Why Is Everyone on TikTok Suddenly Going to the Chiropractor?

Industry leaders have mixed feelings about the trend of filming adjustments. (Getty Images)

Snap. 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 template: A patient enters with a debilitating condition. A chiropractor maneuvers the patient’s limbs and joints in horrifying ways, producing a series of snaps and crunches. And the patient is relieved of years of pain — all within a matter of minutes.

For viewers, the clips can be both cringeworthy and satisfying ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) content. For the chiropractors, they are valuable marketing, helping to build business.

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But not everyone in the chiropractic industry is thrilled about the videos. Some doctors say they are misleading, potentially leading patients to think miracle cures are available with one pop of the spine — or even to try the procedures themselves.

Easy and free advertising for chiropractors

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.

Tubio says he owes all of his business to social media, which he started using in 2019 to promote his work. He has more than 1 million followers on TikTok, over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, and his appointment calendar is booked until August.

The videos resonate, Tubio said, because viewers can relate to his patients and their symptoms, which include headaches, migraines, back pain and jaw issues.

“I’ve heard it so many times, where patients come in and they’re like, ‘I was watching this one guy and he looked just like me. He wasn’t skinny. He was out of shape and he needed some relief, that was just me,’” Tubio said.

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

“My biggest thing is when somebody comes in, we try to educate them and tell them that your body is a self-healing organism,” Tubio said. “But it does take time for your body to take on change.” In reality, he said, patients sometimes need several rounds of treatment before their conditions improve.

“When you’re so desperate for relief and you’re so desperate for anything, even just a little bit of relief goes such a long way,” Tubio said.

Research is far from conclusive on the effectiveness of chiropractic care, and some experts question its validity. A paper published in 2015 found that while chiropractic care improved some upper body conditions like neck and shoulder pain, more research was required on its use for treating asthma and other diseases. Another review, published in 2016, found that chiropractic care for lower back pain appeared to be as equally effective as physical therapy.

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

“To be honest with you, it was more curiosity,” he said. “Because I also saw a lot of people going in throughout the last couple of months.”

Hunte posted a video of his appointment to his Instagram page. As a chiropractor treats his neck and back, he reacts wildly to the adjustments, breaking out in fits of giggles and laughter — the type of video that can go viral.

Hunte’s animated reactions were “more of a shock because, he didn’t tell me when he was going to do the movement,” he said. “So I wasn’t really prepared, but it was more of a relief.”

His video has inspired others. “Since then, so many people have mentioned to me and said they want to go, and now they’ve started booking the chiropractor,” he said.

The risks of a viral neck crack

Industry leaders have mixed feelings about the trend of filming adjustments. Richard Brown, the secretary-general of the World Federation of Chiropractic, a not-for-profit organization that serves as the international voice of the chiropractic profession, said the group had concerns about the social media videos.

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

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

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

He said the trend was “obviously great, but also a nightmare at the same time.” While the videos are free marketing and often look and sound satisfying, he 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 come in, click somebody from head to toe, and they’re pretty much going to be back on top of the game,” Breen said. “Unfortunately, it does not work like that.”

Chiropractors on social media can cherry pick which videos they post, Breen noted, selecting clips skewed to support the business.

Even some longtime chiropractic patients are confused by what they’re seeing on social media, and say their experiences differ. Lily Harder, 43, from Bloomington, Minnesota, has been seeing a chiropractor on and off for more than 20 years after being hit by a drunken driver. In 2023 alone, she had about 50 appointments.

“I’ve never had a chiropractor whip me around like I’ve seen,” she said, adding that her chiropractor takes a gentler approach.

She’s worried that these trending videos may trivialize the profession and those searching for pain relief.

“I already know there’s been a way that people look at chiropractic care anyway,” Harder said. “Some people just don’t believe it works, or they think it’s a sham or whatever. It just makes me feel bad for people out there who could use the help, who live in pain, who would give it a chance until they see these videos and think that’s the way it is, because it’s not.”

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