In preparation for the chiropractic consultation, the patient will be asked to fill out forms that provide background information about their symptoms and condition. Typical questions include:

  • When and how did the pain start?
  • Where is the pain felt?
  • Describe the pain—is it sharp, dull, searing/burning, or throbbing? Does it come and go, or is it continual?
  • Did the pain start as a result of an injury?
  • What activities/circumstances make it better or worse?

During this first visit, a chiropractor may perform an examination. A chiropractic exam includes general tests, such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and reflexes. Specific orthopedic and neurological tests may also be used to assess:

  • Range of motion of the affected body part(s)
  • Muscle tone
  • Muscle strength
  • Neurological integrity

Further chiropractic tests may be necessary to assess the affected area, such as having the patient move in a specific manner, posture analysis, or assess the motion of the affected body part.

Based on the results of the patient’s history and chiropractic exam, diagnostic studies may be helpful in revealing pathologies and identifying structural abnormalities to more accurately diagnose a condition. While an x-ray is the most common diagnostic study used during an initial chiropractic exam, it is not always needed. In general, an x-ray is used in the chiropractic setting to help:

  • Diagnose a recent trauma
  • Diagnose spondyloarthritis
  • Study a spinal deformity that might progress, such as scoliosis

An x-ray study should only be undertaken if the chiropractor has a good reason to believe that it will provide the information needed to guide the patient’s treatment program.

Findings from the patient’s history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests usually help the chiropractor to arrive at a specific diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is established, the chiropractor can determine if the condition will respond to chiropractic care, because certain conditions such as fractures, tumors, or infections may not be treated with chiropractic methods and typically require a specialist physician’s treatment.


The chiropractor will establish specific goals for a patient’s treatment plan:

  • Short-term goals typically include reducing pain and restoring normal joint function and muscle balance.
  • Long-term goals include restoring functional independence and tolerance to normal activities of daily living.

To reach these goals, a specific number of chiropractic visits will be recommended, depending on the patient’s diagnosed condition and treatment plan.