Chiropractor videos take off on TikTok and YouTube

Hurried. Crack. Pop. These sounds, once used to sell a popular breakfast cereal, are now enticing people to visit the doctor thanks to a wave of chiropractic videos sweeping social media.

The most popular videos follow a familiar pattern: A patient comes in with a debilitating condition. A chiropractor maneuvers a patient's limbs and joints in terrifying ways, producing a series of pops and creaks. And the patient is freed from years of pain, all in a matter of minutes.

For viewers, the clips can be noteworthy and satisfying ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) content. For chiropractors, they are a valuable marketing tool that helps build business.

But not everyone in the chiropractic industry is thrilled with video. Some doctors say they are misleading and potentially lead patients to think miracle cures are available with a simple spinal tap – or even to try the procedures themselves.

Alex Tubio has become a sensation in the world of medical content creation. He owns chiropractic clinics in Houston and Orange County, California, and sees about 100 patients a week.

Mr. Tubio says he owes all of his business to social media, which he began using in 2019 to promote his work. He has more than one million followers on TikTok, over one million subscribers on YouTube and his calendar is full until August.

The videos resonate, Tubio said, because viewers can identify with his patients and their symptoms, which include headaches, migraines, back pain and jaw problems.

“I've heard this so many times, where patients come in and say, 'I was looking at this guy and he looked just like me. He wasn't skinny. He was out of shape and he needed relief, it was just me,'” Mr. Tubio said.

He is aware of criticism that videos like his oversimplify treatment, potentially leading some viewers to believe that chiropractors can provide a magic bullet for a multitude of problems.

“The most important thing is that when someone comes in, we try to educate them and tell them that your body is a self-healing organism,” Tubio said. “But it takes time for your body to accept the change.” In fact, he said, patients sometimes require several rounds of treatment before their conditions improve.

“When you're so desperate for relief and you're so desperate for anything, just a little bit of relief can go a long way,” Mr. Tubio said.

Research is far from conclusive on the effectiveness of chiropractic care, and some experts question its validity. An article published in 2015 found that while chiropractic care improved some upper body conditions such as neck and shoulder pain, more research was needed on its use to treat asthma and other conditions. Another review, published in 2016, found that chiropractic care for back pain appeared to be as effective as physical therapy.

Nathan Hunte, 34, a talent manager and jeweler from London, made his first visit to a chiropractor earlier this year because of social media.

“To be honest, it was more curiosity,” he said. “Because I’ve also seen a lot of people come in over the last couple of months.”

Mr Hunte posted a video of his nomination on his Instagram page. As a chiropractor treats his neck and back, he reacts wildly to the adjustments, bursting into giggles and laughter—the kind of video that can go viral.

Mr Hunte's animated reactions were “more shocking because he didn't tell me when he was going to make the move”, he said. “So I wasn't really prepared, but it was more of a relief.”

His video inspired others. “Since then, so many people have talked to me and said they wanted to go, and now they've started booking the chiropractor,” she said.

Industry leaders have mixed feelings about the trend of shoot adjustments. Richard Brown, secretary general of the World Federation of Chiropractic, a nonprofit organization that serves as the international voice of the chiropractic profession, said the group has concerns about the videos on social media.

“WFC does not condone the posting of videos of patients treated with spinal manipulation or any other form of care,” he said, noting that it was often unclear whether the person performing the adjustments was a qualified, licensed chiropractor, and whether the subjects they were bona fide patients.

The clips also raised potential concerns about patient confidentiality and the risk of “untrained or unqualified people” attempting to replicate the procedures, Brown said.

Ben Breen, a chiropractor in London, expressed a similar concern. He treats about 50 patients a week, mostly for lower back, neck and shoulder pain. Mr Breen does not register his patients.

He said the trend is “obviously great, but at the same time also a nightmare.” While the videos are free marketing and often look and sound satisfying, she said, they sometimes give a false narrative of “miracle cures,” especially for long-suffering patients who may have exhausted all other options.

“It just portrays this narrative of: We can just go in, click someone from head to toe, and they'll basically be back on top of the game,” Mr. Breen said. “Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.”

Chiropractors on social media can choose which videos to post, Breen noted, selecting distorted clips to support the business.

Even some longtime chiropractic patients are confused by what they see on social media and say their experiences differ. Lily Harder, 43, of Bloomington, Minnesota, has been seeing a chiropractor off and on for more than 20 years after she was hit by a drunk driver. In 2023 alone she has had around 50 dates.

“I've never had a chiropractor make fun of me like I've seen,” he said, adding that his chiropractor takes a kinder approach.

She is concerned that these trending videos may trivialize the profession and those seeking pain relief.

“I already know there was a way people looked at chiropractic care anyway,” Ms. Harder said. “Some people just don't believe it works, or they think it's a farce or something. It just makes me feel bad for the people out there who might need help, who are living in pain, who would give it a chance until they see these videos and think that's the case, because it's not.

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