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Chiropractic Therapy

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In this article

Overview

The name chiropractic comes from the Greek cheiro, meaning hand, and prakto, meaning to use. The basic assumption of chiropractic is that vertebrae that are not in alignment apply pressure to nearby nerves; this pressure causes pain and/or dysfunction in the organs or muscles that are served by those nerves.

Chiropractic was developed in the 19th century by Daniel David Palmer to restore a patient’s hearing. Palmer believed that a displaced vertebra was applying extra pressure on a nerve in the man's ear, resulting in loss of hearing.

The goal of chiropractic therapy is to restore normal function to joints and their supporting structure, especially the vertebral column and pelvis. Following a simple examination and — often — radiological evaluation, the chiropractic practitioner applies precise adjustment to the vertebral column to bring structures back into alignment. This realignment is supposed to eliminate the irritation to the nerves and restore normal function.

Safety & effectiveness

There is ample anecdotal testimony that chiropractic works, but little to no incontrovertible evidence. According to a 1998 editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, chiropractic treatment may be most effective for lower back pain. There is less evidence that it helps neck pain and headaches.

There is no evidence that chiropractic can alter the underlying disease process or the disease course in MS. While there is anecdotal evidence that people with MS have experienced some symptom relief, there are no controlled clinical trials demonstrating treatment safety or efficacy in MS.

Side effects & risks

More common side effects of chiropractic therapy include achy muscles, headaches and fatigue. Very rare side effects can also occur, including the possibility of stroke from manipulation of the neck, bone fractures and injuries to disks, and injuries to the nerves of the lower spine. Chiropractic manipulations are not safe for everyone and should be avoided by individuals with spinal-bone fractures or dislocations, spine trauma, severe disk herniations, osteoporosis, arthritis, or diabetes, and anyone who is being treated with blood thinners.

Additional resources

  • American Chiropractic Association (ACA)
    ACA provides an online search tool to locate chiropractors who are members of ACA (with more than 15,000 listings). Search for chiropractors by name, location (city/state), techniques used, and conditions treated. ACA also offers consumer-geared materials to educate/inform the public about the benefits of chiropractic therapy.

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