Chiropractic Degree and Career Guide


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What You’ll Do as a Chiropractor

While most chiropractors focus on relieving pain in the neck and back, their duties don’t stop there.

patient on table being positioned for adjustment
patient on table being positioned for adjustment

Chiropractors are natural healers who use hands-on techniques to help the body function better and heal itself. They are best known for adjusting people’s spines but, depending on where they practice, may also align other parts of the musculoskeletal system, stretch the muscles, recommend exercises to do at home, or offer advice on nutrition and supplements.

The chiropractic philosophy teaches that misalignment of the spine and musculoskeletal system can cause pain and illness. An increasing number of people see chiropractors to align all the body’s systems to promote well-being and relieve pain.

Chiropractors do not perform surgery or prescribe medications, but they can refer patients to another provider.

“One of my favorite things about being a chiropractor is that we get to see a lot of amazing small miracles and big miracles happen with our patients,” says Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC, a chiropractor practicing in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. “We’re able to help them experience the life-changing effects of helping the body not only feel better but work better.”

Roles and Responsibilities

What a chiropractor can do depends on state licensure. What’s more, similarly to how a medical doctor may choose a specialty, some chiropractors focus on a type of care.

“There’s a broad spectrum of chiropractic,” explains Danielle Fishell, DC, a chiropractor in St. Louis. “Some chiropractors will only adjust you and let your body do its work. Others do additional modalities. It depends on how they want to use chiropractic.”

All chiropractors focus on the musculoskeletal system, and some concentrate on back and neck pain. Research consistently shows chiropractic to be effective in treating low back pain and other issues, and it can help reduce the need for surgery or use of opioids.

Other chiropractors specialize in pediatric chiropractic, sports medicine, pregnancy and postpartum, and internal medicine.

With so much variety and so many options, chiropractors have a lot of room to pursue the career path they want.

What Exactly Happens During an Adjustment?

A typical first chiropractic visit will take about 45 minutes; follow-up visits are shorter, usually 15 to 20 minutes. The process of chiropractic treatment varies from provider to provider, but you can expect similar steps during an adjustment.

  1. You’ll share your medical history and report your pain or other complaints.
  2. The chiropractor will do an evaluation. This includes asking questions about your condition and lifestyle, seeing how your body moves, and checking your posture.
  3. Some chiropractors will order diagnostic imaging before treatment. Depending on the case, others will start an adjustment. The chiropractor may also conclude that your condition is best treated by another medical provider.
  4. You and the chiropractor may define short- and long-term goals, such as reducing the severity of neck pain or frequency of headaches.
  5. Treatment may include the most common adjustment: high-velocity, low-amplitude adjustments, a long name for the small and quick manipulations that restore alignment and movement to the joints, one at a time.
  6. Treatment can also include spinal mobilization or low force adjustments, which increase range of motion and improve alignment through more gradual adjustments; stretching; heat or cold therapy; traction; or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which sends low-voltage pulses of energy to a muscle to relieve pain.
  7. The appointment will finish with another quick evaluation. “I can reassess range of motion or posture to make sure we’ve done everything needed for the adjustment,” Villella says.

You and your chiropractor will make a plan of the number and frequency of appointments.

You always have the right to ask questions during a visit, including what’s coming next and why the provider is choosing a given treatment.

Where Do Chiropractors Work?

Chiropractors can work in a range of settings—primarily because patients will seek out their care in a range of settings.

Some work in an integrative setting, which is a location with other medical providers—for example, medical doctors or nurse practitioners. A multidisciplinary setting is similar, except the other providers offer complementary alternative care, such as massage or acupuncture.

Chiropractors can also work on their own. Usually, solo chiropractors operate their own practice in an office. They can also make house calls or visit other settings—a nursing home or a medical office, for example.

Chiropractors can work in a range of settings—from their own solo practices to multi-provider integrative clinics.

More and more people want chiropractic care, so you may see chiropractors practicing in unconventional places, too. Although it’s less common, chiropractors may see clients in wellness centers, gyms, or spas.

Do Chiropractors Work with Other Healthcare Providers?

