spinal manipulation

Low back pain is common and debilitating. It is estimated that 80 percent of adults will experience this distressing condition sometime during their lives. Physicians often recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen to ease the pain. Excruciating back spasms may also be treated with opioids and or muscle relaxants. Exercise and physical therapy are other frequent recommendations. Are doctors overlooking spinal manipulation?

Is There Value in Spinal Manipulation for Back Pain?

Many doctors have been somewhat ambivalent about spinal manipulation. Some are downright hostile. Edzard Ernst is a physician who has focused on complementary medicine. His article in Spectator Health (Feb. 18, 2016) was titled:

“The evidence shows that chiropractors do more harm than good”

Dr. Ernst states unequivocally that “the published evidence [of chiropractic claims] generally reveals these claims to be little more than wishful thinking.” He goes on to state:

“There is now a lot of evidence showing that more than half of all patients suffer mild to moderate adverse effects after seeing a chiropractor.”

Steven Salzberg, PhD, is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University. Writing in Forbes (Feb. 12, 2018) he states: 

“Most people think that chiropractors’ spinal ‘adjustments’ can relieve pain from injured or aching backs. It turns out that it’s just an elaborate placebo: a back rub at home is likely to work just as well.”

We could go on and on, but you get the picture. There is a lot of resistance to spinal manipulation by mainstream medicine.

A New Study Supports Spinal Manipulation:

A new study shows that spinal manipulation can be highly effective (BMJ, online, March 13, 2019). Please note that this is not a shady pseudoscientific publication. The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) is highly regarded as a trusted resource. 

The researchers analyzed 47 studies that included over 9,000 adults. Spinal manipulation was equally as effective as NSAIDs, pain medicines and exercise. The investigators urged medical doctors to consider chiropractic and other forms of spinal manipulation for lower back pain.

In their own words the authors state:

“SMT [spinal manipulative therapy] produces similar effects to recommended therapies for chronic low back pain but results in clinically better effects for short term improvement in function compared with non-recommended therapies, sham therapy, or when added as an adjuvant therapy.”

What About Adverse Effects?

The researchers devoted quite a bit of effort to the issue of complications from such care. They admit that this is hard to assess because the quality of the data is not great. They summarize their findings this way:

“Based on a recent systematic review, serious adverse events after SMT for low back pain are thought to be rare and include case reports of cauda equina syndrome, fractures, and neurological or vascular compromise.”

“The body of evidence, which includes data from large, prospective observational studies of SMT, suggests that benign adverse events are common and serious adverse events are rare.”

What’s Your Experience?

Have you ever had spinal manipulation? How did it work for you? Did you experience any adverse events? Please share your story in the comment section below.

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  1. Sue

    I have been a chiropractor for 41 years. I have seen many patients get wonderful results without the need for drugs. If chiropractic was harmful my malpractice premiums would be outrageously expensive. However, my premium is just over $2000 PER YEAR!!

    In all my 41 years, we never got “true” endorsements from the established medical societies. We do however, accept and get referral from local MDs. In light of the opioid epidemic, which apparently the medical and pharmaceutical industry has created, we chiropractors are now seen in a different light. The local MDs don’t want to treat pain patients anymore for fear of over-prescribing and addiction. So now, the profession that has always treated without drugs is miraculously safe to use!!!

    I see the “calling the kettle black” statement might be appropriate here.
    On a good note, more patients are seeing chiropractors and getting the conservative care they need.

  2. Anne
    Durham, n c

    I go to a deep tissue massage therapist who realigns my back each visit, and I jokingly say he puts me back toether again like Humpty Dumpty. I cannot say enough about his ability to keep me going.

  3. Len
    Asheville NC

    Recently had a Shiatsu (sp?) massage which reduced both tension and resultant pain. The effects lasted for almost a week. Much more effective than earlier chiropractic sessions and acupuncture.

  4. Karen

    I am a health care professional and have very severe scoliosis and am missing 3 spinuses in the thoracic area. Additionally I have one extra vertebrae I. My lumbar spine. I have been going to a chiropractor for more than 50 years and have never suffered from sinus. Flu or colds.

  5. Isabel

    I am a 77 year-old woman who was diagnosed in my early 30’s with degenerative disc disease, which has now become severe.

    I started going to chiropractors in my early 40’s. Having lived at times in three different states through the years, I have been extremely careful in selecting chiropractors. I can without a doubt say that no other form of modality for my spine, (PT, massage, aqua therapy etc. including fusion lumbar surgery ) has ever helped me as chiropractors have!!
    They have been given a bad rap through the years. Hopefully this is changing!

  6. Lisa
    Bloomsburg, PA

    I support my chiropractor 100%. Spinal manipulation puts your spine back into alignment just like having your car’s steering system re-aligned after hitting a pot hole. I can feel if my hip is tight and out of place. I can feel the heaviness of my leg. After an adjustment, I feel the difference and can move more freely. My chiropractor has recommended some stretches and exercises that help keep my spine in place for longer period of time. I would rather adjust the body’s natural skeletal alignment than pump myself full of chemicals that only mask the real problem. Once the NSAIDs wear off, the pain and discomfort is still there.

  7. Jerry
    Mesa, AZ

    Occasionally I have had adjustments done by Chiropractors and by Osteopathic Doctors (DO) with good results. Not all DOs have this in their practice but they can give you a referal.

  8. MK

    I have had great results from a wonderful chiropractor. He is cautious, does not try to oversell his services or suggest multiple visits if one or two will solve the issue. He can pinpoint a problem and get to the source with very intuitive hands. I have had back pain, leg numbness and pain, neck and severe shoulder issues (unresolved after repeated physical therapy sessions) resolved by this practitioner. He even manipulated my painful feet after I asked for a referral for a podiatrist. He once recommended that he could probably not help me, but I insisted, and he resolved the problem. He is constantly seeking to upgrade his skills so he can provide more relief to his patients. I dread to think he will retire one day. A real healer.

  9. Marty
    Greensboro, NC

    I have been a patient of a chiropractor for about 15 years and continue to have periodic adjustments. I am aware when my back or knee moves out of alignment and the adjustments to back, knee or ankle have kept me off pain meds, kept me mobile and functional. I can’t imagine relying only on meds and not having this resource. To me the key is getting references for a good practice and a doctor of chiropractic that takes x-rays, knows the situation he/she is dealing with and you feel confidence in. My yoga practice also helps.

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