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Will Chiropractic Care Help You Recover from Back Pain?

A study of US military personnel found that adding chiropractic care to the usual medical care for low back pain helped people feel better within six weeks.
Will Chiropractic Care Help You Recover from Back Pain?
Senior man with backache

Back pain is common, but doctors disagree about the best treatment. Often, physicians recommend that sufferers take pain relievers and let nature take its course to recovery. Patients sometimes consider this approach unsatisfactory. Health care providers may wonder whether chiropractic care can help people with low back pain feel better sooner.

Does Chiropractic Care Speed Recovery from Low Back Pain?

Low back pain is one of the most frequent reasons for military personnel to seek medical care and also one of the primary reasons they may interrupt combat duty. Researchers recruited 750 active duty military members to compare usual care for low back pain to chiropractic plus usual care (JAMA Network Open, May 2018). The volunteers were assigned to receive usual medical care or chiropractic care in addition to usual medical care. After six weeks, the investigators assessed participants’ pain and disability scores.

Usual care included “self-management advice, pharmacologic pain management, physical therapy, or pain clinic referral.” Those in the chiropractic care arm got as many as 12 sessions during the six weeks.

Did Chiropractic Care Help?

People who received chiropractic care along with their usual care felt better and were functioning better than those who got usual medical care alone. The difference was statistically significant even though it was not enormous.

According to the authors:

“our findings further support existing guidelines that recommend nonpharmacological treatments as a first line of treatment for LBP [low back pain].”

Learn More:

This is not the first study to find that chiropractic care can be valuable for treating low back pain. We wrote about a previous study here.

In addition, a study published in 2014 showed that chiropractic care can benefit people with sciatica pain, or back pain that radiates down the leg (Annals of Internal Medicine, Sept. 15, 2014). The research showed that chiropractic care together with exercise and advice was more helpful than exercise and advice alone.

Chiropractic Care for Sciatica:

In the study, 192 patients who reported sciatica for at least four weeks were randomly assigned to do specific home exercises and given pain management techniques or to follow these guidelines and also get chiropractic manipulation up to 20 times during the first three months. After three months, more than one-third of those in the spinal manipulation group reported significant relief from their back and leg pain. In comparison, just under one-fifth of those in the exercise-alone group experienced good relief.

A year out, there were no differences in freedom from pain between the two groups. In summary, the study indicated that chiropractic attention might provide significant short-term relief for sciatica.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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