Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
How Can I Get out of a Contract for
Chiropractic Treatment I Don't Need?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

My family and I were conned into paying for chiropractic treatments in advance. After four months of treatment, scare tactics, etc., I have woken up to the fact that my chiropractic care is not helping me or my husband and children. It is only causing much stress.

We still have about five months of payments left. We signed a contract and notified the clinic that we would like to discontinue care, but they said that the charges that are due are for the treatments from our first three months of service. Is there any way to get out of this contract?

I have just been sick about being conned. The chiropractor was very smart. I feel he might even believe wholeheartedly what he practices. He held an "extreme makeover" contest in our city which drew in the public. He "educated" (i.e. indoctrinated) people weekly about the state of their health. He also offered free screenings. The contest lasted 12 weeks and their was much success--many people lost weight and got off medications, etc... However, he also got a lot of people into his chiropractic clinic. First he did the scare tactic--used the machine on my husband that said his nerves in his back were all "in the red" and that he had "phase 2 degeneration" according to x-rays. His forward head thrust and numbers were all horrible and "will take 10 years off his life". But he wouldn't reveal any of my husband's findings unless I was with him. They did a screening on me and low and behold, I was worse than my husband. I said we might consider care, but I would be traveling much with work and would start maybe in 2 months when my schedule settled down. The chiropractor's wife (his nurse) stated that she "couldn't promise that I won't die that week of a heart attack if I don't get started on my treatments immediately" because my back is so bad. Now, I have to sidestep here: without knowing anything about me or my family history, how could she possibly state that? (I am 5' 3'', very healthy, 28 years old, 112 lbs, exercise regularly, and have no history of heart disease in my family). This should have been my tip to run! Then they presented us with the contract. I stated that we wanted to go home and think and pray about this decision (it was adding a monthly car payment practically to our bills) and they said we were not allowed to do that. They could give us a few extra minutes if we needed it. She checked with my insurance agency and they covered 20% of my expenses which should help with the cost. (This clinic also pushes all the "no immunizations", vitamin and mineral supplements, get off all medications because they are killing you, wobble chairs, etc....)

As treatments went on, both my husband's and my back were continually sore or in pain. We kept asking if this was normal and he assured us it was because our backs were so bad. After about 2 months we inquired about quitting and were told that all the work that we had done for our backs would be completely reversed and our backs would be worse than before. We were also told that we would be charged $105 for every visit we had made to the clinic (in the contract they are only $65 if you "complete" your treatments.) We continued to go because they had their foot on our neck. It has now been four months and I started researching and reading books and catching on to the scare tactics. I called my insurance company because I hadn't received any insurance receipts. It turns out they have never turned anything in to my insurance provider. In addition, it also turns out that the insurance company never approved treatments because the clinic isn't in my acceptable network list.

My husband and I don't quite know what to do. We still owe (I think) about $2,000 (although we had asked a month ago how much we owed and never got an answer). If we don't pay it, they will "report us for bad credit." We will also be responsible for all legal fees if they sue us for the unpaid amount" (as stated in the contract).

Answer

Such contracts are improper and ill-advised and may not be legal. (See "Contracts for Providing Unlimited Chiropractic Care May Be Illegal")It is not possible to determine beforehand how many treatments might be needed for a particular condition. Treatment should be discontinued when symptoms disappear or if symptoms worsen or persist unrelieved after a few weeks. Medical care has to be evaluated from day to day to determine if the treatment is appropriate and if the diagnosis is correct. Locking you into several months of treatment with a contract that requires payment in advance is nonsensical as well as unethical. I believe that most of what you and your husband were told at this chiropractic clinic was incorrect and exploitive.

Some chiropractors, realizing that a patient's symptoms may resolve after a few weeks with or without treatment, focus on correcting an alleged structural problem that they describe as a vertebral subluxation, reversed cervical curve, rotatied pelvis, or degenerative changes that they claim requires long-term care. Such "corrections" are often not necessary or possible but provide opportunity to employ scare tactics needed to convince patients that they need months of treatment to prevent trouble in the future, even if they have no symptoms. Telling you that you might die within a week if you don't start chiropractic treatment immediately is an outrageous scare tactic.

Since you and your family have been duped into signing a contract for long-term care you do not need and which has not proven to be effective after four months of treatment, you certainly should not continue with further treatment. You may have to contact a lawyer to determine if the contract you signed can force you to continue paying for five more months of treatment you do not want or need. I cannot imagine the clinic requiring you to continue making payments for treatment that you have discontinued because you feel that it is harming you, your husband, and your children. If the clinic will not agree to release you from the contract, it might be a good idea to request a copy of your records and then inform the clinic that you plan to consult a lawyer and file a complaint with the attorney general and the chiropractic board in your state. Our article on "What to Do if a Chiropractor Quacks You" links to the addresses of chiropractic state boards.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This article was posted on February 15, 2008.