What is Chiropractic?
Chiropractic involves hands-on manipulations of the spinal column and other parts of the body. Chiropractic is based on the theory that disease originates from disruptions of the nervous system, and misalignment of the vertebrae (subluxations) interrupts the nervous system.
Most people who go to a chiropractor are seeking back pain relief. Though chiropractic can help to relieve back pain, help restore mobility, and treat neuromusculoskeletal disorders, there is much controversy over chiropractic treatment in general and the 'subluxation theory'.
There presently isn't any scientific proof that supports the subluxation theory. However, there is substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of spinal manipulation for relief of certain types of back pain.
The Subluxation Theory
Chiropractic is based on the theory that if the spinal column is properly aligned, nerve impulses can freely flow along the spinal cord. If the spinal column is out of alignment (a subluxation) the flow of nerve impulses is interrupted and disease (not just back pain) result. This is called the subluxation theory. According to the subluxation theory, disorders in any area of the body can result from subluxations in the spine as the nervous system carries messages to all areas of the body. Restoring the vertebrae to proper alignment restores proper functioning of the nervous system, helping the body to heal itself.
There is presently a lack of scientific evidence that chiropractic can cure disease or restore health in general or that minor misalignments in the spine affect the spinal nerves and interrupt the nervous system. Some doctors say that for spinal nerves that exit the spine to be obstructed, the spine would have to be so out of alignment that the person would be disabled. There is evidence, however, that chiropractic treatment is an effective treatment for neuromusculoskeletal disorders.
Chiropractors that subscribe to the subluxation theory use spinal manipulation to treat a variety of conditions such as allergies, asthma, digestive problems, etc. The subluxation theory is a controversial subject between chiropractors and medical doctors and even between chiropractors themselves.
Chiropractic subluxation and orthopedic subluxation are not the same. From chiropractic perspective, subluxation or vertebral subluxation describes a very slight misalignment of one or more vertebrae. A chiropractic subluxation is usually so minor it is difficult, if not impossible to identify on an x-ray.
An orthopedic subluxation is a partial dislocation of a bone in a joint causing pain and limiting range of motion.
Chiropractic Treatment for Back Pain Relief
There is evidence that chiropractic relieves many types of back pain, lower back pain in particular, and helps restore normal range of motion. Spinal manipulations may take stress off surrounding tissues - muscles, tendons, and ligaments - to relieve back pain and restore normal functioning. Some chiropractors follow scientific guidelines and only do manipulations for people with neuromusculoskeletal problems. These chiropractors often work with doctors in treating back pain.
What does a chiropractor do to relieve back pain?
Chiropractors correct subluxation by manipulation of the vertebrae (and sometimes other areas of the body). Chiropractors call this an adjustment. Spinal adjustments are usually done manually, the chiropractor using his or her hands to apply pressure to the spine to coax the vertebrae into proper alignment. Some use high velocity thrusts. Chiropractors usually massage and stretch muscles before doing an adjustment. Some apply spinal traction. This allows the vertebrae to be more easily manipulated.
Some chiropractors offer physical therapy as well as spinal manipulation. A chiropractor may also give advice on ergonomics, exercise, and proper body mechanics to prevent back pain. Chiropractors often give their patients stretching and strengthening exercises to do, as lengthening and strengthening various muscle groups help keep the spine in proper alignment.
Chiropractic Treatment and Massage Therapy go hand in hand for back pain relief.
Chiropractors often work with massage therapists in treating back pain. Tight, tense muscles can pull the vertebrae out of alignment. Once the chiropractor has made an adjustment to the spine, stretching the muscles can help keep the adjustment in place. It is also difficult for the chiropractor to perform an adjustment on a person who has tense back muscles. A multi-treatment approach to relieving back pain has often has the best success rate.
Before seeking chiropractic treatment, a diagnosis of the cause of your back pain should be made.
Chiropractic treatment may be unsafe when certain conditions exist (such as advanced osteoarthritis of the spine). Proper diagnosis can help determine whether chiropractic would be beneficial as a part of treatment for back pain. Though exercise may have as much long-term effect on back pain relief as chiropractic, chiropractic often provides more immediate relief. It appears to be most helpful in the first month after of the onset of back pain.
Not all physicians recommend chiropractic treatment, though chiropractic treatment has been gaining wider acceptance among physicians as a valid treatment for musculoskeletal disorders in recent years.
It is best to have a chiropractor and a doctor who will work together to treat back pain. Most physicians have referred patients with back pain for chiropractic treatment (though it is not necessary to have a referral from an MD to see a chiropractor. Patients may consult chiropractors directly). Likewise, many chiropractors have referred patients to MDs.
*Many chiropractors use high velocity thrusts (manipulations) that do pose a small risk of injury. Manipulation of the neck or head using rapid rotational movements poses a very small (one to two in a million) but serious risk of stroke. People getting chiropractic treatment for lower back pain can ask that their necks not be manipulated.
*The popping noise heard during a spinal adjustment is caused by pockets of gas escaping from the spinal joints and is not evidence that the vertebrae were out of alignment.
Chiropractic treatment, alone or in conjunction with other therapies, has been shown to effectively relieve back pain and help restore normal range of motion. As with any treatment, results vary from person to person.