One of the most common physical treatments for back pain is chiropractic therapy, which is the manipulation of the spine. The purpose is to realign the spine, increase the range of motion in the muscles of the back, increase the flexibility of spinal soft tissue, break down scar tissue, and reduce pressure that occurs from restricted and misaligned spinal joints, all of which help to relieve pain.
Chiropractic therapists, which include not only chiropractors, but also osteopaths and some physical therapists, diagnose and treat only problems with the muscles, nerves, and skeletal system and do not use drugs or surgery. Going to a chiropractor is much like going to a regular doctor: you will be asked for a case history involving your symptoms, have a physical exam, and possibly have x-rays taken.
Chiropractors undergo intense medical training. They must have two years of undergraduate work, and when they enter chiropractic college, they study the same topics doctors do, including anatomy, physiology, x-ray, psychology, and orthopedics. After getting the basics down, chiropractors then study diagnosis and adjustment techniques that most other doctors do not.
Besides their coursework, chiropractors also have intern and externships, where they observe and assist licensed chiropractors. All in all, chiropractors spend about 900 hours studying and working in their field. After graduation, chiropractors must either take a test to be licensed in the state in which they want to practice or the National Board of Chiropractic Examination.
Osteopaths are medical doctors and can prescribe medications. They must have an undergraduate degree and take the Medical College Admissions Test before being admitted to osteopathic medical school. Like other doctors, osteopaths take four years of coursework and spend time observing in medical settings. They do internships and sometimes residencies, and must take exams in order to be licensed.
Studies have shown that chiropractic manipulation is effective in treating lower back pain. However, it has not been shown to be any more effective than any other method of treatment, but has been shown to be better than no treatment at all. Chiropractic treatment is most effective when applied within two months of the onset of lower back pain, but probably will not help people who have disc prolapsed, previous back surgery, or back pain due to disease. If you decide to consult a chiropractor, make sure you tell him about any serious back injuries you have had, and any sharp pain or lower back pain with leg pain or numbness. These could be the signs of serious conditions that could be worsened by spinal manipulations.
If you are interested in chiropractic treatment, meet with the chiropractor in person to get a feel for the kind of treatment he offers, and look for someone who diagnoses with a physical exam. While x-rays are occasionally taken, they should not be the only diagnostic tool used. Ask about what kind of manipulations the doctor or therapist generally does and look for someone who uses primarily slow, gentle motions rather than sharp and sudden jolts. Avoid anyone who wants to crack your neck, as this can be very dangerous.
When you go for treatment, you will lie on your side or stomach while the therapist does various manipulations. He may put one hand on your shoulder and one on your hip and gently twist your body, or he may put pressure on the spinal joints. When this is done, you may or may not hear a crack. Chiropractors may also use ultrasound, therapeutic massage, stretching, and muscle stimulation to help relieve back pain. You may have some soreness for a day or two after treatment.
Studies have shown that you should feel relief from pain in four to eight sessions. While some chiropractors may suggest a longer course of treatment, there is no evidence that it will be more effective. If you dont feel better in four to eight sessions, chiropractic treatment probably wont help you.
There are few risks involved with gentle manipulations, but there are some serious ones that can occur in certain situations. People with osteoarthritis should avoid twisting manipulations as this can cause bone spurs to damage the spinal cord and nerves. Although it is rare, there have been cases where forceful neck manipulations have resulted in neurological damage and death. Its best to avoid spinal manipulations if you have osteoporosis or nerve damage. Check with your doctor if youve had spinal surgery, or back pain along with fever, chills, sweats, or unintentional weight loss. Chiropractic therapy wont help you if you have back pain due to infection or tumor. And finally, rapid neck manipulations can lead to strokes. You can avoid risks by giving your therapist a thorough account of all injuries and illness youve had.
A good chiropractor is one who is willing to work with your other medial professionals. She should also give you self-care information and exercises to do at home. Avoid anyone who wants you to continue sessions to prevent future back pain; studies do not show this to be effective.