, maximize movement ability, relieve pain syndromes, and treat or prevent physical challenges associated with injuries, diseases and other impairments.

Chiropractic treatment: Management includes manual techniques with particular competency in joint adjustment/manipulation, and rehabilitation exercises, patient education and lifestyle modification, and the use of physical therapy modalities and orthotics and other support. The profession makes no use of prescription drugs or surgery, and patients requiring these interventions are referred for medical care.

Physiotherapy treatment: Management includes a broad range of physical therapies and techniques such as movement, ultrasound, heating, laser and other techniques. They may develop and implement programmes for screening and prevention of common physical ailments and disorders.

Chiropractic education: In South Africa we are required to complete a 5-6 year Masters   of Technology (MTech), which includes completing a mandatory research project   and dissertation. Clinical work is done in the 5th and 6th   years of study, which requires a certain number of hours in a clinic and   complete a specified training programme. All students that graduate as Chiropractors from the University are required to complete an internship program that has been implemented as a mandatory registration requirement by the Allied Health Professions Council.

Physiotherapy education: In South Africa physiotherapists are required to complete a 4 year Bachelor of Science (BSc), which includes a research protocol as part of the requirement for completion of the degree with honours status. On completion of their studies students are required to take the Hippocratic oath and register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. All students that graduate as Physiotherapists throughout South Africa are required to complete a year of community service after graduation.

Can’t I just click my own back or have my friend do it for me?

The practice of clicking one’s own spine (especially popular in the neck) is called “self-manipulation”. While self-manipulating makes you feel good, you may be doing more harm than good. To understand this, we need to have a closer look ar the facet joints of the spine as well as the restricted joint.

The facet joints are the joints that link one vertebra to the vertebrae above and below. In the image below it can be seen that the facet joint is covered by a capsule. A joint capsule is made up of similar fibres as a ligament. Ligaments act as the sticky tape keeping bones together.


As you may or may not know, ligaments are not very elastic stuctures. When they get stretched, they get damaged and it takes a great deal of rehab to get them to return their original length (imagine a sprained ankle). Now you can imagine that if a joint’s sticky tape isn’t doing a proper job of holding the joint together, the two ends of the joint will end up moving around quite a bit. Your body recognises this joint as being unstable. The body likes to fix things; and it lays down extra bits of bone and makes the joint space smaller to try and stabilise the joint. These bits of bone are called osteophytes and the condition is called osteoarthritis. Osteophytes come with their own list of symptoms, including pain, stiffness and nerve root irritation. It is a condition that is very difficult to treat and once your joints are osteoarthritic and you will need years of physiotherapy, chiropractic, medicine or maybe even surgery.


facet joints and osteophytes 2

When you have a restricted joint in your spine, the joints above and below that joint will try to compensate for the loss of movement caused by the restriction. This is why those joints will snap, crackle and pop so easily and loudly when you adjust them yourself. Finding and adjusting the correct joint takes years of practice and technique.

A chiropractor looks for the joint that is restricted. A restricted joint is a joint that is not moving or stuck. This happens due to physical, emotional and chemical changes that happen in the body every day. In this restricted joint, the joint capsule is stuck in a shortened position. Thus, finding and adjusting the correct joint is very important.


Please note that self-manipulation is not the only cause of osteoarthritis. Causes are numerous and ranges from patient to patient. But years of self-manipulation will inevitably lead to osteoarthritis.

If you have any questions that are still unanswered, please email me and I’ll be glad to get back to you.