In a 2015 Gallup poll of more than 5,400 Americans, 60 percent believed chiropractic is an effective treatment for neck and back pain. It’s true that chiropractors manipulate, or adjust, the spine to improve pain and mobility, but the benefits may extend beyond the back. By using varying degrees of force in an effort to adjust misaligned joints, chiropractors try to improve the relationship between the spine and nervous system, which they believe may affect the function of all the organs and systems in the body.
“We are certainly the front-line providers for back pain, but we’re also primary care professionals who look at and evaluate the whole body,” says Ron Boesch, DC, a professor and director of clinics at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, which commissioned the Gallup poll.
A 2010 report issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found spinal manipulation is as effective as medication for low back pain. The same year, a British analysis of nearly 100 high-quality systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials found that manipulation was beneficial for acute and chronic low back pain, neck pain and knee osteoarthritis. And a 2013 study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that patient education combined with 12 chiropractic treatments (twice a week for six weeks) were more effective for hip OA than a daily stretching program or patient education alone. Reports from the chiropractor-led spine program at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth, Mass., are also positive: Most patients with bad backs experience significant pain relief in about five visits.
Still, there are caveats. If you have active inflammation (due to a flare, for example), a fused spine or osteoporosis in the spine or neck, you shouldn’t be treated with chiropractic therapy.
Many of Boesch’s patients have arthritis, including inflammatory forms such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis. For these patients’ chiropractic care, he recommends gentle spinal manipulation combined with exercise and an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce pain and inflammation, and improve mobility. As for osteoarthritis, “It responds well to chiropractic care,” he says. “We get results fairly quickly – often within two to six weeks.”
William Lauretti, DC, an assistant professor at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, N.Y., stresses that chiropractic patients with arthritis often improve without the need for pain medications. “A recent study [in Clinical Therapeutics] found that half of patients with low back pain take prescription narcotics [opioids], which is alarming,” he says. “But the study also showed that those who have chiropractic care are far less likely to use these drugs.”
Find a Chiropractor
To earn a doctor of chiropractic degree, students complete four years of chiropractic college, sometimes followed by a one-year internship. “Look for a chiropractor whose practice best aligns with your goals as a patient and who uses a variety of techniques,” Lauretti says.
The American Chiropractic Association website has a searchable database of doctors of chiropractic who are association members.
Author: Linda Rath for the Arthritis Foundation