Above all, expect care that’s tailored to your concerns, experts say, with adjustments made to treatment regularly based on your progress. It all starts with a thorough evaluation, where the chiropractor gets the patient’s medical history, discusses the issues they face, performs an evaluation and takes X-rays as needed to aid in diagnosis, says Schaefer of Essential Health & Wellness. “One of the best things that’s going to distinguish a good chiropractor from a bad chiropractor: the amount of time they spend with the patient on the first visit,” he says. Schaefer estimates he average around 40 minutes for an intial consult.
“You’ll see chiropractors who see 100 patients a day,” he says. By comparison, on a recent day that he considered very busy, Schaefer says he and another chiropractor in the office saw 41 patients combined. “Make sure you’re not just a number.”
Highly rated providers say your chiropractor should educate you on the issues you face and talk over care options, rather than pressing forward with a one-size-fits all approach.
Gilliam says she has received “cookie cutter” treatment from chiropractors in the past. “If I had neck pain or whatever ... there was just that typical adjustment to the neck and it never corrected the problem. Not a lot of questions being asked, not even a thorough exam,” she says.
That changed when Gilliam saw Schaefer. Instead of receiving the same treatment each time, she says Schaefer performed a thorough evaluation and asked about her symptoms, varying adjustments accordingly.
Schaefer — like some other highly rated chiropractors on Angie’s List — does offer long-term treatment packages, and Gilliam signed up for a year. But she says it didn’t feel like a hard sell.
“In this circumstance, it felt like an option. I didn’t feel pressured,” Gilliam says. She spent $1,090 out-of-pocket — or $90 monthly — for 23 chiropractors visits between 2013 and 2014, including paying toward her annual $500 deductible for both years. Insurance paid the rest of the $1,955 cost.
Nationally, chiropractors charged an average of $67 per visit last year, according to the latest survey conducted by Chiropractic Economics magazine. But wide variation exists in terms of cost, and new patients can expect to typically pay more for an initial visit than subsequent visits. They also may have to foot additional costs for X-rays, from $47 to $167, according to Chiropractic Economics survey data. Most health plans provide coverage — reimbursing at rates lower than those charged — but the level of coverage, too, varies.
Treatment protocols vary, too. Schaefer and other chiropractors say each case differs from the next. For a typical patient with low back pain, he says he’ll start by seeing the patient two to three times per week for adjustments, then reduce the number of visits as patients progress.
Some chiropractors insist on ongoing preventive maintenance, with regular visits, along with adjustments as needed. While others recommend patients come based on need, such as a pain in the neck that won’t resolve. Work closely with your chiropractor to determine the right course for you.
Related: How often should you get a chiropractic adjustment?
Expect whomever you see to listen and respond to concerns throughout the process. As with any treatment, results vary. “There’s never a 100 percent gaurantee,” Prickett says. But experts say its important for patients and chiropractors to communicate well and work as a team, to change approaches or refer patients when progress stalls. “We usually see some positive changes,” Prickett says.