Signs You Should See a Chiropractor

Every year, millions of people in the U.S. see chiropractors for relief of an array of ailments.

“Chiropractors utilize treatments, including joint manipulation, physical therapy modalities, patient education, manual therapy, nutrition and rehabilitation exercises to address each patient’s unique situation,” says Brandon Steele, a chiropractor based in Swansea, Illinois. Is seeing a chiropractor right for you?

Here are four reason you should see a chiropractor:

— Low back pain.

Neck pain.

— Headaches.

— Muscle and joint pain and stiffness.

1. Low back pain. Chiropractors have a lot of experience treating back pain, particularly low back pain, says William J. Lauretti, a spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association. Lauretti, a chiropractor, is also a professor in the Department of Chiropractic Clinical Sciences at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, New York. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose the specific cause of back pain and are trained in effective therapies, which can include prescriptions for exercise and ergonomic advice. Chiropractors are dedicated to using conservative, non-surgical and medication-free therapies. This is particularly important because some physicians prescribe potentially-addictive opioids for back pain.

2. Neck pain. “Whether your sore neck is from a whiplash injury or just sitting at your desk too much, chiropractic can offer a safe and effective variety of treatments,” Lauretti says.

Chiropractic treatments for neck pain can include:

— Gentle spinal manipulation.

Stretching exercises.

— Lifestyle advice.

[See: Questions to Ask a Pain Management Doctor.]

3. Headaches. Many types of headaches are associated with chronic neck stiffness and muscle tightness, Lauretti says. Chiropractors offer effective, drug-free treatment options, including gentle neck manipulations.

4. Muscle and joint pain and stiffness. Although chiropractors are widely viewed as spine experts, most practitioners are are also able to effectively treat nerve, muscle and joint pain throughout the body, Lauretti says. Chiropractors can treat carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, tennis elbow and hip, knee or ankle pain.

Overall, 62% of adults in the U.S. have had neck or back pain significant enough that they sought treatment from a health care professional at some point in their lifetime, according to the 2018 Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic Annual Report. Among patients who sought health care for neck or back pain, 63% saw a medical doctor and 53% sought treatment from a chiropractor, the survey found.

The estimated number of people who seek chiropractic care is in the tens of millions. A previous Gallup survey conducted on behalf of the Palmer College of Chiropractic, based in Davenport, Iowa, found that more than 62 million people have seen a chiropractor since 2011.

The number of adults in the U.S. who seek chiropractic care has remained stable since 2007, according to the National Health Interview Survey, which was released by the federal government in September 2017.

Chiropractors tout their treatment as the least invasive and safest therapy for many ailments. But chiropractic treatment is not without risk.

Here’s a closer look at some of the advantages of chiropractic treatment, what some doctors say are potential downsides and suggestions for how to obtain the best care.

[See: 11 Ways to Cope With Back Pain.]

What Chiropractors Do

Chiropractors treat people by aligning their spine with a variety of manipulations.

During the first visit, chiropractors typically perform a physical exam and take a health history, paying special attention to the spine and whether the patient has normal bone density.

People with lower levels of bone density, such as patients with osteoporosis, would receive gentler treatments. The chiropractor typically uses his or her hands to apply controlled, rapid force to a damaged or injured joint, to allow the joint to move in a normal manner and reduce pain and inflammation, says Ray Tuck, a chiropractor in Blacksburg, Virginia, and a past chairman of the board of the American Chiropractic Association. Tuck is president and chief executive officer of Tuck Chiropractic Clinic. Last July, the Unified Virginia Chiropractic Association announced that Tuck had been elected president of the Virginia Board of Medicine.

One common maneuver is the high-velocity cervical adjustment, in which the patient relaxes his or her head in the hands of the chiropractor, who quickly thrusts the head in one direction — sometimes creating a cracking sound. Chiropractors can also conduct gentler, low-velocity cervical adjustments.

Chiropractors also treat some patients for headaches that are caused by nerve irritation that refers pain to the head, Tuck says. Treatment can alleviate these headaches by reducing nerve irritation.

Benefits

Some research suggests that chiropractic care can be beneficial.

In a study published in Spine Journal in 2008, researchers evaluated the chiropractic treatment experiences of 192 people with back-related pain or sciatica, a condition in which a pinched nerve in the lower spine causes leg pain. The treatment they received for pain was rated worthwhile by 87% of the participants.

Another study published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 evaluated 183 patients with neck pain who were randomly assigned to receive treatment that involved either spinal manipulations, physiotherapy (mainly exercise) or care from a general practitioner, which involved primarily counseling, education and prescription drugs. The people in the study kept cost diaries for one year. The study found that spinal manipulations were more effective and less costly than physiotherapy or care by a general practitioner.

Risks

Chiropractors tout their treatment as the least invasive and safest therapy for many ailments. But chiropractic treatment is not without risk.

A 2010 study published in Medscape reviewed more than two dozen published deaths after chiropractic treatments, noting that other deaths may have been unreported. The study said that a separate 1997 review of complications after neck manipulations included 177 cases in which the patient was injured. In 32 instances, the injury was fatal. The vast majority of these cases were associated with chiropractic treatment, the study concluded.

It’s important for consumers to keep in mind that such deaths are rare, given that millions of people undergo chiropractic care annually, says Keith Overland, a past president of the ACA and a chiropractor in Norwalk, Connecticut. “It’s important for the consumer to compare risks of all potential treatments and consider which are the safest and most effective,” he says. “Chiropractic is among the most conservative treatments for many musculoskeletal conditions. It’s been shown to have among the lowest rates of adverse effects and risks compared to other treatments.”

A high-profile death associated with chiropractic care occurred in October 2016. That month, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office ruled that the mysterious death of Playboy model Katie May was attributable to a stroke caused by an artery that was ruptured during a chiropractic treatment, specifically, a neck manipulation. May, 34, died in February of that year after she went to a chiropractor for treatment following a fall.

In 2014 the American Heart Association released a scientific statement saying getting your neck adjusted by a chiropractor or osteopathic doctor may be linked to an increased risk of stroke.

While chiropractors say the risks of injury from chiropractic care are exceedingly low, even low risks are unacceptable, some physicians say, adding that they would advise patients to stay away from high-velocity neck manipulations.

“Like any other medical specialists, all chiropractors are not created equal,” says Dr. Vernon Williams, a sports neurologist director and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “I have worked with very good chiropractors who’ve done great work with my patients. I generally avoid forced manipulations of the neck, as there is risk of injury to blood vessels.”

[SEE: Chiropractic Care During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?]

Williams says he prefers chiropractic manipulations be combined with active strengthening and stabilization exercises when appropriate. “Finally, if there are significant neurological signs or symptoms or structural abnormalities on imaging, I recommend medical evaluation and management,” Williams says.

More from U.S. News

Different Types of Pain, Explained

Questions to Ask a Pain Management Doctor

Questions to Ask Your Doctor for Nerve Pain

Signs You Should See a Chiropractor originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 08/24/20: This article was previously published and has been updated with new information.

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up