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Research

It's Effective

A study published in the British Medical Journal observed that patients with pain seen by chiropractors were significantly better within six months and remained so during the two year follow up period compared to the patients seen by traditional outpatient hospital doctors. Chiropractic care was more effective and less expensive than traditional medical treatment. They also missed less time from work. This study involved 741 patients in a randomized, controlled clinical trial.

It's Safe

The New Zealand Government Commission’s report is one of the most detailed studies of chiropractic care. The study concludes: “Spinal manipulation therapy in the hands of a registered chiropractor is safe…and can be effective in relieving musculoskeletal symptoms.”

It's Affordable

A comprehensive study known as the Manga Report on the cost effectiveness of chiropractic was commissioned by the Ontario government. Researchers found that patients who receive chiropractic care, either solely or along with medical care, experienced “significantly lower health care costs.”

Dr Kirkaldy–Willis, a world renowned spinal researcher, suggests that the best way to care for a disc protrusion is to try conservative management techniques. He recommends chiropractic care, exercise and education. Cassidy JW, Kirkaldy-Willis WH, McGregor M. Spinal manipulation for the treatment of chronic low back and leg pain: Ch 9 in Empirical Approaches to the Validation of Spinal Manipulation.

Many studies have documented the effectiveness of chiropractic. However, the most convincing proof is that each day millions of people worldwide turn to chiropractic for their health care.

Research papers

There are numerous good quality research papers on the effectiveness of spinal manipulation. Here are some links:

Primary care

Click here to download.

European guidelines

Click here to download.

Evidence for chiropractic care

There is a range of evidence demonstrating that chiropractic care is effective for low back pain. Summaries of some of the most significant evidence, with links to the detailed documents and articles, are provided below. For evidence that chiropractic is effective for other musculoskeletal conditions, please click here.

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  • Low back pain of mechanical origin

    Meade et al (1990) Low back pain of mechanical origin: randomised comparison of chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment. BMJ 300; 1431-1437

    • This large UK trial funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) compared chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment for managing low back pain of mechanical origin. Outcome: chiropractic treatment was 30% more effective than hospital outpatient management, mainly for patients with chronic or severe back pain.
  • Randomised comparison of chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment for low back pain

    Meade et al (1995) Randomised comparison of chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment for low back pain: results from extended follow up. BMJ 311; 349-351

    • This follow up trial conducted in 1995, again funded by the MRC, confirmed the findings of the earlier report – patients with low back pain treated by chiropractors derive more benefit and long term satisfaction than those treated by hospitals.
  • Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Acute Low Back Pain

    RCGP (1999) Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Acute Low Back Pain

    Evidence

    • Manipulation can provide short-term improvement in pain and activity levels and higher patient satisfaction.
    • The risks of manipulation are very low in skilled hands.

    Recommendation

    • Consider manipulative treatment for patients who need additional help with pain relief or who are failing to return to normal activities.
  • United Kingdom: effectiveness of physical treatments for back pain in primary care

    UK BEAM Trial Team (2004) United Kingdom back pain exercise and manipulation (UK BEAM) randomised trial: effectiveness of physical treatments for back pain in primary care. BMJ 329:1377.

    • This recent MRC-funded study estimated the effect of adding exercise classes, spinal manipulation delivered in NHS or private premises, or manipulation followed by exercise to “best care” in general practice for patients consulting with back pain. All groups improved over time. Exercise improved disability more than “best care” at three months. For manipulation there was an additional improvement at three months and at 12 months. For manipulation followed by exercise there was an additional improvement at three months and at 12 months. No significant differences in outcome occurred between manipulation in NH premises and in private premises. No serious adverse events occurred.
  • United Kingdom: cost effectiveness of physical treatments for back pain in primary care.

    UK BEAM Trial Team (2004) United Kingdom back pain exercise and manipulation (UK BEAM) randomised trial: cost effectiveness of physical treatments for back pain in primary care. BMJ 329:1381

    • Spinal manipulation is a cost effective addition to “best care” for back pain in general practice. Manipulation alone probably gives better value for money than manipulation followed by exercise.
  • European Guidelines for the management of acute non-specific low back pain in primary care

    European Commission Research Directorate General (2004) European Guidelines for the management of acute non-specific low back pain in primary care.

    Summary of recommendations for treatment of acute non-specific low back pain:

    • Give adequate information and reassure the patient.
    • Do not prescribe bed rest as a treatment.
    • Advise patients to stay active and continue normal daily activities including work if possible.
    • Prescribe medication, if necessary for pain relief; preferably to be taken at regular intervals; first choice paracetamol, second choice NSAIDs.
    • Consider adding a short course of muscle relaxants on its own or added to NSAIDs, if paracetamol or NSAIDs have failed to reduce pain.
    • Consider (referral for) spinal manipulation for patients who are failing to return to normal activities.
    • Multidisciplinary treatment programmes in occupational settings may be an option for workers with sub-acute low back pain and sick leave for more than 4 – 8 weeks.
  • European Guidelines for the management of chronic non-specific low back pain in primary care

    European Commission Research Directorate General (2004) European Guidelines for the management of chronic non-specific low back pain in primary care (2004)

    Manipulation/mobilisation – Summary of the evidence:

    • There is moderate evidence that manipulation is superior to sham manipulation for improving short-term pain and function in chronic low back pain (CLBP).
    • There is strong evidence that manipulation and GP care/analgesics are similarly effective in the treatment of CLBP.
    • There is moderate evidence that spinal manipulation in addition to GP care is more effective than GP care alone in the treatment of CLBP.
    • There is moderate evidence that spinal manipulation is no less and no more effective than physiotherapy/exercise therapy in the treatment of CLBP.
    • There is moderate evidence that spinal manipulation is no less and no more effective than back-schools in the treatment of CLBP

    Recommendation:

    • Consider a short course of spinal manipulation/mobilisation as a treatment option for CLBP.
  • Non-rigid stabilisation techniques for the treatment of low back pain – guidance

    NICE (2006) IPG 183 – Non-rigid stabilisation techniques for the treatment of low back pain – guidance

    • Chiropractic intervention and posture training can limit episodes of acute pain. Spinal rehabilitation, which may include components such as education, lifestyle change, weight loss, general fitness and specific low-back training exercises, may be required.
  • Department of Health (2006) Musculoskeletal Services Framework

    Department of Health (2006) Musculoskeletal Services Framework

    “Chiropractors provide evidence-based, timely and effective assessment, diagnosis and management of certain musculoskeletal disorders.”

    “The Framework describes a system that enables health and social care professionals to provide more easily a high-quality service to patients. A balanced, well-planned system achieves that, and helps professionals to:

    • treat patients at the appropriate point in the system (closer to home or work);
    • provide patients with better information to manage their condition, reducing avoidable admissions;
    • plan/manage patient flows through primary and secondary care, ensuring appropriate and timely referral to specialist care services;
    • develop capacity in primary care by offering a wider range of non-surgical alternatives, eg specialist practitioners, physiotherapy, podiatry, nursing, pain management advice, chiropractic, osteopathy etc.”
  • Low back pain: early management of persistent non-specific low back pain

    Low back pain: early management of persistent non-specific low back pain

    NICE is an independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health. Its guideline on the acute management of patients with chronic low back pain was published in May 2009.

    The evidence-based recommendations include the following:

    • Provide people with advice and information to promote self-management of their low back pain.
    • Consider offering a course of manual therapy including spinal manipulation of up to 9 sessions over up to 12 weeks
    • Consider offering a course of acupuncture needling comprising up to 10 sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks
    • Consider offering a structured exercise programme tailored to the individual.

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