Are Chiropractors All They're Cracked Up To Be When It Comes To Fixing Your Back Pain? 

Visiting a chiropractor to get relief from back pain is a popular option among many Americans. But how effective is it? 

​It is estimated that 7.7 million Americans visit a chiropractor every year looking for relief from their back pain. 

Which is a huge number and would suggest this is a great way to treat it. 

However while many people swear by chiropractic adjustments to get rid of their back pain others are more skeptical. ​

This is because chiropractic treatment veers away from the scientifically-proven approaches of mainstream medicine. 

And for this reason chiropractors are not always respected by their fellow healthcare professionals.​ 

Which causes some people to think of them as con men, spin doctors and sheisters. 

So who is right? 

It's a hard one to call.​

​On the one hand if people find that chiropractic treatment helps to relieve their back pain then it is a great way to do so without the need for medication or surgery.

However the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment​ for back pain hasn't been significantly proven by any scientific medical studies so can you really recommend it?

Maybe this means it is a treatment that you just have to try out for yourself and see if it works.

So in this article I'm going to take you through what to expect from a visit to the chiropractors, the benefits and dangers, plus how to find a good chiropractor.

And then you can make your own mind up as to whether to give it a try or not.​

Just remember though to always consult your doctor before trying any new form of treatment.​

What Does A Chiropractor Do?

The chiropractic treatment method is an alternative therapy that works on the idea that the nervous system is intimately related to the musculoskeletal system.

And that any misalignments (known as subluxations) within the spine will affect your nervous system, interfere with nerve signals to the brain and cause pain, nerve irritations and ill health. ​

So a chiropractor will attempt to realign your spine through adjustments and manipulations which they claim will help to restore health, remove pain and help the body to heal. ​

In this way they controversially believe that nearly any health problem can be cured by spinal manipulation.

And that the resulting reduced pressure and strain on your nerves, tissues and ligaments will greatly reduce your back pain.​

So what can you expect on your first visit to a chiropractor?​

Initial Consultation

Before your first chiropractic treatment you will be thoroughly assessed by the chiropractor to work out what the problem is and how it can be fixed.

This begins with the initial consultation.

​You will be asked to complete a detailed questionnaire that will go through such things as your medical history, pain experience and location, how it started, and your lifestyle habits such as regular activities and diet.

Once the chiropractor has this background information​ they will then discuss their philosophy and style of treatment with you along with any risks or dangers.

This is the perfect time to answer any lingering doubts you may have, so ask as many questions as you can think of to make yourself feel more comfortable.

Because feeling comfortable and relaxed will be a great help once the treatment begins.​

Once this initial consultation is complete you'll be given a physical exam.​

Physical Exam

Your physical exam is to help the chiropractor diagnose exactly what is causing your back pain and what they need to adjust to fix it.

Typically this will include:​

  • Checking your blood pressure and pulse rate.
  • Testing your reflexes.
  • Working your joints through range of motion tests.
  • Undertaking muscle strength and tone comparisons.
  • A massage of your spine.
  • Analysis of your posture.

In most cases these tests along with the background information collected at the initial consultation will be enough for the chiropractor to make a diagnosis.

However in some cases you may also be sent for X-rays so they can see your whole bone structure and look for any problems or abnormalities more clearly.​

Diagnosis & Treatment Plan

Once your chiropractor has made a diagnosis of what is causing your pain they will be able to tell if you would benefit from chiropractic treatment or not.

Now if they have detected a serious issue such as a fracture, infection, tumour or neurological issue then you'll be referred to the relevant doctor or medical professional.

But most of the time the pain will either be non-specific or due to nerve problems and these can be treated with chiropractic adjustments.​

When your problem is eligible for chiropractic treatment the chiropractor will work out a treatment plan based on your health, age, goals and the extent of your injury.

This plan will include adjustments and manipulations as well things to work on yourself such as ​stretching and strengthening exercises, how to improve your posture and nutritional advice.

They will also tell you how many chiropractic treatments you would need and what kind of treatments these are.

Once you are armed with all this information it is then up to you whether you want to start right away or go home and think it through first.

