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Using Chiropractors For Back Pain - Are They All They're Cracked Up To Be?

Visiting a chiropractor to get relief from back pain is a popular treatment option among many Americans but is it effective? Find out here.

chiropractors for back pain

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

Which is a huge number and would suggest that 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 don't always get the respect they feel they deserve from their fellow healthcare professionals. 

With some people thinking of them as spin doctors and shysters. 

So who is right? 

It's a hard one to call.​

As on the one hand if people find that chiropractic treatment helps to relieve their back pain, then it's 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 should you really try it?

Maybe it's just a treatment option that you will have to decide 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 alongside the benefits and dangers of this form of treatment.

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

But if you do always remember to consult with your doctor first before trying any new form of treatment.

What Do Chiropractors Do?

what do chiropractors do?

The chiropractic treatment method is an alternative therapy that works on the idea that your 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, relieve pain, and help your 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?

The Initial Consultation

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

And this begins with the initial consultation.

As 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 began, and your habits, activities, and diet.

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

So this is the perfect time to answer ask questions and resolve any lingering doubts you may have to make yourself feel more comfortable.

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

And once this initial consultation is complete you'll be given a physical exam.

The 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.

And 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 the results of 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 bone structure and look for any problems or abnormalities more clearly.

The 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 problem then you'll be referred to the relevant doctor or medical professional instead.

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

So your chiropractor will work out a treatment plan based on your health, age, goals, and the extent of your injury.

And this plan will include adjustments and manipulations as well as things you need to work on yourself, such as stretching and strengthening exercises, improving your posture, and nutritional advice.

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

And once you are armed with all this information it's then up to you to decide whether you want to start right away or go home and think it through first.

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

The 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.

As the chiropractor places your body into certain positions, then uses their own hands and body weight to pop you back into place.

This is done using high velocity thrusts that can 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.

So to get an idea of what this looks like in action take a look at the video above.

Is Visiting 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 from it, 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 on the good experiences (and there plenty) of people with back pain is that the science doesn't back it up as yet. 

And this is where you find the second group of people which consists of scientists and 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 so many people find it a great help?

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

And 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, even if there is no solid evidence.

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.

Further 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 all these claims are a bit sketchy at best.

So you need to use your own judgement.

However, if you suffer from any of them alongside your back pain then it may be another good reason to give 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's non-invasive and doesn't carry the side effects or dangers you can get from taking pain 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.

But 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 is extremely rare and would likely lead to a minor strain rather than anything more serious.

But there is one thing you should be wary of that can lead to serious injury and that 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 risk 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 feelings of nausea, dizziness, and 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 Risks Of Seeing A Chiropractor

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

Now while some people swear by chiropractic treatment, the cracking and popping sound of their vertebrae isn't 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 in dealing with their back pain in the future.

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

For instance, the cracking and popping sensation and sound 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, which 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.

It can also 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 right 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

how to find a chiropractor

Do people still use phone books?

Photo credit: Jamie

As with many 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.

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

Also ask your friends to 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.

And a good place to start is the American Chiropractic Association website.

As 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.

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

As by doing your research you can give yourself the best chance of having a safe and effective treatment for your back.

Rounding Up

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

As 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 or not to give it a try.

And if it works for you then great.

But if not don't despair as there are so many other treatment options you can try that can 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

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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