If you work as a chiropractor in an integrative setting—in an office where a spectrum of healthcare providers work—providers and the client may work together. Integrative clinics are becoming more common and attractive to chiropractors, partly because of the opportunity to refer patients and get referrals. This can help a chiropractor’s business grow more quickly than a solo practice.

The collaborative approach isn’t limited to integrated practices, though.

“I do a lot of correspondence with other providers—pediatricians, midwives, OB/GYNs, acupuncturists, massage therapists,” Fishel says. “I reach out to the others to make sure my clients get the best care possible in the whole circle of care.”

By working with other providers, a chiropractor can follow the field’s holistic, whole-person philosophy.

Can Chiropractors Prescribe Drugs?

The degree chiropractors earn is called a Doctor of Chiropractic, or DC, but that doesn’t mean that they can prescribe drugs.

This might sound to some like a limitation on what a chiropractor can do. But not prescribing medication aligns with the chiropractic field’s holistic approach to health. They believe that by adjusting the skeletal and muscular systems, the body can—in many cases—heal itself.

In fact, some patients see chiropractors precisely because they don’t prescribe medication.

That said, chiropractors are not necessarily anti-drugs. They may recommend clients see a medical doctor for a prescription.

What Degree Do I Need?

Many, but not all, chiropractic schools require a Bachelor of Science degree before applying. All do list prerequisites, which typically include a variety of science classes—biology, chemistry, and physics.

You must earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) before becoming licensed to practice. A DC typically takes three to four years to complete. If you’re considering entering this field, you’ll want to make sure you understand the education you’ll need and the prerequisites you’ll have to fulfill before pursuing your DC.

Do I Need a License to Practice?

The short answer: Yes, chiropractors need a license to practice. U.S. states, plus U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have a geographic-specific application to become licensed.

Steps vary from state to state, but generally you’ll need:

  • A DC degree
  • Passing scores on the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NCBE) exams
  • A background check
  • Passing scores on a state licensing exam

Chiropractors can only practice in the states where they are licensed, so it’s important to be familiar with the requirements of the state in which you want to practice.

What About Certification?

With all the terminology in the chiropractic field, it’s easy to get confused. Chiropractors need a DC and a state-specific license to practice.

It’s optional to earn a certification.

Chiropractors become certified after education and training in a specialty—such as radiology or occupational health—then pass the exam or exams administered by a chiropractic specialty board. This will earn you a diplomate of chiropractic—not to be confused with a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC).

Other common certification specialties include pediatrics, neurology, nutrition, and acupuncture. Exams for each are administered by a specialty-focused board.

Earning a diplomate is time-consuming: It can take 300 to 400 hours of study. But the benefits are many. A diplomate can advance a chiropractor’s career. Chiropractors with a diplomate often charge a higher fee for their services.

How Much Can I Earn?

Like any field, chiropractic has a range of salaries. Chiropractors tend to earn more in metropolitan areas, and those with specialties often charge higher fees.

Also, chiropractors who own their own practices have the potential of growing their income higher than an associate in someone else’s practice.

Career Outlook

Job growth for chiropractic looks good over the next decade: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% growth in the field by 2029. This rate is about average among all jobs in the U.S.

All types of people are seeking chiropractic care. And while back pain is the most common reason to see a chiropractor, more and more people are looking for relief for other issues as well as for overall wellbeing, Fishel says.

“We chiropractors are really educated in holistic health,” she says. “There’s a need for chiropractic all over the country.”

Professional Resources

Whether you’re looking to become a chiropractor or are exploring certifications, there’s always more to know.  Explore these professional resources to learn more about the field.

  • The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners creates, administers, and scores the exams required to become licensed.
  • The American Chiropractic Association is a membership organization that provides education, member discounts, and the opportunity to list your business on a directory for patients.
  • The American Board of Chiropractic Specialties works with chiropractic specialty boards—in neurology or acupuncture, for example—to make sure advanced training and certification meet ACA standards.

catherine gregory

Written and Reported by:
Catherine Ryan Gregory
Contributing Writer

raffaela villella

With professional insight from:
Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC
Owner, House Call Chiropractic

danielle fischel

Danielle Fishel, DC
Owner, Fishel Chiropractic