And if you do decide to go ahead with the treatment then it's time to get cracking in more ways than one!​

Adjustments

Once a chiropractor has diagnosed a misalignment of your spinal joints they will attempt a chiropractic adjustment.

As by adjusting and realigning your ​vertebrae they hope to:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Increase your range of motion.
  • Reduce irritation on your nerves.
  • Improve your overall health and well-being.

These manipulations and adjustments of the spine are done using controlled force and leverage.

The chiropractor will place your body into a certain position then use their own hands and body to pop you back into place.

This is done using high velocity thrusts that cause your joints to audibly pop and crack as pockets of gas are released.

These cracking noises and sensations can feel extremely satisfying and bring you a feeling of instant relief.​

And you should hopefully feel the improvements from the adjustments almost immediately.

​Your chiropractor may also give you a spinal massage to soften the tissues along your spine, which will improve circulation and help to release tight muscle knots.

To get an idea of what this looks like in action take a look at the video below:​

Is Going To See A Chiropractor Good For Your Back Pain?

So now you know what to expect from a visit to the chiropractor I guess you want to know if it works or not right?

And this is a difficult one to answer as there are two opposing camps in this debate.

​Firstly there are the people who have had chiropractic treatment, achieved great results and consequently swear by it.

These are people that had been suffering from back pain but after a couple of spinal adjustments felt the pain disappear.

Which is great.

However the problem with recommending chiropractic treatment based solely of the good experiences (and there plenty) of people with back pain is that the science doesn't back it up. ​

And this is where you find the second group of people which consist of the scientists and mainstream medical professionals.

Because until now there has been no conclusive evidence that chiropractic treatment makes a significant improvement to people's back pain.

Now in theory chiropractic treatment makes a certain amount of sense.

Because there's no doubt that the spinal nerves do affect the tissues and muscles surrounding them and that this can cause you back pain when they are irritated.

However it's not clear that manipulating ​your spinal vertebrae will help to stop this.

In fact the majority of studies that have been done on this subject ​seem to come to the conclusion that chiropractic treatment is no better than other types of back pain treatments.

For instance one study found that taking ibuprofen and exercising was just as effective for relieving back pain as getting a chiropractic adjustment.​

So why do some people find it a great help?

Maybe it is a placebo effect where they expect to get better after treatment and this helps their recovery.

Also the joint cracking and popping may make them believe they are being 'fixed' and this has the same positive mental effect.

Or they may ​have the kind of back pain that would've cleared up on it's own anyway even without the chiropractic treatment.

​Of course there is also the chance that chiropractic spinal manipulation really does help back pain but that it just hasn't been scientifically proven yet.

But the takeaway here I think is that it can help some people to relieve their back pain.​

So weigh it up and if it sounds like the kind of treatment that would appeal to you then give it a try and see how you go.​

Other Potential Benefits Of Chiropractic Treatment

​As well as fixing your back pain you could also be onto a winner in other ways if chiropractic treatment works well for you.

Because the chiropractic profession claim that you can cure almost any form of ill-health by manipulating and realigning the musculoskeletal system.

And in particular these health benefits include:​

  • Getting rid of headaches and migraines.
  • Reducing arthritis and joint pain.
  • Easing asthma.
  • Lowering your blood pressure.
  • Getting rid of ear infections.
  • Keeping your bowels regular.
  • Lowering anxiety levels.
  • Helping you to sleep better.
  • Keeping your organs functioning healthily.
  • Strengthening your immune system.

But as with chiropractic treatment for back pain the scientific evidence behind these are a bit sketchy at best, so you need to use your own judgement.

However if you suffer from any of them then it may be worth giving chiropractic treatment a try.

Is Chiropractic Treatment Dangerous?

Is chiropractic treatment dangerous?

Be very wary of getting a chiropractic adjustment to your neck.

​The chiropractic industry claim that chiropractic treatment is a safe form of therapy as it is non-invasive and doesn't carry the side effects or dangers you get from using medication.

And that it can also fix certain problems without the need for surgery.​

Which are great potential plus points.​

And in the hands of a good chiropractor spinal manipulation of the back should be a very low risk treatment.

