Chiropractic Education and Training

Chiropractors, also called doctors of chiropractic and chiropractic physicians, emphasize health and healing without interventional methods, such as medication and surgery. Chiropractors focus on the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), on the alignment of the backbone (spine), and on soft tissues (e.g., muscles), nerves, and blood vessels.

The spine is made up of 33 bony segments called vertebrae, which are arranged in a long vertical column and held together by ligaments. The spinal cord is an extension of the brain that runs through a long, hollow canal in the column of vertebrae. Nerve roots emerge from the spinal cord through spaces between each vertebra. The spinal cord and nerves convey sensory information from the body to the brain and convey motor signals from the brain to the body.

Pressure on nerves that come from the spinal cord may cause problems throughout the body. A doctor of chiropractic (D.C.) adjusts and manipulates the spine to realign the vertebrae and relieve pressure on the nerves. Chiropractors may use physical therapy and other types of treatment (e.g., exercise, massage, water therapy).

Chiropractors stress overall health and well being and emphasize proper nutrition, adequate rest, and daily exercise. They often treat back pain, neck pain, headaches, and leg pain, and also provide preventative care.

Chiropractic physicians may consult with and refer patients to other health care providers. Some chiropractors specialize in areas such as sports injuries, pediatrics, or orthopedics.

Doctors of chiropractic take a medical history, perform a physical examination (including neurological exam and orthopedic exam, if necessary) and spinal analysis, and order laboratory tests (e.g., x-rays) to diagnose patients. They may practice in a solo or group practice or in a health care facility.

Educational Requirements for Chiropractors

To become a doctor of chiropractic (D.C.), at least 2 years of undergraduate education is required. Many states in the U.S. require a 4-year bachelor's degree. Recommended courses of study include the following:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry (organic and inorganic)
  • English
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Social science or humanities

All states then require the completion of a 4-year accredited program at a chiropractic college. During the first 2 years, these programs emphasize classroom and laboratory work in sciences, such as anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology and physiology. Spinal adjustment and manipulation training and clinical experience (e.g., diagnosis, neurology, orthopedics, geriatrics, physiotherapy, pediatrics, and nutrition) are emphasized. Following completion of this program, a Doctor of Chiropractic degree is awarded.

Chiropractor Licensure

Chiropractic physicians must meet educational and examination requirements and be licensed by the state in which they practice. To obtain a license to practice, all or part of a four-part test administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners is required. Some states permit chiropractors who are licensed in another state to obtain a license without an additional examination, if all requirements are met.

To maintain licensure, chiropractors must complete a certain number of hours of continuing education programs each year. These programs are offered by accredited chiropractic institutions and associations. Some chiropractic associations also offer clinical specialty (diplomate) certification in areas such as the following:

  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Internal disorders
  • Neurology
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational and industrial health
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports injuries
  • Thermography

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 30 May 2007

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015