TRENTON - New Jersey lawmakers are well on their way to working the kinks out of state chiropractic laws, and chiropractors couldn't be happier.
"It's very exciting that we are still going in a positive direction here," said Dr. Irene M. Ryan, who practices in Atlantic City.
"I think it's definitely something that needed to be done," added Dr. Jonathan Greenberg, who practices in Margate. Current state laws are "extremely limiting, and all it does is limit patients in what we can do for them."
At issue is a bill that would significantly rework existing laws, explicitly allowing them to address nutrition and work on extremities - practices chiropractors say others in the profession have long been permitted to follow in other states. The state would, for the first time, also require continuing education.
New Jersey last addressed the chiropractic scope of practice in 1953, leading advocates to call New Jersey the most restrictive state.
"It's not that were asking for anything crazy," said Steven Clarke, president of the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors. "It's just we're taught in school so many things and then we come to New Jersey and we can't use it."
Both the state Senate and Assembly are expected to give final votes to a bill that reworks the state's chiropractic scope of practice by the Jan. 11 end of the current session.
Chiropractors generally take a holistic view of health and treat problems by physically adjusting the spine or working a joint through its range of motion. But some medical doctors and others have questioned the underlying science behind chiropractic.
Current reforms grew out of a 1999 lawsuit in which two chiropractors were sued for tearing cartilage in a patient's knee while adjusting it. As the case made its way through the courts, the appellate court ruled in 2007 that chiropractors were limited to the torso, per the initial 1953 legislation.
The state Supreme Court reversed that the following year, but with the law used against them, the state's chiropractors saw the need to update New Jersey law through wholesale reform.
This legislation would underscore the rights of chiropractors to use a variety of methods of treatment, including different chiropractic methods, physical medicine and splints. It would ensure they could use a full variety of diagnostic tests and write doctors notes for pre-employment screenings and jury duty, among other things.
It would also allow chiropractors to use a variety of food and nutritional counseling, provided the chiropractor successfully completed at least 45 hours of properly accredited training. The state had allowed this from 1923 to 1984, Clarke said, until a regulation change meant that food used in medical therapy was considered a drug.
Chiropractors are not generally allowed to dispense drugs.
At the same time, legislation would set up new mandatory continuing education requirements. Clarke said while the state's chiropractors generally keep pace with the field with regular classes, New Jersey is the only state without formal continuing chiropractic education requirements.
This bill would allow chiropractors to call themselves doctors, adding D.C. after their names.
The proposal allows a wider array of conditions to be treated by chiropractic care including, but not limited to, realigning body structures, examination, analysis and treatment of joints and soft tissue, and the administration of physical therapy.
Ryan and Greenberg both also practice in Philadelphia, and said laws in Pennsylvania, where chiropractors have to take eight hours of classes every two years, are favorable to New Jersey's.
Ryan emphasized how much more effective treatment can be provided in Pennsylvania, where chiropractors are allowed to dispense nutritional advice.
"It's much easier to practice in Pennsylvania," Greenberg said. "A lot of chiropractors are starting to leave the state."
The bill is sponsored locally by Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester. He said he personally prefers acupuncture, but said one of his brothers finds real relief from the practice.
"Chiropractic medicine has come a long way in the last 50 years, but our state's regulations are stuck in the 1950s," he said in a separate statement earlier this month. "We need to bring New Jersey's licensing and regulation of chiropractors into the 21st century, recognizing that the practice of chiropractic medicine is much more than 'cracking backs.'"
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