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Study Shows Spinal Manipulation for Back Pain Safe Alternative to Drugs

  [ 155 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • June 13, 2003

A new study showing that spinal manipulation is just as effective as traditional medical care for treating back pain should come as welcome news to patients looking for safe, drug-free alternatives to medical treatment, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

Published in the June 3 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine the study supports what the chiropractic profession has believed for decades--that spinal manipulation, or chiropractic adjustment, is an effective alternative to drugs and surgery for back pain, one of the most pervasive conditions afflicting Americans today.

“Our society has become more and more health-conscious in recent years. In keeping with that trend, people are making better food choices, exercising more, and beginning to question the number of potentially harmful drugs they might be taking,” said Daryl D. Wills, DC, President of the American Chiropractic Association. “This study indicates to me that consumers can avoid taking drugs for back pain in favor of a safer form of care, without sacrificing any of the benefit. Nowhere does the study indicate that analgesics or any other treatment is more effective than chiropractic care.”

The study, set out to resolve the discrepancies related to the use of spinal manipulative therapy and to update previous estimates of effectiveness by comparing spinal manipulation with other therapies, and then incorporating data from recent high-quality randomized, controlled trials into the analysis.

Comparison treatments were classified into seven categories including: sham, conventional general practitioner care, analgesics, physical therapy, exercises, back school, or a collection of therapies judged to be ineffective or even harmful (traction, corset, bed rest, home care, topical gel, no treatment, diathermy, and minimal massage).

Thirty-nine randomized controlled trials were examined. For patients with acute low back pain, spinal manipulative therapy was superior only to sham therapy or therapies judged to be ineffective or even harmful. Spinal manipulative therapy had no statistically or clinically significant advantage over general practitioner care, analgesics, physical therapy, exercises, or back school. Results for patients with chronic low back pain were similar.

According to Dr. Wills, however, the study is not without limitations. “A problem with this study is its very narrow evaluation of the available research. For example, it does not mention the Canadian Manga Reports which found that chiropractic care is more effective, safer and less costly than medical care and that many medical treatments for low back pain are untested, questionable or harmful in nature. The study also failed to address the federal government’s guidelines on low back problems which found that spinal manipulation was the only treatment that can relieve symptoms, increase function and hasten recovery.”

Because of the increased attention back pain has attracted in recent years, medical doctors have been referring patients to doctors of chiropractic more than ever before. For years, doctors of chiropractic have advised their patients on prevention of back pain through exercise, proper ergonomics and other active solutions.

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