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Some California accident victims believe they benefit from more attention and better pain relief by visiting a chiropractor instead of a physician. Others dismiss chiropractors as charlatans who are unqualified to treat serious medical conditions.

Victims who are injured in car accidents sometimes wonder whether they should be treated by a chiropractor. The answer depends on the facts of your case.


Always Consult a Physician

If you were injured in a traffic accident, your first visit should be to a physician. If your injury needs treatment, visit an emergency room or an urgent care facility as soon as you can. Delay can prolong or worsen injuries. That makes it more difficult for you to make a full recovery. Delay also harms the settlement value of your personal injury claim.

Even if your sole complaint is back pain, you should be evaluated by a doctor. Your back pain may be a symptom of a systemic injury that only a physician is qualified to diagnose. You may also have hidden injuries that a doctor is trained to detect. Once other causes of your symptoms are ruled out, you might consider treatment by a chiropractor.


Understand the Limits of Chiropractic Care

California law allows chiropractors to manipulate all joints in the body, as well as muscles and tissues connected to those joints. They can also use or recommend techniques (such as massage, stretching, and exercise) that are commonly employed by physical therapists. Chiropractors can also recommend dietary changes and vitamin supplements.

Chiropractors are authorized to use certain diagnostic techniques, such as x-rays and thermography. Chiropractors can use ultrasound to diagnose neuromuscular skeletal injuries, but may not use ultrasound on a fetus.

California chiropractors cannot engage in any of the following acts, which can only be undertaken by a licensed physician:

  • Surgery
  • Delivery of a baby
  • Obstetric care
  • Dentistry
  • Optometry
  • Mammography
  • Prescription of drugs

In short, a patient can seek treatment from a chiropractor of any condition that can be treated by manipulating joints and attached muscles. Some patients obtain pain relief after visiting a chiropractor, but if prescription pain medication is required, the patient will need to see a medical doctor.


Understand the Bias Against Chiropractic Care

Perceptions of chiropractors are less favorable than perceptions of medical doctors. While most Americans have a positive view of physicians, they are more divided in their views of chiropractors. A slight majority of Americans have a positive view of chiropractors, while nearly half of Americans think chiropractic care is ineffective, or even dangerous, if they have any opinion at all. Unsurprisingly, people who have visited a chiropractor are more likely to have a positive view of chiropractic care than those who have only been treated by physicians.

Since juries are meant to be representative of a community, the same divided opinions are likely to be held by jurors who hear an injury victim’s case. Although the victim’s lawyer can try to keep people with a strong bias against chiropractors from serving on the jury, it is usually the case that jurors view the testimony of medical doctors as more trustworthy than the testimony of chiropractors.


How Insurance Adjusters View Chiropractic Care

Chiropractors charge less than doctors on a per-visit basis, but insurance adjusters rarely challenge a doctor’s bill while they tend to be more skeptical about paying a chiropractor’s bill. Since chiropractors may recommend treatment two or three times a week, insurance adjusters often contend that the treatment was unnecessary and that the chiropractor was just running up the bill.

Insurance companies contend that chiropractors never release patients from treatment. Lobbyists for insurance companies persuaded the California legislature to limit the number of treatments for which the workers’ compensation system will pay. The legislature applied a similar cap, however, to the number of physical therapy visits that are covered by workers’ compensation payments. Those lobbying efforts have emboldened insurance adjusters who handle car accident claims to assert that prolonged treatment by a chiropractor is likely to be a fraudulent attempt to bilk the insurance company.

If chiropractic treatment helps you obtain pain relief, you shouldn’t worry about what an insurance adjuster might think. On the other hand, you should discuss your chiropractic care with your personal injury lawyer. It may be necessary to review your care records periodically to make sure they document your pain and the need for continued care to manage it.

Insurance adjusters typically value pain and suffering by totaling an accident victim’s healthcare bills and multiplying the total by a certain number. Adjusters may use a smaller number when the bills are predominantly from a chiropractor. Of course, adjusters often increase their settlement offers after a personal injury lawyer demonstrates the likelihood of winning a trial, but negotiations tend to be easier when most of the medical bills are from a physician or clinic rather than a chiropractor. That’s one reason you might want to seek treatment from a physician rather than a chiropractor.


One Size Doesn’t Fit All

In the end, whether to be treated by a physician or a chiropractor comes down to a personal choice about healing and pain management. From the standpoint of taking a case to trial or negotiating a settlement, the outcome might be better if you stick with treatment from a physician and physical therapist.

If your doctor is not relieving your pain and chiropractic treatment helps you feel better, you should not hesitate to manage your pain with the help of a chiropractor. However, before you make any long-term decisions about healthcare treatment after an accident, you should get advice from your personal injury attorney that will help you maximize the settlement value of your case.