Lower back pain is common and can be quite debilitating. That’s why people frequently turn to a chiropractor for help. A new study from the University of Bern in Switzerland suggests that may not be worth the effort.

The investigators divided 104 people with low back pain between two groups. One group received usual medical care, including pain relievers such as acetaminophen or diclofenac. The other group was given spinal manipulation in addition to usual care. Patients in both groups had similar reductions in pain and took similar amounts of painkillers. No difference was apparent after 6 months either. The investigators concluded, “SMT [spinal manipulative therapy] is unlikely to result in relevant early pain reduction in patients with acute low back pain.”

[Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, Sept., 2009]

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  1. annie

    I had spinal decompression done here in Canada, shortly after a work related injury.. It was very expensive. I had 14 treatments done. I did not have very much relief from this, as I later stopped going due to a car accident I was in… I got a refund back from the remainder of the balance.
    I am now seeing a chiropractor, who is by far more trained than the people who worked at this clinic.. He is not adjusting me though , he is helping me with other stuff… I have improved with exercises that he has given me to do at home… I am now taking Certo for my pain :) and it has helped so much.. My pain is now slowly going away… Thanks to this wonderful site… I am managing now….. Annie

  2. plc

    Well, I’m not going to give up my chiropractor! Over 20 years of treatment, best thing for my lower back.

  3. Dale K.

    This must have been a “trumped up” study. My chiropractors over the years have managed my periodic back pain miraculously. Only when I recently injured my back in a way to cause chips off the disc to land on my sciatic nerve was microsurgery needed to remove the chips. My chiro advised me early on after the injury that something was going on (xrays did not reveal the chips) that he could not help me with.

  4. DH

    I feel my life was saved by my chiropractor, it took some time but I can walk today. My daughter in law with pinched nerve radiating down into and numbing her foot, was helped by her treatments.
    It is better than relying on pain medication which can cause such problems.

  5. NFK

    This study does not represent all techniques used by “chiropractors.” My chiropractor is also a kinesiologist and a nutritionist. His help for my lower back pain involves a great deal more than “spinal manipulation.” He explains what he is doing and why it works. It does work. But I must work, too, by doing the prescribed exercises, and in some cases by changing nutritional practice.

  6. G K

    Pain medications mask the problem. Chiropractors fix the problem.

  7. RMD

    As indicated by the comments above, Tell it to the thousands of people who have used successfully used chiropractors to relieve back pain. My sister-in-law is one of them.

  8. mb

    I agree that many studies are too generalized. Spinal problems are like snowflakes, hardly two are alike and I would say hard to compare and treat equally. Just as chiropractic care is individualized just like medical treatment. No two doctors approach things in identical ways.

  9. JB

    I had sciatic pain in my left hip frequently for approx 40 years after helping to lift a patient out of a car. Many years of various treatments, i.e. physical therapy, injections, muscle relaxants, OTC meds, etc. gave little relief.
    My daughter urged me to see a chiropractor but having been an orthopedic nurse I was leery. After only a couple treatments I saw a significant difference in the pain! I occasionally get the pain after heavy lifting, unusual positions, etc but it goes away in a short time. I would certainly recommend chiropractic care. If one practitioner doesn’t work, try someone else.

  10. V.S.

    I don’t believe it. There are too many ways in which this study could have been manipulated to reflect the biases of the study designers. The conclusion appears to be subjective, so I’ll offer my own experiences. My lower back problems were significantly helped by chiropractic manipulation.

  11. PK

    I think overly-generalized “conclusions” like those from this so-called “study” are pretty useless and somewhat misleading and irresponsible. Results from treatments, including alternative therapy approaches such as chiropractic, should be viewed and evaluated on a case by case basis.
    In my experience, chiropractic care produced positive results where “traditional” methodology, including pain relievers and standard physical therapy, failed almost completely to produce positive results, in this particular case. The circumstances are as follows. I had sustained a serious back injury after slipping on a wet apartment building stairway and falling down the stairs landing on my back on the metal stairs, the impact causing the intense low back injury (nothing broken and minor disk involvement).
    Three months of traditional applied physical therapy and pain relievers, produced virtually no positive results or recovery other than the temporary relief of hot packs and the pain medication, and resulting in perhaps 5% sustained recovery level. I switched to chiropractic care, which included muscle work and focused manipulation, progressively, as appropriate. Within six weeks of beginning treatment I was at a 90% recovery level, and was soon after able to return to most activities.
    To infer that both therapies produced the same results would be ridiculous.

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