Choosing a chiropractor to treat low back pain

Aug 8 2011
As many as one in four adults in the U.S. experience low back pain every year, and most have significant back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

An agency within the National Institutes of Health, NCCAM notes that low back pain can be difficult to treat. In many cases, the cause of discomfort is never discovered. Spinal manipulation, sometimes performed by medical doctors and other healthcare professionals as well as chiropractic doctors, seems to be as effective a treatment as conventional medical options, according to NCCAM.

Evidence indicates that spinal manipulation is usually safe, according to NCCAM, causing nothing worse than minor discomfort in the treated area for 2 days in most instances, although more serious side effects may occur in some cases. Current healthcare guidelines recommend spinal manipulation therapy as an alternative pain treatment, once self-care options are exhausted.

Self-care generally includes limited bed rest, hot and cold compresses and exercise, as recommended by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). These methods are effective for most minor pain, but should be used in moderation. If pain remains after 72 hours, NINDS recommends contacting a medical professional.

Spinal manipulation is popular among some patients as an alternative or complement to medication, and is currently being researched in greater detail to measure the effects of varying approaches. NCCAM recommends keeping your primary healthcare provider informed when seeking chiropractic therapy or any other alternative care, so that your treatments can be coordinated.

"You should be free to get a second opinion or discontinue treatment at any time," according to doctor of chiropractic Randy James of the Denver Headache and Spine Center. He suggests that a good chiropractor, "should be willing to work closely with other branches of medicine, including primary care, physical therapy, and interventional pain management."

If treatment does not seem to help after the first 4 to 5 weeks of chiropractic treatment, James recommends re-evaluating treatment options. He notes that chiropractic therapy may not be appropriate for every case of low back pain, and that a good doctor of chiropractic care will support the use of x-ray technology or other advanced techniques for examining the spine, which can allow a healthcare professional to determine what treatment is appropriate for a specific patient.

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) describes the typical licensed professional's education as including four years of undergraduate, pre-medical education followed by 4 or 5 years of study at a chiropractic college, including extensive education in anatomy, physiology and rehabilitation. Professionals are licensed in every state and Washington, DC, and must also pass national board examinations before being permitted to practice. They may take additional courses, either to maintain their licenses or to develop specialized skills in fields like neurology or orthopedics.