Our spine does a lot of heavy lifting. It is the structure that holds us up, lets us move and protects the spinal cord. When the spine isn’t operating as well as it could, the result is often back pain. Back pain is the number one reason people miss work, and more than three quarters of us will experience it in our lifetime. Chiropractic care can help keep your spine and back healthy and functioning smoothly, so you can get on with your daily routine.
The spine and back form a complex anatomical design. The spine is a series of interlocking vertebrae, bones that form joints cushioned by rubbery discs. Nerve roots from the spinal cord branch out through the spine to send signals back and forth between all parts of the body and the brain. Ligaments, muscles, tendons and fascia (connective tissue beneath the skin) interact to support the spine and let us sit, stand, walk and run.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong with any of these components. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles or rupture disks. Spinal joints can move out of position or lose their flexibility. Nerves can become irritated and inflamed. Fascia can develop painful knots. Bad posture, scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and obesity are also common contributors to back pain.
How Chiropractors Treat Back Pain
Chiropractors specialize in treating mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. They train for years to understand the complex relationships between the structures of the back and how they can affect the rest of your body.
When you have an initial appointment with a chiropractor, they will take a medical history and ask about your daily routine to assess whether any of your regular activities might be contributing to your back pain. It could be poor posture, incorrect ergonomics (arrangement of your workspace) or improper lifting techniques. They will evaluate how well your spine is functioning by checking alignment, range of motion, strength and flexibility.
When the exam is complete, the chiropractor will discuss a treatment plan with you for your back pain. Chiropractors have many tools to help alleviate pain, but the signature treatment is the “adjustment,” also known as spinal manipulation.
Using manual techniques, chiropractors assess misalignments or vertebral fixations (restricted joint movement) in the back that could be causing discomfort. They employ highly specific movements with carefully applied pressure and pulses to correct these misalignments (called subluxations). The focus is on restoring mobility to the spinal joints, which as a result can loosen tight muscles, calm irritated nerves and allow your body to heal naturally.
Chiropractic back adjustment
Spinal manipulation is widely recognized as a first-line treatment for back pain. One medical review of 26 clinical trials looked at treatments including spinal manipulation for chronic low-back pain, the most common type of back pain. It concluded that spinal manipulation is as effective as medication or other therapies to reduce pain and improve function.
Other chiropractic treatments for back pain may include:
Flexion-distraction, a form of spinal flexing which uses a special table that creates a negative pressure to pull bulging discs back into the spine
Stretches to help increase flexibility in the spine
Manual soft tissue release techniques to break up scar tissue or knots in fascia (connective tissue under the skin)
Ultrasound, laser, electrotherapy or other soft tissue treatments to reduce inflammation and soreness
A chiropractor can also suggest exercises you can do at home to strengthen your back. They can recommend ways to improve your posture or work habits, which will also help you avoid further injury.
When your spine is functioning properly, the rest of your body tends to follow. Many people find they feel a sense of relief and well-being after an adjustment. It may take a series of treatments to address back pain, but if your back is bothering you and you are looking for a natural approach, a chiropractor can diagnose and treat you without drugs or surgical intervention.
Neck pain affects an estimated two-thirds of adults at some point in their lives and is second only to lower back pain as a reason for seeking chiropractic treatment. The neck, or the cervical spine, is made up of 7 small vertebrae that support the entire weight of your head—around 12 pounds. It’s like carrying a bowling ball. The bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves of the neck all work together, allowing your head to move freely in just about every direction. This flexibility makes the neck more susceptible to injury and damage, so it may not be surprising to hear that neck pain is the fourth largest reason for disability around the world.
Causes of Neck (Cervical) Pain
Neck pain can have a variety of causes. Among them:
Sprain and strains — Overuse of neck muscles and ligaments during daily activities can cause neck pain and stiffness. For example, posture-related neck problems are common among those who look at a computer monitor all day since looking at a screen can keep the neck in an awkward position. Even worse than “tech neck” is “text neck”, caused by an excessive amount of time keeping the head forward and down while looking at a smartphone. This new reason for neck pain is being seen among younger people who would not yet ordinarily have experienced neck pain.
Injury — One common neck injury, whiplash, results when the head is suddenly thrown in one direction and whips back in the opposite direction, as often happens in car accidents. Whiplash can cause injury to the joints, discs, ligaments, muscles and nerves.
Degenerative conditions — Wear and tear can lead to changes in the vertebrae and discs over time. As we age, discs become dried out (desiccated) and shrink, providing less cushion between vertebrae. The cervical spinal canal can narrow (called cervical spinal canal stenosis), putting pressure on the spinal cord. When there are arthritic changes (degeneration) in the neck, cartilage can deteriorate and bone spurs can form, increasing joint inflammation. This may affect joint motion or pinch the nerve root.
Bulging or herniated disc — if a disc bulges outward because of injury or degeneration, it can put pressure on nerve roots and produce inflammation. This can result in neck pain, numbness and tingling, which may radiate down the shoulder, arm or hand.
If your neck pain is accompanied by a fever, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, or loss of bladder or bowel control, seek the care of a physician immediately.
What to Expect at Your First Chiropractic Visit
Chiropractors look at the body as a whole rather than as a collection of individual or separate components, so even when you come in for neck pain, we will look at your entire spine since other areas besides your neck may be affected. During your initial evaluation, we will typically take your health history, assess range of motion, check for tenderness, feel for areas of tightness, examine your posture, check the alignment of your spine and, if necessary, take x-rays or recommend an MRI. It’s important to determine the reason for your neck pain before deciding on a course of treatment. Only after a comprehensive evaluation will a treatment plan will be created for you.
Treatment of Neck Pain
Treatment for neck pain may involve a variety of techniques, based on your diagnosis and whether your neck pain is acute or chronic (lasting longer than 3 months) and whether it is localized or radiating. Treatment may include:
- Gentle spinal manipulation administered by hand or with a specialized instrument
- Soft tissue therapy using specialized instruments or via therapeutic massage
- Exercises, stretching and resistance techniques to improve range of motion and help reduce pain
- Electrical stimulation, which uses a low-frequency electrical current to stimulate neck muscles
- Therapeutic ultrasound to relieve muscle pain and stiffness through sound waves
- Heat packs to increase blood flow to the affected areas
- Cold laser therapy, which may bring anti-inflammatory substances to the affected site
Chiropractic care focuses on treating the whole person, so we may also talk to you about nutrition, stress management and lifestyle changes to help aid in the healing process and overall health.
Why Seek Chiropractic Care for Neck Pain
Research supports chiropractic as a viable treatment option for many people who suffer from neck pain. Here is some of the evidence:
- A review of 41 research studies concluded that spinal manipulation used in combination with other treatments including exercise and mobilization is effective in treating chronic neck pain.
- In a study of 183 patients published in the British Medical Journal, manual chiropractic therapy was found to be “less costly and more effective than physiotherapy or general practitioner care” for treating neck pain.
Chiropractic care is sought after by many patients who want to avoid the use of potentially dangerous pain medication or surgery. Chiropractic focuses on treating the source of the pain rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms—and it has been shown to improve pain, restore mobility and relieve related symptoms for many people who suffer from neck pain.