Your back is a complex structure. It's made of small bones that are connected by ligaments, cushiony discs, joints and muscles. With all those moving parts, it's no wonder things can go wrong. Most people will get back pain at some point in their lives.
Fortunately, many types of treatments for low back pain don't require surgery or medication. One of them is spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is generally delivered through chiropractic care.
Chiropractic health care studies the relationship between how the body is built and how it functions. A chiropractor is a doctor specially trained in making adjustments to the alignment of your spine, joints and other parts of your body to treat pain or improve function.
Treatment usually involves the doctor using his or her hands to apply controlled force to a joint that has become injured, inflamed or restricted in movement. The manipulation, or realignment, of your spine is done to help relieve pain, improve function, and to support the body's healing.
Spinal manipulation is as effective as other types of therapy including medication and exercise. It is appropriate for patients with common low back pain who benefited from manipulation in the past, who prefer this type of treatment, or whose symptoms have lasted at an unacceptable level for more than 10 days. Modest side effects can occur, such as headache, fatigue or discomfort where the adjustment was performed. It's very rare that a more serious complication is reported. It may not be right for all people, including those with health conditions.
The doctor will typically take a health history and do a physical exam. X-rays may be taken to help guide treatment. In addition to manipulating the spine, the doctor may add or suggest other treatments:
- Ice and heat
- Electrical stimulation
- Relaxation methods
- Exercise (rehab and general)
- Counseling on diet or other lifestyle factors such as weight loss if you're overweight
- Dietary supplements
Research continues to look at how spinal manipulation may help with low back pain.
If you're considering chiropractic care for back pain, check your insurance plan to see what types of treatment are covered. Make sure the chiropractor knows about any medical condition you have and medicines or dietary supplements you take. And let your primary care doctor know about your full range of treatment, including any complementary medicine approaches. This will help ensure that you get coordinated care.
Created on 12/15/2009
Updated on 10/08/2014
- UpToDate. Spinal manipulation in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Spinal manipulation for low-back pain.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.
- American Chiropractic Association. What is chiropractic?