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Is Chiropractic Safe? Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives to Spine Manipulation

Chiropractic is widely recognized as one of the safest drug-free, non-invasive therapies available for the treatment of back pain, neck pain, headaches, joint pain of the arms or legs, and other neuromusculoskeletal complaints. Although chiropractic has an excellent safety record, no health treatment is completely free of potential adverse effects.

Risks
The risks associated with chiropractic, however, are very small. Many patients feel immediate relief following chiropractic treatment. But some may experience mild soreness or aching, just as they might after exercise. Current literature shows that minor discomfort or soreness following spinal manipulation typically fades within 24 hours.1

Benefits
In addition to being a safe form of treatment, spinal manipulation is incredibly effective, getting patients back on their feet faster than traditional medical care. Giles and Muller found that spinal manipulation may provide better short term relief of chronic spinal pain than a variety of medications.2 Two years later, they found that for treating chronic mechanical low-back pain and neck pain, spinal manipulation may provide broader and more significant long-term benefits than acupuncture or pain-relief medication.3

Alternatives
It is important for patients to understand the risks associated with some of the most common treatments for neck and back pain—prescription and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—as these options may carry risks significantly greater than those of manipulation. According to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and deaths related to gastrointestinal bleeding can be attributed to the use of aspirin or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen.4

Furthermore, surgery for conditions for which manipulation may also be used carries risks many times greater than those of chiropractic treatment. Even prolonged bed rest poses some risks, including muscle atrophy, cardiopulmonary deconditioning,  bone mineral loss, and thromboembolism.5 Researchers recently completed a comprehensive review of scientific evidence related to neck pain treatments. They found as much evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of common chiropractic treatments (spinal manipulation, myofascial release, exercise) as for other treatments such medication and surgery.6

Research Ongoingchiropractic risk, benefit
We believe that patients have the right to know about the health benefits and risks associated with any type of treatment, including chiropractic. Today, chiropractic researchers are studying the benefits and risks of spinal adjustment in the treatment of pain through clinical trials and literature reviews. All available evidence demonstrates that chiropractic treatment holds an extremely small risk. Our chiropractic physicians enjoy partnering with patients to deliver treatment in the most effective and responsible manner.

References:
1. Senstad O, et al. Frequency and characteristics of side effects of spinal manipulative therapy. Spine 1997 Feb 15;435-440.

2. Giles LGF, Muller R. Chronic spinal pain: a randomized clinical trial comparing medication, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation. Spine 2003, 15 July;28(14):1490-1502.

3. Muller R, Giles LGF. Long-term follow-up of a randomized clinical trial assessing the efficacy of medication, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation for chronic mechanical spinal pain syndromes. J Manip Physiol Ther 2005;28(1):3-11.

4. Lanas A, et al. A nationwide study of mortality associated with hospital admission due to severe gastrointestinal events and those associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use. Am J Gastroenterol 2005;100:1685–1693.

5. Lauretti W. The Comparative Safety of Chiropractic. In Daniel Redwood, ed., Contemporary Chiropractic. NY Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 230-8.

6. Hurwitz E, et al. Treatment of neck pain: noninvasive interventions. Spine 2008;33(4S):S123-S152.

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