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Many patients with arthritis can benefit from going to a chiropractor. However, it is important to talk to your doctor before you decide to move forward with chiropractic medicine. This article outlines whether chiropractic medicine is for you.

Arthritis, a disease that is characterized by joint pain and inflammation, has more than a 100 individual subtypes. Doctors may recommend several different treatment methods for arthritis, including medications, physical therapy and potentially surgery. While there is no cure for arthritis, treatments can help reduce symptoms, prevent disease progression and help patients maintain range of motion.

Another method of treatment that can help treat arthritis is chiropractic medicine, which is an evidence-based, non-invasive, treatment discipline that focuses on the musculoskeletal system.

What do chiropractors do?

Chiropractors use their hands to provide a combination of treatments for a variety of disorders including the diseases that affect the spine, pelvis, nervous system and joints. Chiropractors will individualize the treatment regimen to each patient.

Initially, when you go in to meet with a chiropractor, he or she will take a history, examine you and then establish a diagnosis. At the first visit, the chiropractor may also take an X-ray of your spine or joints. Next, the chiropractor will devise a comprehensive treatment plan for you which will include therapeutic exercise, other non-invasive therapies, and provide advice regarding nutrition, diet and lifestyle.

Chiropractors are taught to focus on the relationship between the structure and function of body parts. The principle behind chiropractic medicine is that if the structure of a body part (such as a joint) is not right, then it can’t function efficiently. Therefore, the goal of chiropractic medicine is the restoration of function through manipulation of structure. Hence, chiropractic medicine can help restore the functioning of a joint that may be affected by arthritis.

How can chiropractors help me?

Chiropractors can employ over 150 unique techniques to manually adjust your spine, joints, and muscles. Each technique relies on a different amount of physical force. Usually, a chiropractor will softly and gently manipulate your soft tissue in an effort to stop muscle spasms and relieve muscle tenderness. Additionally, chiropractors can use active exercises or traction in order to stretch your joints, which will improve your range of motion. Essentially, it is a hands-on version of physical therapy.

What arthritis subtypes would most benefit from chiropractic help?

Research suggests that if you are experiencing back or neck pain due to osteoarthritis, which is the most common subtype of arthritis, you are most likely to benefit from chiropractic medicine. Osteoarthritis, also known as wear and tear disease, differs from several other arthritis subtypes as it does not develop due to autoimmune disease but instead results from an injury or a fall.

On other hand, subtypes such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, which develop due to autoimmunity, are less likely to benefit from chiropractic medicine. Patients should use caution before considering seeing a chiropractor in this case. Be sure to ask your doctor for advice if you have any of these arthritis subtypes.

Autoimmune disease refers to a type of disease that develops when the immune system, which normally protects us from foreign pathogens, mistakenly recognizes our healthy tissue for a foreign object and starts to attack it. These diseases are best treated with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medication. Many doctors don’t recommend going to a chiropractor if you have active swelling or can’t get your swelling under control.

What other types of therapies do chiropractors offer?

Aside from adjusting your bones, joints and muscles, there are several different other services that chiropractors can offer.

Ultrasound

Whole most people think of ultrasound as imaging technology, it can actually be applied to soft tissues and joints. Ultrasounds can produce a type of a massaging effect that leads to a reduction in joint swelling, pain and stiffness.

Electrotherapy

This requires hooking you up to several wires that then give you tiny shocks. These small electric pulses or shocks are not painful and they actually treat soft tissue injuries by stimulating nerves and muscles in the area to which they are hooked.

Low-level laser

This involves the use of a non-heat-producing laser or a type of light that goes deep into your tissue. Once it reaches its intended location, it works to reduce inflammation.

Infrared sauna

This is not your typical sauna at a gym (though some gyms offer it). An infrared sauna is like having a hot compress that warms up your joints from the inside. Infrared saunas are composed of rooms that use controlled amounts of heat to reduce pain and improve blood circulation.

Therefore, through the use of these technologies, chiropractors don’t even have to touch your arthritic joint in order to reduce the pain and inflammation that is prevalent in this patient population.

Would my doctor approve of me going to a chiropractor?

For a long time, doctors didn’t necessarily approve of or recommend going to a chiropractor as a type of treatment for patients with arthritis. However, in 2017, the new guidelines released by the American College of Physicians now supports the use of chiropractic therapy and acupuncture as a treatment for low-back pain, even prior to the use of drugs or medication.

However, its best to consult your doctor before you embark on chiropractic medicine as a treatment for your arthritis. You can also ask your doctor for recommendations for chiropractors in the area that have a history of working with arthritis patients.

  • Hochman, Jacqueline R., et al. "The nerve of osteoarthritis pain." Arthritis care & research 62.7 (2010): 1019-1023.
  • Ramsey, Scott D., et al. "Use of alternative therapies by older adults with osteoarthritis." Arthritis Care & Research: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology 45.3 (2001): 222-227.
  • Beyerman, Kathleen L., et al. "Efficacy of treating low back pain and dysfunction secondary to osteoarthritis: chiropractic care compared with moist heat alone." Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics 29.2 (2006): 107
  • Law, Ada. "Diversified chiropractic management in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a case report." The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association 45.4 (2001): 232.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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