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How to write a case report

Dr. Dana Lawrence is past editor for a number of chiropractic journals, including the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
Dr. Dana Lawrence

For years, chiropractic research scientists have encouraged field chiropractors to consider writing a report of a patient case that has demonstrated a clear connection between chiropractic and the positive results that patient experienced. In this column, Senior Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning Dana Lawrence, D.C., M.Med.Ed., M.A., offers guidance on how to effectively write a case report and get it published.

Why write a case report?

One of the most important reasons to write case reports is one of the most simple: we need to share the skills and expertise we have. If you publish a case report, it may provide another chiropractor with information he or she could use in taking care of a patient. Also, this helps us demonstrate our skills to the larger community of healthcare practitioners, who are not always informed or cognizant of how skilled we really are.

What type of cases work best for a case report?

Case reports should first and foremost be educational. That is, the reader should come away from the paper having learned something. That something might be a new management strategy for a difficult condition or a different adjusting procedure that they otherwise might not have considered. There is no real reason to publish a case report about the successful management of a patient with uncomplicated low back pain. What makes case reports appealing to journal editors—and this is key—is to provide them with a paper that is interesting, novel, new in some fashion, or otherwise unusual. Practitioners like reading case reports when they provide information about managing patients, while authors like writing them because it allows them to share information and are relatively easy to prepare. Examples of the kind of situations leading to case reports would be unusual responses to therapy (either positive or negative), unusual cases, cases with co-morbidities, etc.

What should a report include?

Your case report must have specific sections: abstract, introduction, case report, discussion, conclusion and references. Within those sections, you will need to include plenty of detailed information so that someone else may know exactly what you did. You also will need to include some information out of the professional literature, so you will need to learn some basic literature searching skills.

How do I submit a report to a journal?

It is always a good idea to develop a relationship with a journal editor. Feel free to contact one and ask if they have any interest in your paper. Don’t be offended if they do not; not every paper is appropriate for every journal. There are many journals to choose from in our profession, including Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, Clinical Chiropractic, Chiropractic and Manual Therapies, Chiropractic Journal of Australia and Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics. All have websites where you can get more specific information on submission standards.

Does Palmer offer assistance with writing and publishing case reports?

Absolutely. You may start by contacting me at (563) 884-5302 or at

Is there a case report written by a Palmer graduate that I can use as a reference?

Actually, there are many. You can read one written by Mark Morningstar II, D.C., Davenport ’02, at content/14/1/20.

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