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Can Spinal Manipulation Alleviate Back Pain?

Published May 16, 2017

In a study published on April 25, 2017, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, evidence suggested that spinal manipulation can offer those who suffer from back pain with an effective alternative treatment.

Researchers reviewed and analyzed 26 clinical trials involving 1,711 patients with lower back pain and found that the use of spinal manipulation among patients with acute low back pain, was associated with modest improvements in pain and function.

Participants in the study were adults with acute back pain — those managing lower back pain for equal to or less than 6 weeks — and those patients with sciatica or leg pain. Though there were benefits, there were some minor temporary costs for more than half of patients, including “increased pain, muscle stiffness, and headache,” the study stated. It also didn’t examine the effect of the therapy on chronic back pain.

Spinal manipulation, which is practiced by chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, naturopathic physicians, and physical therapists involves the use of the practitioner's hands or a device to apply a controlled force to a joint of the spine. The amount of force applied depends on the form of manipulation used. The goal of the treatment is to relieve pain and improve physical functioning.

Dr. Richard A. Deyo, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, said, “Chiropractic care is popular today with the US public. According to a 2012 report, among patients with back or neck pain, approximately 30 percent sought care from a chiropractor. In a 2013 survey by Consumer Reports magazine involving 14,000 subscribers with low back pain, chiropractic care had the largest proportion of ‘highly satisfied’ patients.”

For people with more severe pain, the choice of therapy often comes down to what's practical and affordable, whether that’s chiropractic or other forms of care.

According to National Institute of Health, back pain is one of the most common health complaints, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. The lower back is the area most often affected. For many people, back pain goes away on its own after a few days or weeks. But for others, the pain becomes chronic and lasts for months or years.

A recent study from Yale Medical School revealed that almost 50 percent of patients treated needs to take less opioid medication with chiropractic treatment.

“Chiropractic care is effective in the treatment of back pain, and this study from Yale Medical School confirms that,” states Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, the owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center

“When patients are taking less medication for pain, they are improving their quality of life and are able to function better.Chiropractic care helps relieve back pain by improving spinal mobility, and anything that can help the current opioid crisis today is a welcome addition to alternative medicine."

So where do these studies leave us? Does spinal manipulation help some people with low back pain? "We don't know," Deyo said.

The good news is, most people with acute back pain "will almost certainly improve with time," said Deyo.

Updated: August 1, 2019

Contributors and Experts

Dr. Allen Conrad, BS,DC,CSCS is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

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