Spine adjustments are procedures when a trained specialist, a chiropractor, uses their hands or small instruments to apply a controlled and sudden force to a spinal joint. This procedure, which is sometimes called a back manipulation, has the goal of improving spinal motion while improving the physical function of the body.
There are several common reasons why you would see a chiropractor for this service. Headaches, neck pain, and lower back pain are the most common problems that can experience relief through a spine adjustment.
Are chiropractors offering a legitimate service to patients, or is this just some “snake oil” that helps them see as many patients as possible throughout the day to line their pockets?
Chiropractic Adjustments are Generally Safe
Spine adjustments are typically safe when someone who is licensed and trained to deliver chiropractic care performs this procedure.
No special preparations are necessary before having a chiropractic adjustment. It may require a series of visits to your local specialist, but most people experience relief in about 6-10 appointments. Most health insurance policies will cover the cost of this care, although you’ll want to check your information to see how many visits are allowable in a specific time.
During your initial visit, the chiropractor will ask you questions about your health history. A physical exam will then be performed, with a majority of the attention spent on your spine. Depending on what gets found during this initial appointment, you might receive a referral for other tests or examinations, such as having an x-ray done to check on your overall alignment.
When your chiropractor begins the procedure, you will be placed in specific positions to treat the problematic areas. Most patients lie face down on a padded table.
You’ll then feel the chiropractor use their hands to apply a sudden, but controlled force to a joint. This pressure forces it to go beyond its usual range of motion. As this process goes up your back, you’ll usually hear popping, cracking, or snapping sounds as the joints move.
If you have a strong back or joints that are “stuck,” your chiropractor might use their leg or tools to apply enough pressure to each area to make it pop.
What to Expect After a Chiropractic Procedure
Some people experience some minor side effects after getting their spine adjusted, some of which can last for a few days. You might have a headache, feel more tired than usual, or experience pain in the parts of the body that received treatment.
Most people report that these adjustments are an effective way to treat lower back pain. Even the empirical research that looks at this procedure shows that a modest benefit is possible with regular treatments. If you suffer from neck pain or migraines, then regular appointments could provide relief when other treatments do not offer anything.
Whether you respond to a chiropractic adjustment depends on your specific situation. Some individuals do not respond to having their back manipulated in this way. If your symptoms fail to improve after several weeks of treatments, then you might want to explore a different option to manage your pain or discomfort.
What Are the Risks of a Spine Adjustment?
There can be some serious complications associated with a chiropractic adjustment, although these events are considered to be rare overall. Some patients have reported that they developed a herniated disk after receiving treatment, with existing problems of this type can worsen after an appointment.
Another issue to consider is called cauda equina syndrome, which is a compression of the nerves in the lower spinal column. You might feel numbness in your extremities, lower back pain, or sharp, shooting pains that travel up or down the back.
There is a specific type of stroke that is a rare outcome from this procedure as well. It is a vertebral artery dissection that happens after manipulation of the neck. Model Katie May died after accidentally rupturing the artery in her neck during this procedure at the age of 34. The tear blocked the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke that ended up being fatal.
Because of these rare, but problematic issues, only a trained specialist should attempt a spinal manipulation. It might be tempting to have someone “pop your back” by putting pressure on the various joints, but there is a risk that a serious injury could develop. You should also avoid twisting your back in a chair in an effort to make it feel better or get it to crack for the same reason.
Who Shouldn’t Go to the Chiropractor?
Some people shouldn’t seek a chiropractic adjustment unless under the direct supervision and recommendation of their doctor.
Anyone with severe osteoporosis should not go through this procedure. The sudden force placed on the joints could cause a bone to break with this condition.
If you already have tingling, numbness, or a loss of strength in an arm or leg, then you should speak to your general practitioner about your condition instead of visiting a chiropractor to find relief.
If you have cancer in your spine, then an appointment for an adjustment could increase the risk of the cells metastasizing.
About 10% of people have bone abnormalities that can form in their upper neck or where the neck meets the rest of the spine. This variable could create an injury during a manipulation, so you’ll want to speak with your doctor and your preferred chiropractor about your condition before seeking relief with this procedure.
Although some people do not respond well to a spine adjustment, it can also be an easy and affordable way to find relief. You’ll want to make sure to consider all of the risks before making your first appointment.