The demand for chiropractors is expected to grow faster than any other occupation in the coming years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a report issued in January, the department estimated that "employment of chiropractors is expected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.''
"People across all age groups are increasingly seeking chiropractic care, because most chiropractors treat patients without performing surgery or prescribing drugs,'' the report stated.
(Mirror photo by Mary Haley)
Chiropractors like Dr. Steven Sorbera of Duncansville believe in using natural methods rather than drugs or surgery to help people handle their health issues. Here Sorbera makes an adjustment to the spine of his assistant, Ashley Mastropasqua, who is also his patient.
The concept, that the ranks of chiropractors are swelling, is echoed by Dr. Casey Phillips, a chiropractor in Pittsburgh who is also second vice president of the Pennsylvania Chiropractors Association, which represents more than 1,000 - a little less than one-third - of licensed chiropractors in Pennsylvania.
He said the number of chiropractors in Pennsylvania is increasing because the overall cost of health care is escalating, and people are turning to his field because it offers a cheaper, natural and effective alternative.
"Patients can no longer afford expensive drug and surgery care and are opting for solutions to get healthy, not just manage symptoms,'' Phillips said.
The report further stated that "chiropractors are increasingly working in hospitals and clinics as part of a team-based model of patient care.''
Dr. Linnane Batzel, chief medical officer at UPMC Altoona, agreed that chiropractors do play a role in assisting patients in improving their overall health.
But Batzel said people with chronic serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease risk worsening their disease or even death if they rely exclusively on chiropractors for care.
"Chiropractic care can be an effective complementary therapy for some people with other illnesses,'' said Batzel, who is also senior vice president for the hospital's quality and medical affairs. "However, there are many chronic and acute illnesses such as diabetes and other endocrine abnormalities, heart disease, renal failure, malignancies and infections that require medical treatment to avoid morbidity and mortality.''
Dr. Brandon Traficante said he believes people should start with a chiropractor, and if they don't find relief, they can turn to traditional doctors.
"A lot of people argue about it, but honestly, it really comes down to the patient,'' said Traficante, who graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic.
Traficante, who has a practice in Altoona with fellow chiropractor Dr. John Hamer, believes chiropractors and traditional medical doctors can both play a role in a patient's care, with medical doctors getting involved in more than emergency cases.
Dr. Ben Lechene believes that chiropractors are "specialists'' who work in conjunction with traditional doctors. Lechene, a chiropractor in Altoona who has practiced for four years, said chiropractors provide treatments that give people relief for certain problems, but he also said that traditional doctors have their value in treating health issues, in addition to emergency care.
A graduate of Logan University, College of Chiropractic, near St. Louis, Lechene said he worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis, where he often sat at a table with traditional doctors from various fields to discuss patient cases.
"In my opinion, we should all be united,'' he said. "That's the best formula.''
Lechene also said chiropractors often see patients with what he called "Failed Back Surgery Syndrome,'' in which they still have lingering pain after back surgery. Lechene said chiropractors often are able to alleviate their pain, even if the patients have scar tissue left from the surgery.
Phillips said chiropractors who are licensed by the state, are required to have training like medical doctors, which includes clinical work, and often more coursework in classes such as anatomy, before they are allowed to practice. They are treating more and more people who opt for natural, less expensive solutions to health issues rather than surgery or drug therapy, he said.
"Considering that mechanical neck and back problems are the No. 1 plague of humanity, chiropractic care is the right care at the right time,'' he said.
Dr. Steven Sorbera of Duncansville was in pre-med at Penn State University when his life changed after he went into shock from an allergy shot, he said.
He recovered from the anaphylactic shock, a potentially life-threatening allergic response. But Sorbera, who had suffered with asthma and allergies all of his life, also played on Penn State's rugby team. He was talking to players and coaches on a visiting team from Clearfield about his experience, and it caught the attention of the coaches in particular because three of them were chiropractors, Sorbera said.
The chiropractors explained to Sorbera that his problems could be eased by adjustments to his spine because that's where the central nervous system is, which includes the brain and the spinal cord, he said.
They told Sorbera that his lifelong problems with stuffy sinuses, sneezing and a runny nose were caused by pressure on certain nerves in his spine that were being pinched, Sorbera said. They said once adjustments were made to his spine, and the pressure on the nerves eased, the problems should lessen.
"It made a lot of sense to me,'' said Sorbera.
It made so much sense to Sorbera, who did see much improvement in his allergies and asthma, that he switched schools and career paths.
He left his pursuit of a career in traditional medicine at Penn State and enrolled in the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, which was the first and is now the largest school in the chiropractic field. Sorbera spent four years pursuing an undergraduate degree at Palmer, then another four years at the same school to get his doctor of chiropractic degree.
Dr. Dan Wasney, who owns Lifetime Chiropractic in Altoona, believes that people should practice prevention of health problems by scheduling regular adjustments to their spinal column.
"Symptoms are the very last thing to come about,'' he said. "Chiropractors treat the cause of those symptoms.''
That's why Wasney advocates a proactive approach in the form of frequent spinal adjustments.
"The difference is health,'' he said. "Medical doctors can't do anything if you're healthy.''