Chiropractic is a non-surgical treatment option for some acute back and neck pain problems.
One of the best aspects of chiropractic is that chiropractic doctors cannot legally prescribe drugs for back pain or neck pain problems. Too many times, well-intentioned primary care MD physicians can prescribe too many muscle relaxers, pain killers and narcotics that can create a bigger and more serious drug dependency problem than the original back or neck problem.
The other positive aspect of chiropractic is the chiropractors can’t do surgery or other invasive tests like spinal injections which may have associated risks. Some experts believe, for example, that half of spine surgeries are unnecessary in the United States when compared to other countries. That’s because Americans tend to look for a magic pill or quick surgery to fix health problems that may be linked to self-destructive behavior like obesity and its effect on the back and spinal discs.
With that said, some spine surgeons and spinal injection specialists may complain that some chiropractors hang onto patients too long. For instance, if the person has numbness in a leg or arm from a herniated disc in the back or neck, that means a nerve root is being impinged upon by the disc, and that surgery or injections may be needed quickly. If the surgery or injections are not done promptly to relieve pressure on the nerve root, the numbness in the hand or foot may be permanent and lifelong. Consequently, the person with back or neck pain should be aware that numbness in a hand or foot, or loss of control of bowel or bladder, are the real emergency signals to see a spine surgeon. Also, any back problem resulting from trauma, like a car accident or fall, needs a dianostic x-ray to make sure a vertebrae is not fractured. Manipulation of a fractured vertebrae could cause serious complications.
During treatment at a chiropractor office, the patient will undergo spinal manipulation where the back or neck is rotated, sometimes with a rapid or forceful movement. Advocates of chiropractic therapy will report immediate relief from pain or discomfort.
Chiropractors may use a variety of treatment approaches, including adjustments to the spine or other parts of the body with the goal of correcting alignment problems. They believe correcting alignment in the spine will improve function, help alleviate pain, and help your body and nervous system heal itself naturally without drugs or surgery. A chiropractic adjustment is the application of a precise force to a specific part of the body segment to correct any misalignment.
While a spine therapist may use similar movements, they are called “low velocity, low amplitude” movements, meaning the speed of the movement is slow and over a smaller range of movement. Chiropractic, conversely, involves “high velocity, high amplitude” manipulation, meaning fast movement over a wider range of movement.
While there may be disagreement among MDs about HOW chiropractic works, there is no doubt that it provides relief to symptoms for many people with acute back or neck pain. Detractors may argue that the treatment is palliative in nature in that it feels good but doesn’t cure anything permanently.
A more permanent change involves changing the musculature of the back. Therapists use exercise and custom stretches to achieve a more lasting result by making the back stronger, more flexible and resistant to a future strain or back pain or neck pain attack.
In that respect, many modern chiropractors use exercise equipment in their clinics and some employ or partner with spine therapists, exercise physiologists and athletic trainers. In that way, they provide multi-disciplinary care and the best of manipulation and therapeutic exercise to their patients.
Other modern chiropractors can have close synergistic relationships with spine centers, spine surgeons and spinal injectionists so patients can be referred promptly when they have disc herniations that don’t respond to chiropractic treatment.