Chiropractic Income Has Been Dropping Steadily

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
May 17, 2018

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Commerce conducts an economic census that tabulates the incomes of many industries and professions. Here are the figures for chiropractic, which the reports describe this way:

This industry comprises establishments of health practitioners having the degree of D.C. (Doctor of chiropractic) primarily engaged in the independent practice of chiropractic. These practitioners provide diagnostic and therapeutic treatment of neuromusculoskeletal and related disorders through the manipulation and adjustment of the spinal column and extremities, and operate private or group practices in their own offices (e.g., centers, clinics) or in the facilities of others, such as hospitals or HMO medical centers.






Number of establishments






$5.9 billion

$6.6 billion

$9.0 billion

$10.0 billion

Receipts per office 217,000 216,000 $262,000 $267,000
Annual payroll

$1.7 billion

$1.9 billion

$2.6 billion

$3.1 billion

Paid employees





Now consider the inflation rates (Consumer Price Index) during the same time periods:

Time Period





Inflation increase





Income change





These figures indicate that between January 1992 and December 2007, the average gross income per chiropractic office rose at less than half the rate of inflation, which is equivalent to a loss of 20% in purchasing power. Since the cost of running the offices increased during this period, the purchasing power of the chiropractor’s take-home pay was even lower. The next census report is scheduled for publication in December 2013.

Data from the The Health Education Assistance {HEAL) student loan program, which operated from 1978 through 1998, provide additional evidence that earning a living as a chiropractor can be difficult. The default rate of chiropractic students greatly exceeds the rates of students from medical, osteopathic, dental, veterinary, optometry, podiatry, public health, and pharmacy schools. In fact, since 1999, more than half the individuals on the Health Resources and Services Administration’s default list were former chiropractic college attendees [1].

I believe that chiropractors are in trouble because:

  • There are too many of them.
  • Many people feel negatively toward them because many chiropractors try to lure patients into long-term contacts for care that is unnecessary. Most of the jobs available to new graduates are in these types of practices.
  • Insurance companies are aware that overtreatment is rampant.
  • Chiropractors who enter managed-care programs may be closely monitored.
  • As our health care system demands greater accountability, chiropractors will fall short because most of what they do has not been substantiated by research.

In January 2013, the president of the Arizona Chiropractic Society stated that insurance company denials have resulted in “hundreds of Arizona chiropractors closing their doors and many filing for bankruptcy.” [2]

The Chiropractors Wife blog has many posts from chiropractors and ex-chiropractors who describe the terrible burden they have had with student loan debt and trying to earn a living after graduation [3].

  1. Barrett S. Chiropractic student loan default rates (1999 to 2012). Chirobase Web site. Feb 18, 2013.
  2. Immerman AM. Legislature convenes January 14th, ACS is ready. Arizona Chiropractic Society News, Jan 2013, p 1.
  3. Want to be a chiopractor? The Chiropractors Wife, March 4, 2011.

This article was revised on March 20, 2014..