That is the question that TIME magazine, the New York Times, and Consumer Reports asked in March/April earlier this year. The biggest problem facing chiropractors currently, according to Dr. Scott Haldeman, a neurologist and chiropractor teaching at both UCLA and UC Irvine, is the “failure to present a unified front.” He explains further, that you could walk into a chiropractor’s office and find someone who is a pure back-and-neck-pain chiropractor, somebody who embraces the scientific research, or someone who says he can cure any and all pathologies while providing general wellness. Like any other specialty or type of physician, some chiropractors are good, some are just okay, and some are bad. Unfortunately it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch.
I’m often asked, “Can’t an adjustment hurt you? You’re obviously breaking something with noises like that!” One study of neck-pain patients, as reported in the medical journal Spine and TIME Health, found that 30% had some kind of “adverse” reaction following chiropractic treatment. According to Dr. Eric Hurwitz, first author of the study and graduate chair of epidemiology at the University of Hawaii explains that in most cases, that adverse event was increased pain or stiffness, and it resolved itself quickly, followed by prolonged relief. Moreover, Hurwitz stated that more severe reactions were “very rare,” and most patients didn’t experience any adverse event at all. “But we can’t predict who will or won’t experience an adverse event,” he added.
As with any surgery or prescribed medication, there are some risks involved. Compared to opioids – a class of painkillers commonly prescribed for back and neck pain, and one also linked to dependence and death due to overdose – the risk potential for some minor soreness and ache pales in comparison. Additionally, malpractice and liability insurance premiums for chiropractors are much lower than for physicians or surgeons. Ask any practitioner: Insurance actuaries aren’t stupid, and they know that, based on the malpractice data, chiropractic is very safe. Although you should also factor in exactly whom you go to as well as their treatment/adjusting style, when choosing a practitioner.
To answer the second part to the aforementioned question, there is nothing breaking as a result of a chiropractic adjustment. The noise associated with an adjustment is just pressure being released from the joint that is restricted in a specific range of motion. Just like a motor requires oil for lubrication, our joints need lubricant (synovial fluid) for ease of movement. It isn’t any different from your knuckles, or your knees/ankles early in the morning. Again, nothing is cracking; it’s just the noise that is elicited. It’s like opening a can of soda and releasing the pressure contained within. When a joint isn’t used properly, adhesions can form, resulting in decreased range of motion, increased muscle tension, and pain, oftentimes accompanied by the feeling that something “just needs to be released.” This can occur as a result of poor posture and improper mechanics, such as bending and picking things up incorrectly.
Chiropractors have a very high patient satisfaction rate. From a public health perspective, we would observe many fewer unnecessary tests and hospitalizations and opioid prescriptions if people visited chiropractors for their back and neck pain.
This leads me to the question that I get asked the most. “Do I have to come for the rest of my life?” Absolutely not! Going to a chiropractor is a lot like going to the dentist. You’ll have fewer problems if you brush, floss, and go for check-ups and cleanings than if you did not go. If you wait until your tooth hurts, you most likely need more dental work than if you didn’t wait so long. Once you get the toothache fixed, you can choose to brush, floss and get routine check-ups. . . . Or not. The overwhelming majority of my patients began chiropractic care because they were in pain. Some get a handful of treatments, feel better – and never come back until they have pain again, while others get out of pain and come for maintenance in an effort to prevent pain from returning. The bottom line is, it’s up to you. At Pawling Family Chiropractic, I’ll give you what I feel are the best possible recommendations for you, but I wouldn’t get upset if you choose another path such as acupuncture, massage therapy, or physical therapy. That’s why I don’t insist on long-term care plans, so give us a try and see if you like it, and if you do – together, we can take it from there.
Michael “Dr. Mike” Roney, D.C., is a musculoskeletal specialist who recently joined Pawling Family Chiropractic, located in the Atrium on Route 22. He can be reached at (845) 855-1475, FellaWellness.com online, or by email at DrMike@FellaWellness.com.