Now there is a chance that a direct injury could be caused if the chiropractor is too aggressive in the manipulation or hasn't spotted a vulnerability that exists in the vertebrae during the initial diagnosis.

However this type of injury would be extremely rare and would likely lead to a minor strain rather than anything serious.

But beware because one thing that can lead to serious ​injury is chiropractic manipulation to the neck and cervical spine. 

​This is because the neck is a far more vulnerable structure and it can be hard to diagnose problems in it before treatment.

And while serious injuries from manipulating the neck are still low risk they can occur.

These include:​

  • Brain stem injuries.
  • Paralysis.
  • Torn blood vessels and arteries.
  • Strokes.

​Very bad news and not worth taking the chance for.

Less serious side effects also occur and are much more common.

For instance in one study of 280 people who underwent manipulation of the neck 85 of them suffered an adverse reaction with increased neck pain and stiffness being the most common complaint.​

And manipulating the neck can also lead to:​

  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vomiting.

So while getting chiropractic manipulation on your back should be fine for most people I wouldn't be rushing out to use it for treating neck pain.

Other Problems That Can Come From Chiropractic Treatment

Don't let chiropractic treatment make you believe your spine is fragile. It's not.

Now while some people swear by chiropractic treatment and love the satisfying cracking and popping of their vertebrae it's not for everyone.

In fact for some it can turn out to be a traumatic experience.

And this one bad experience with the chiropractor can cause them difficulties dealing with their back pain in the future.

​The problems that arise here are psychological but they can be extremely powerful and long-lasting.

​For instance the cracking and popping sensation can make people feel that their spine is far more fragile and delicate than it actually is.

And this can be bad in a couple of ways.

Firstly it can make them falsely believe they aren't capable of​ doing certain things.

This will make them less active and reluctant to try new things and experiences.

And not only will being less active make their back pain worse​ this reluctance to try new things will limit their life experiences and potential happiness.

Secondly it can give them a negative attitude where they are convinced that their back pain will inevitably and consistently get worse.

And this doom and gloom outlook may mean they neglect to take the proper care of themselves and their back will suffer as a result.​

So if you're wary of visiting the chiropractor and feel a bit squeamish at the thought of all the cracking and popping of joints then it may not be the treatment for you.

Though the good news is there are still a ton of different ways to manage and reduce your back pain if that is the case.​

How To Find A Good Chiropractor

Find a chiropractor

Do people still use phone books?

​Photo credit: Jamie

As with many of the alternative therapies the quality of the treatment you get can vary widely depending on the skill and experience of your therapist.

So if you want to try chiropractic treatment then you need to make sure you​ are using a good chiropractor.

One way to do this is to ask your doctor for a recommendation.

They can then refer you to a chiropractor that you can trust to do a good job.

Also ask your friends too and see if any of them have had good experiences of using certain chiropractors in the past.

​If these two avenues come up short you can try searching online.

There are a couple of places to look but a good place to start is the American Chiropractic Association website.

Here you can search for chiropractors in your area that specialise in the chiropractic treatment you are looking for.

And you can also check their background and education to make sure they know their onions.

You can find the page to do this by clicking here.​

​Also check out online reviews of the chiropractic places you choose to confirm they are a good choice.

By doing your research you can give yourself the best chance of having a safe and effective treatment.

Rounding Up

So I hope you now have a better understanding of what chiropractic treatment consists of after reading through this article.

​By manipulating the spine and adjusting any structural problems chiropractors claim they can improve your health as this will calm your nervous system.

And for some people this can be a great help for relieving their back pain.​

However chiropractic treatment remains a controversial topic due to the lack of scientific evidence supporting it.​

So do your research and make your own choice as to whether to give it a try or not.​

If it works then great but if not don't despair as there are so many other treatments and options you can try that will also bring you relief from back pain.​

Resources used in researching this article:

​https://www.painscience.com/articles/spinal-manipulation.php

​https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/what-expect-first-chiropractic-consultation

https://draxe.com/10-researched-benefits-chiropractic-adjustments/​

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Daniel

A 30-something painter and decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. Looking to explore the physical, psychological and emotional effects of living with chronic low back pain.

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