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There are few health problems more common than back pain. Back injuries and back pain are the leading cause of workplace disabilities. Next to the common cold, back pain is the second most common cause of days lost from work.

Back pain- the leading cause of workplace disabilities

Back pain is most likely to strike between the ages of 30 and 50, the most productive years of a person's life. According to the UCLA Back Pain Study, seeing a doctor for back pain usually costs the patient about $800 out of pocket, and choosing a chiropractor for back pain usually costs about $650.

Is a chiropractor for back pain the right choice?

Although chiropractors are usually back pain specialists, sometimes it is better to see a chiropractor and sometimes it is better to see a medical doctor.

If back pain begins with an identifiable injury, or if X-rays show that back pain is caused by problems with a single disk or a group of disks, then the chiropractor is likely to provide better treatment. Manipulation of the spine sometimes brings pain relief and restores mobility very quickly, without the need for expensive and side effect-ridden analgesic drugs.

On the other than, if back pain has been going on for a number of years, or if the underlying problem is osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or an autoimmune disease, the medical doctor is probably the best choice. Some conditions require an in-depth understanding of multiple organ systems to be treated properly. All things being equal, however, the chiropractor is probably a better choice for a very simple reason.

As no fewer than ten published medical studies show, back pain usually gets worse during bed rest. Chiropractors are unlikely to prescribe bed rest. Doctors often prescribe bed rest. For uncomplicated injuries to the back, very mild exercise is far more beneficial than lounging in bed all day doing nothing at all.

Good Chiropractors vs. Bad Chiropractors

The majority of chiropractors are professionally trained and perform their specialty very well. A minority of chiropractors, however, claim more expertise than they really possess. Some warning signs that a chiropractor is not right for you include:

  1. Trying to scare you. Never go to a chiropractor, or a medical doctor, who tries to recruit you into his or her practice by telling you that only he or she can prevent "imminent dangers" to your health, especially if that person claims cover-ups or conspiracies in the FDA or in the medical profession. The practice of medicine is not perfect, but the appeal of a chiropractor should be the healing offered you rather than the illness (which you don't now have) supposedly prevented. Similarly, any chiropractor who dogmatically follows one kind of chiropractic treatment and who condemns chiropractors who do not share the same views is also likely someone to be avoided.
  2. Claiming to be able to treat or prevent every health condition. Beware any chiropractor who claims the ability to treat every disease.
  3. Routine x-rays. Regular x-rays, especially full x-rays of the spine, are not necessary, and they expose the patient to large amounts of radiation.
  4. Neck manipulation no matter where back pain is located. Excessive pressure on the neck can damage the vertebral artery, and the treatment may have little effect on back pain.
  5. High charges for questionable techniques. Chiropractors who use body fat analysis, Biological Terrain Assessment, computer-scored nutrient deficiency testing, contour analysis, hair analysis, herbal crystallization analysis, iridology, inclinometry, live blood cell analysis (Hemaview), Nervo-Scope, Nutrabalance, NUTRI-SPEC, pendulum divination, or tarot cards in treatment are likely to give you poor results at high cost.

Also, if your chiropractor conducts seminars for other chiropractors on how to increase revenues from patients, realize those revenues come from you. This may be a chiropractor you do not wish to see.

Signs to choose the right chiropractor for back pain

On the other hand, there are also a number of signs that enable you to choose the right chiropractor for back pain. These include:

  1. Referrals to other professionals. If your chiropractor recommends you see a doctor for a condition his or her practice does not treat, or recommends you to a trainer at a gym to build up muscle strength, probably you are getting high-quality chiropractic care.
  2. Appropriate nutritional recommendations. Generally speaking, chiropractors have more time with the patients than doctors. When a chiropractor reviews your list of prescription medications and points out a possible nutritional deficiency resulting from their use, you can usually rely on this recommendation. This is very different from using "muscle testing" or divination to recommend expensive nutritional supplements.
  3. If it doesn't hurt, doesn't try to fix it. Your chiropractor should be happy when you feel good. Repeat visits to the chiropractor to "prevent" future problems are almost never appropriate.
  4. Refers you to a separate facility for recommended nutritional supplements. Some chiropractors sell vitamins in their offices. Other chiropractors have a health products store in their office suites, operating under a different name but owned by the chiropractor. Highly ethical chiropractors, however, can recommend a variety of good brands of supplements that will work for you and allow you to shop around for the best price.
  5. Treats you in a way that leaves you feeling better. If chiropractic treatment is working, you should feel better by the second or third visit. Your chiropractor probably will not really know how long you will need treatment until after your second or third visit. Beware any chiropractor who tries to get you to sign a contract for three, six, twelve, or twenty-four months on the first or second visit.

A good chiropractor is a true medical professional worthy of your respect. A good chiropractor will be respected by physicians, pharmacists, trainers, and physical therapists, and be able to work with them as appropriate for your health. A good chiropractor will give you sensible nutritional advice that allows you to choose the best supplements at the retailers of your choice.

And the true test of a good chiropractor is very simple: After a short course of treatment, you will feel better!

  • Kanodia AK, Legedza AT, Davis RB, Eisenberg DM, Phillips RS. Perceived benefit of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for back pain: a national survey. J Am Board Fam Med. 2010 May-Jun.23(3):354-62.
  • Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Connelly MT, Erro J, Savetsky JB, Davis RB, Eisenberg DM. Complementary and alternative medical therapies for chronic low back pain: What treatments are patients willing to try? BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Jul 19.4:9.
  • Photo courtesy of doctorwonder by Flickr :