Chiropractic pain management can be a non-invasive part of a comprehensive pain management plan. Although many people think of chiropractic care as a treatment of last resort, new research findings about chiropractic pain management indicate that patients may want to visit the chiropractor sooner. Here are the findings.

Six new chiropractic pain management research findings

1. Talking to a chiropractor first results in more affordable, successful treatment

A recent study of 719 patients who first initiated contact through a Swiss telemedical service found that talking to a doctor of chiropractic first not only saves money but is also as effective as more traditional treatments.

Researchers administered a questionnaire to spinal, hip, and shoulder pain patients who called the telemedical service for advice. Of the study participants, 403 saw regular medical doctors and 316 saw chiropractors. Patients seeing medical doctors first had significantly higher medical costs and significantly lower reduction in pain than those who chose chiropractic pain management. Additionally, patients with medical doctors were less satisfied with their care overall than patients of chiropractors.

2. Everyone is right about whether or not chiropractic pain management works for lower back pain

A new study has found that chiropractic pain management for lower back pain works miracles for some patients but does nothing for others. While this result seems confusing, the study authors believe that it further illustrates how complex lower back pain can be.

Greg Kawchuk, an expert in spine function and professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine who co-wrote the study with University of Alberta colleagues Arnold Wong, Eric Parent, Sukhvinder Dhillon, and Narasimha Prasad, points out the importance of approaching each patient individually, noting:

“Back pain, just like cancer, is a collection of different kinds of problems. We haven’t been very good at distinguishing who has which problem, so we throw a treatment at people and naively expect that treatment to fix everyone’s back pain. This study shows that, just like some people respond differently to a specific medication, there are different groups of people who respond differently to spinal manipulation.”

The good news is that those who respond to chiropractic pain management seem to respond very quickly.

3. MRIs may not be the best diagnostic tool

The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in diagnosing back pain is on the rise, but one study found that MRIs may not be the best tool of diagnosis. The reason for this lies not in the MRI itself but in the reading. Chiropractors, chiropractic radiologists, and medical radiologist were inconsistent in their diagnoses.

The results of this study may be slightly misleading. The study talks about “interobserver kappas.” This is a measure of agreement between people (i.e., doctors looking at test results). In this study on reading MRIs, chiropractic radiologists and medical radiologists had a higher level of agreement on a diagnosis than either group had with a chiropractor. This seems to indicate that only trained professionals should be reading MRIs and reporting the findings rather than allowing the chiropractor (or doctor) to do so.

However, because of these findings, study authors recommend against using MRIs as a diagnostic tool for lower back pain, both due to accuracy and expense.

4. Racial differences exist in who utilizes chiropractic pain management

Chiropractic care can be an effective, low-risk, and non-invasive way to treat chronic back pain. However, a recent study found that only certain racial groups take advantage of these benefits. In the Los Angeles area, 72% of Medicaid beneficiaries aged 65 to 99 utilizing chiropractic pain management were white. Of black and Hispanic beneficiaries in the same age range, only 1% of each took advantage of chiropractic pain management.

The data used in the 2015 analysis was from 2008 Medicaid rolls and may have changed since then. There have been no updated studies, but it is safe to extrapolate similar differences in 2016.

5. Low income and less education means less alternative medicine therapies

This seems like common sense: you cannot utilize treatments you don’t know about. A study from San Francisco State University identify income and education as two stumbling blocks to alternative therapies like chiropractic care, yoga, and acupuncture.

Professor of health education Adam Burke looked at why people stayed away from alternative therapies. He focused his work on the inequity that arose when access was denied due to lack of education, noting:

“It’s very important to know why somebody is not doing a particular behavior. The implication of this study is that the lack of access to health knowledge is a root of health inequity. If you are poor, you have less access to health information for a variety of reasons. It’s highly likely that a lack of knowledge prevents some individuals from using these integrative approaches — if they knew more, they would use them more. These are cost-effective treatments that have limited side effects and may actually help remediate people’s problems. Especially in lower-income communities, it is important for health care providers to recommend them.”

6. Chiropractic pain management may reduce the risk of falls in the elderly

Injury due to falling is a primary concern of the elderly. Falls can lead to fractures, and fractures increase the risk of mortality. A study in New Zealand found that sensorimotor function and multisensory integration improved in older adults receiving chiropractic care (as compared to a control group) over 12 weeks. This decreased the likelihood of falling, which reduced the chance of injury.

The study does not indicate exactly why this outcome occurred. Study authors recommend further research to identify what produced this result.

Chiropractic pain management is a growing research field. For more on chiropractic care, visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s chiropractic information page.