Beyond the back: 6 other health problems treated by chiropractors

Beyond the back: 6 other health problems treated by chiropractors
Chiropractor and patient

Chiropractor and patient

Before you see the chiropractor

Education is key to finding an alternative health care provider. Don’t commit to chiropractic care, unless you know you’re in good hands:

Chiropractors receive four to five years of training beyond undergraduate schooling where they learn a wide range of treatments. Depending on an individual practitioner’s preferences and state licensure restrictions, they may advise on lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise; use electrical stimulation to treat nerve pain; dispense supplements; and offer other alternative treatments.

Still, manual therapies — such as manipulating the spine or other joints to decrease discomfort and improve function — remain at the core of most chiropractic practices. “The primary service we offer is spinal adjusting,” says chiropractor Wayne Prickett at highly rated Saleeby Chiropractic Centre in Raleigh, N.C. Research on manual therapies show the most proven results involve treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, such as low back pain.

But debate continues about the extent to which chiropractic adjustment is effective to treat a range of health conditions. Some studies show promise in areas beyond the back, while others undercut claims on the health benefits.

Follow this key

     Evidence shows manual therapies, which include adjustment done by chiropractors, may help.

     Some evidence indicates manual therapies may help but other research conflicts with this.

     Manual therapies do not appear to be helpful based on limited evidence.

     Joint problems

Haas says research shows chiropractic adjustment may help patients with a range of joint problems from shoulder pain to tennis elbow, a painful condition caused by overuse, to relieving discomfort from osteoarthritis in the hip or knee, that occurs when cartilege wears down.

Partap Khalsa, deputy director for the Division of Extramural Research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, who’s trained in chiropractic, describes benefits from manual therapies for all types of musculoskeletal conditions as typically modest to moderate, not curative.

     Chronic headaches

Migraine sufferers and people with cervicogenic, or neck-related, headaches may find relief from chiropractic adjustment, says Mitch Haas, associate vice president of research at University of Western States in Portland, Oregon, who’s trained in chiropractic.

Haas says, however, that for tension headaches it’s unclear whether adjustment helps.

     Whiplash-related injuries

Experts caution against seeing any chiropractor whose office calls after an auto accident to drum up personal injury business. “Those are just PI mills. They’re comparable to pill mills — they’re just in it to get the money from insurance,” says chiropractor Justin Schaefer, owner of highly rated Essential Health & Wellness in Columbus, Ohio.

But Schaefer does take patients with personal injury cases who call him, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s review of evidence finds that patients suffering from whiplash, which can cause pain and tension in the neck, may benefit from manual therapy.

     A pain in the nerve: Sciatica

The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back, but it continues down both legs and can radiate with pain when a person has sciatica. Experts disagree on whether manual therapies help relieve this pain, though Haas notes some evidence supports this.


“Can we improve lung function, can we open the airways, can we have less asthma attacks? The answer is spinal manipulation doesn’t do that,” Haas says.

According to NCCAM, manual therapies do not appear helpful for treating asthma, but research remains limited.

     High blood pressure

“Chiropractors can suggest lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that will help, but manipulation by itself is not proven to help with hypertension,” Haas says.

When lifestyle changes don’t prove to be enough to lower blood pressure into a healthy range, experts recommend seeing a medical doctor.

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