Treat Lower Back Pain With Chiropractic Care
Lower back pain can be treated by chiropractic care. Studies have shown that spinal manipulation can be successful in relieving lower back pain. A study of 750 individuals aged 18 to 50 found that chiropractic treatment is effective in reducing lower back pain and providing better overall satisfaction.
One of the common chiropractic treatments for lower back pain is spinal manipulation, also known as spinal adjustment. Spinal manipulation is a high velocity thrust that is applied to subluxations or misalignments in the spine. This method improves function, reduces pressure on the nerves, and restores range of motion.
Another chiropractic treatment technique is mobilization, which is a low velocity manipulation that moves and stretches muscles and joints. This technique works to increase range of motion.
Choosing chiropractic care for lower back pain as an alternative option to common treatments such as ibuprofen or when it comes to severe pain, opioids, can be a wise given the history of cases where one develops drug dependency issues.
- Spinal manipulation is one of several options—including exercise, massage, and physical therapy—that can provide mild-to-moderate relief from low-back pain. Spinal manipulation appears to work as well as conventional treatments such as applying heat, using a firm mattress, and taking pain-relieving medications.
- Spinal manipulation appears to be a generally safe treatment for low-back pain when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner. The most common side effects (e.g., discomfort in the treated area) are minor and go away within 1 to 2 days. Serious complications are very rare.
- Cauda equina syndrome (CES), a significant narrowing of the lower part of the spinal canal in which nerves become pinched and may cause pain, weakness, loss of feeling in one or both legs, and bowel or bladder problems, may be an extremely rare complication of spinal manipulation. However, it is unclear if there is actually an association between spinal manipulation and CES.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
About Low-Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common health complaints, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. The lower back is the area most often affected. For many people, back pain goes away on its own after a few days or weeks. But for others, the pain becomes chronic and lasts for months or years. Low-back pain can be debilitating, and it is a challenging condition to diagnose, treat, and study. The total annual costs of low-back pain in the United States—including lost wages and reduced productivity—are more than $100 billion.
About Spinal Manipulation
Spinal manipulation—sometimes called “spinal manipulative therapy”—is practiced by health care professionals such as chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, and some medical doctors. Practitioners perform spinal manipulation by using their hands or a device to apply a controlled force to a joint of the spine. The amount of force applied depends on the form of manipulation used. The goal of the treatment is to relieve pain and improve physical functioning.
Side Effects and Risks
Reviews have concluded that spinal manipulation for low-back pain is relatively safe when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner. The most common side effects are generally minor and include feeling tired or temporary soreness.
Reports indicate that cauda equina syndrome (CES), a significant narrowing of the lower part of the spinal canal in which nerves become pinched and may cause pain, weakness, loss of feeling in one or both legs, and bowel or bladder problems, may be an extremely rare complication of spinal manipulation. However, it is unclear if there is actually an association between spinal manipulation and CES, since CES usually occurs without spinal manipulation. In people whose pain is caused by a herniated disc, manipulation of the low back appears to have a very low chance of worsening the herniation.
For risks associated with spinal manipulation affecting the upper (cervical) spine, see the NCCIH fact sheet Chiropractic: An Introduction.
What the Science Says About Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain
Overall, studies have shown that spinal manipulation is one of several options—including exercise, massage, and physical therapy—that can provide mild-to-moderate relief from low-back pain. Spinal manipulation also appears to work as well as conventional treatments such as applying heat, using a firm mattress, and taking pain-relieving medications.
In 2007 guidelines, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society included spinal manipulation as one of several treatment options for practitioners to consider when low-back pain does not improve with self-care. More recently, a 2010 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) report noted that complementary health therapies, including spinal manipulation, offer additional options to conventional treatments, which often have limited benefit in managing back and neck pain. The AHRQ analysis also found that spinal manipulation was more effective than placebo and as effective as medication in reducing low-back pain intensity. However, the researchers noted inconsistent results when they compared spinal manipulation with massage or physical therapy to reduce low-back pain intensity or disability.
Researchers continue to study spinal manipulation for low-back pain.
- A 2011 review of 26 clinical trials looked at the effectiveness of different treatments, including spinal manipulation, for chronic low-back pain. The authors concluded that spinal manipulation is as effective as other interventions for reducing pain and improving function.
- A 2010 review that looked at various manual therapies, such as spinal manipulation and massage, for a range of conditions found strong evidence that spinal manipulation is effective for chronic low-back pain and moderate evidence of its effectiveness for acute low-back pain.
- A 2009 analysis looked at the evidence from 76 trials that studied the effects of several conventional and complementary health practices for low-back pain. The researchers found that the pain-relieving effects of many treatments, including spinal manipulation, were small and were similar in people with acute or chronic pain.
- A 2008 review that focused on spinal manipulation for chronic low-back pain found strong evidence that spinal manipulation works as well as a combination of medical care and exercise instruction, moderate evidence that spinal manipulation combined with strengthening exercises works as well as prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs combined with exercises, and limited-to-moderate evidence that spinal manipulation works better than physical therapy and home exercise.
Researchers are investigating whether the effects of spinal manipulation depend on the length and frequency of treatment. In one study funded by NCCIH that examined long-term effects in more than 600 people with low-back pain, results suggested that chiropractic care involving spinal manipulation was at least as effective as conventional medical care for up to 18 months. However, less than 20 percent of participants in this study were pain free at 18 months, regardless of the type of treatment used.
Researchers are also exploring how spinal manipulation affects the body. In an NCCIH-funded study of a small group of people with low-back pain, spinal manipulation affected pain perception in specific ways that other therapies (stationary bicycle and low-back extension exercises) did not.