You’re at a farmers’ market or a health fair and stop by a chiropractor’s table. They offer a free spinal screening. Or maybe you “win” a free visit with a spinal screening. Everyone loves a freebie, right? 

Just make sure you’re informed. A spinal screening may not be all it’s hyped up to be. 

Here’s the truth about spinal screenings – and what you should consider if you’re looking to get one. 

What Is Spinal Screening?

A spinal screening sounds important. But don’t be fooled. There’s no unified definition of what this procedure is. Many chiropractors use this term generally, and it doesn’t really mean, well, anything. 

Sometimes, chiropractors who offer a spinal screening will take images of your posture and point out all the ways it’s horrible. This is useful – if your posture truly is dysfunctional and the practitioner is actually doing something to correct it. Research shows you need to use specific traction devices to treat poor posture; adjustments alone won’t permanently change it. 

Too often, the images are presented as a fear tactic. Often, the chiropractor uses an app on an iPad and puts dots on the picture pointing out the problems. But anyone can download this app. Reputable chiropractors may even have it too, but they probably only use it on people who come to the office unhappy with their posture and want to fix it. Not as a way to scare new clients into the door.  

So, what is a spinal screening really? A marketing move to get you in the door to commit to services you may not need. 

Other Spinal Screening Methods

Another common type of spinal screening involves a device the chiropractor rubs up and down your spine. Two temperature detectors on each side of the spine indicate where there is more of less heat. If that’s all the chiropractor was telling people, that would be fine. But they often extrapolate the information and say the temperature changes indicate a pinched nerve – as if they can see inside your body. 

In truth, heat and inflammation can have many different reasons and there’s no way to know from a quick temperature read. 


The Problem With Spinal Screenings

The issue with spinal screenings isn’t the devices or the methods, and you can certainly find reputable chiropractors at expos and fairs. The problem is the honesty. The tools themselves won’t hurt you. But too often, these spinal screenings are used as ways to prey on people to get you to come in and sign onto a large care plan (a “scare” plan). 

We see way too many people confused why they just spent $5,000 down the street and feel exactly the same. That’s because they didn’t have a condition that 70 adjustments could fix. 

Unfortunately, many chiropractors who do this are simply adhering to the recommendations of a practice management company they’ve bought into, telling them how to run their practice. But this isn’t a great way to build a reputation, get patients, and help people. 

Bottom line: A spinal screening is not a thorough exam. 

The Risks of Dishonest Practices

If you really are struggling with pain, a bogus spinal screening can keep you from getting the help you need. 

At Comprehensive Chiropractic, we don’t discount our initial exam, because that’s the most important one. It’s not something we would ever give away for free in the parking lot of a market. 

Spinal Screenings lower the standards and confuse people about chiropractic care. We get many skeptical or scared patients who have been victims of spinal screening scams in the past. We never ask people to sign large, long-term plans. That’s because we evaluate you every treatment, and there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for recovery.  

Red Flags of a Spinal Screening

Here are some things to be aware of if you’re offered a spinal screening: 

  • A free screening in a public area or parking lot is probably not going to be top tier. When we do events, we typically offer soft tissue work or information. We don’t discuss specific medical conditions at a health fair. 
  • Watch out for discounted exams. They may come with a lot of pressure to sign onto a lengthy and expensive plan. 
  • Big promises and specific diagnoses from apps and temperature machines may be questionable. 
  • X-rays for everyone may be helpful, but it’s not always needed and can be used as another scare tactic.
  • Trust your intuition. Use your critical thinking skills. Ask lots of questions. Watch out for chiropractors who don’t ask if you have any questions or brush yours aside. 
  • Walk away from big demands. There’s no way to know how someone will respond to treatment. It doesn’t make sense to recommend dozens of visits up front. At most, a reputable chiropractor may book you out for a few weeks, if you have a common issue that is known to take a little more time (like a herniated disc). 
  • Not every treatment works for everyone, so look for chiropractors with various modalities to pull from. Likewise, a good chiropractor isn’t afraid to refer people out, if needed.