Chiropractic care continues to be one of the most effective but under-utilized healthcare options available. It is estimated that only 7% of the US population uses chiropractic care, but literature supports the benefits of chiropractic care for almost all health issues and age groups.
It is particularly useful for mechanical spine pain and arguably the better solution when compared to surgery and pain medications. Mechanical spine pain is the term used for any type of back pain caused by abnormal stress or strain on muscles in the vertebral column. This type of pain is caused by bad habits and repetitive, unnatural movements such as poor posture, poorly designed seating, and incorrect bending and lifting.
American daily life is lived mostly in poor posture situations such as driving, sitting at desks without proper ergonomic support, talking on cell phones, watching devices with the neck down, carrying heavy bags on one shoulder, and simply not moving much. The common solution for this type of pain is spinal surgery with pain medications, usually opioids. However, this combination does not fix the issue, but only masks it or in the case of opioid addiction, adds a far worse problem. Because the body movements causing the injury or chronic pain are never corrected, there is always a limit to what surgery and medications can do.
Spinal fusion surgery is seen as the gold standard for back pain, but what happens when it doesn’t work? Spinal fusion surgery may stop the movement of the areas causing pain, but it does not address load still on the spine from daily movement. Because the body is adaptive by nature, it will find a way around the lack of movement in the area of the spinal fusion and put the load somewhere else. So the next vertebrae in line is at risk for injury, but the spinal fusion surgery cannot be repeated over and over again. It is true that the acute pain from a herniated disk or collapsed vertebrae can be so severe that surgery is merited, but often back pain was occurring well before the acute event of a vertebral collapse or herniated disk. This suggests a more proactive approach to spine health should be considered.
Spinal health is an area that typically only is addressed for a short time during acute pain. However, no other health issue is treated this way. If you have high blood sugar, your doctor does not wait until you go blind to address it. Most people live with some spine pain thinking “it’s not that bad,” until it is very painful. Not only do we need a proactive approach to good spine care, but we need better care when pain does occur. Spine surgery plus chronic opioid use is a combination that is far too common and contributing to the alarming rate of opioid addiction. When spinal surgery fails, doctors have no other option than to give pain medications. 1,000 people are treated daily in emergency rooms in America for opioid related issues. From 1999-2014 more people died from opioid related deaths than in Vietnam, a 10 year war. The opioid crisis is in large part built on people in legitimate pain, using medications as prescribed.
Preventing the type of pain that would require opioid pain medications in the first place is a start in the right direction.
Chiropractic care is also a useful treatment for failed spinal surgery. Patients who have had spinal surgery but remain in pain can benefit from chiropractic care. A 2015 study showed that “spinal, hip, and shoulder pain patients had modestly higher pain relief and satisfaction with care at lower overall cost if they initiated care with DCs [chiropractor], when compared with those who initiated care with MDs [medical doctor].” With 40% lower cost of care with chiropractic than a medical doctor, this study suggests first-contact for back pain should be with a chiropractor instead of a medical doctor. In another study,60% of patients with sciatica who failed other treatments benefited from chiropractic care at the same rate as those who had surgery. This suggests chiropractic care should be done first, followed by surgery if warranted.
Chiropractic care should be the gold standard and first line therapy for mechanical spine pain. Not only would this prevent unnecessary surgeries, but the rate at which opioid pain medications are prescribed could decrease. Mechanical back pain does not have to result in failed surgeries costing thousands of dollars only to end up being addicted to pain medications. There is a better way and it has been here the whole time, hidden in plain sight.