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Chiropractic Care: Another Pill-Free Option in Pain Management

Our series on non-drug approaches for managing chronic pain continues with a look at chiropractic care. Previous Lifelines articles have covered the drug-free, pain-relieving capabilities of acupuncture and therapeutic massage.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons why people miss work or struggle to be productive when on the job. Back pain costs employers in the United States more than $7 billion every year. It is particularly problematic in construction, where a typical workday often involves tasks that require workers to lift, push, pull and twist. Most workers’ compensation claims and lost workdays in the construction industry are due to back problems.

Before the highly addictive qualities of prescription pain relievers were fully understood, treating chronic back pain with these opioid medications was a common practice. Now, we know that one in every four patients prescribed opioid medications for more than three months will struggle with addiction. With that greater level of awareness, drug-free alternatives to treating pain are beginning to be explored. These approaches often make it possible to reduce or sometimes even replace the need for opioids.

What Is Chiropractic Care?

Chiropractic care is a form of health care where trained, licensed practitioners (chiropractors) use their hands and arms to forcefully apply pressure and manipulation at various points along the vertebra. This is called spinal manipulation and its purpose is to align the spine. A properly aligned spine can help relieve both acute and chronic back, neck and joint pain as well as tension headaches because it:

  • Places the least amount of stress on the body’s tissues
  • Allows activation of the right muscles during movement
  • Improves blood circulation, which is key to healing

Depending on where you live and the extent of additional services provided (massage, electrical stimulation, X-rays), the cost of a visit to a chiropractor can range from around $35 to $150.

Many health insurance plans cover some level of chiropractic care. If you decide you are interested, check with your provider before you go. You can also claim chiropractic care as a tax-deductible medical expense.

What Are the Risks?

Chiropractic care is generally safe. Some people experience some soreness for a few days after having treatment.

Very slight risks include:

  • A herniated disk or a worsening of an existing disk herniation
  • Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), manipulating the spine at the neck may increase risk for a stroke. The AHA recommends that patients be informed of this slight risk before undergoing a spinal manipulation or adjustment on this area.

Chiropractic care is not for everyone. If you have any of the following health conditions, the services of a chiropractor are not for you:

  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of strength in an arm or leg
  • Excessive motion in the spine (instability)
  • Cancer in the spine
  • A health condition that increases risk for a stroke

Can Chiropractic Care Help You?

Without trying it, there is no way to know. Discussing your overall health and your expectations with the chiropractor before you begin treatment will help you decide if chiropractic care is something you should consider.

The LHSFNA’s new publication Exploring Options to Manage Pain: Therapies and Mind-Body Practices, provides additional information about chiropractic care and other drug-free options for treating pain. To order this publication or others, go to and click on Publications.

Future articles in Lifelines will explore other approaches for managing chronic pain in more detail.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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