Chiropractic care vs. Standard Medical Treatment for Back Pain

Both chiropractic care and standard medical treatment are effective for treating back pain and the structural abnormalities that cause it. It can be particularly difficult to evaluate one vs. the other, especially when many patients employ more than one treatment at a time to treat their back pain, and because many people also get better simply by doing nothing. That being said, there are some modern studies that with results that have been carefully collected comparing the two major treatments for back pain. At the Medical College of St. Bartholemew's Hospital in London England, results from a large patient population of back pain sufferers who either received chiropractic adjustments/care vs. standard medical treatment. In the St. Bartholemew study, 741 back pain patients were assigned to one of the two treatment groups. The study subjects received continued chiropractic vs. standard treatment as necessary for up to three years. While the study was going on, the subjects completed questionnaires about their pain levels after 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1, 2, and 3 years. At each interval, patients receiving chiropractic adjustments/care reported greater improvement than those receiving standard care.

The results of the St. Bartholemew was an eye-opener for all healthcare practitioners of back care, and led to a glowing endorsement from an panel of experts selected by the federal Agency for Heath Care Policy and Research. The panel of renowned medical doctors and chiropractors announced the results and their support for chiropractic care in its 1994 publication "Guidelines for Acute Lower-Back Pain." In the UK, the guidelines from the report are still in effect presently.

What about the United States? Do U.S. studies report the same results? The results are actually mixed, with most study results indicating that chiropractic therapies to provide few benefits to health problems other than back pain. Studies just looking at the effectiveness of chiropractic care indicate a moderate reduction of pain symptoms of acute and chronic back pain.

An October 2002 article, published by the American Journal of Public Health, compared the effectiveness of chiropractic care vs. standard medical diagnostic protocols and treatment. This large study (672 patients) compared the results through measures of patient satisfaction as well as low back pain after 4 weeks of follow-up. The 672 patients were separated into one of four groups, and given pain and satisfaction 4 weeks after the start of treatment. Here's how the patients were organized into groups:
  • Group 1- Chiropractic patients who were given self care advice and explanation of treatment
  • Group 2- Chiropractic patients who were given little explanations about their treatments
  • Group 3- Standard Care patients who were given self care advice and explanation of treatment
  • Group 4- Standard Care patients who were given little explanations about their treatments
The results of the study was an eye opener for the medical community and back pain sufferers. The results indicated that chiropractic patients reported greater satisfaction and pain reduction with their treatment vs. standard care. The results also indicated greater satisfaction and pain reduction for the groups who were given an explanation of their treatments and things they could do at home to manage their symptoms. Chiropractic treatments typically focus on, but are not limited to, treatment of joint related pain including: headaches, joint pain in the legs and arms, neck (cervical) pain, and mid and lower back pain. Chiropractic offices are knowledgeable in the fields of alternative medicine, and may also offer other therapies such as massage therapy and acupuncture.