Hmmmm ... That is a tough one to answer
It is probably easier to explain why that is a tough questions to answer than it is to answer itself. Well, here is the thing. Chiropractors practice very differently from one another. Its like a box of chocolates, really.
Some of the differences can be accounted for by wildly different legislation state by state where the scope of practice barely shares commonalities across state lines. For example, Chiropractors in Washington state oversee child birth and perform a few minor surgeries. Texas on the other hand limits Chiropractors to the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions only. Notice that even nerves are left out of that, yeah. The Texas Medical Board fights hard to keep healthcare related rights out of the hands of other professions.
Ok, so how about the variance among Texas Chiropractors? Well, that is a problem and the issue is one of education and even more sadly, philosophy. It may be that the Chiropractor down the street does applied kinesiology, which is on par with crystal healing in my opinion, because she went to a school where that was taught as a legitimate treatment. However, more often the problem is that the Chiropractic profession is split about 80/20 with barely 20% who acknowledge current scientific standards in healthcare. This leaves 80% of chiropractors who are selling you out of date dogma in the form of cure-all 'adjustments' when its just not that simple.
Incase you can't tell by now, I'm in the 20%. So let me answer the question 'What is a Chiropractor?' as it applies to the 20% and the narrow scope of practice we have in Texas. It is much easier this way, believe me.
We are a group of healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat musculoskeletal disease (and very often the associated nervous systems) with an education that is somewhat comparable to a medical doctor.
Let me elaborate on that real quick before I lose your attention. Chiropractors take a similar curriculum as our MD counterparts except for some key differences. We do not take but a few hours of pharmacology, toxicology, psychology, internal medicine, surgical procedures, etc. We do, however, take more anatomy, radiology, physical medicine and rehab, but its all stuff that is fairly specific to what we diagnose and treat. Here is another big difference. Unlike medical doctors who go into all sorts of specialties and spend from 4 to 8 years in a residency program that is specific to their specialty, chiropractors all graduate and treat, kind of the same thing and there is really not all that much room for specialization. There is some, pediatrics maybe, but not much. Take a look at a side by side comparison here.
Here is the bottom line. Chiropractors are specialists and we specialize in non-surgical and (in Texas at least) non-pharmacological treatment of musculoskeletal disease. We may work with and way too often against (ahem ... 80% or so) medical doctors of varied specialty but we are not surgeons, pain management or internal medicine docs. We are Chiropractors.
~ Erik Malone, D.C.