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Spinal Manipulation Relieves Back Pain in Some People, Finds Study

Back PainBack pain is common complaint among both men and women in the United States. Recognized as a major cause of adult disability, this condition involves pain that can range from a sudden sharp pain to a persistent dull ache. Factors responsible for causing the condition include sudden falls, injuries/accidents, muscle/ligament strain, bulging/ruptured disc, poor posture, strenuous work, and muscle imbalances. It can occur due to medical conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis and sciatica. Back pain treatment would depend on the patient’s medical history and the type and severity of symptoms.

Livescience reports on a new study which found that spinal manipulation does have immediate benefits for some patients with low-back pain but that the treatment doesn’t impact others. The results of the study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta were published in the Journal Spine.

Spinal manipulation, a special technique used to treat back pain, is used by professionally licensed specialists known as chiropractors. These specialists use their hands or a small instrument to apply a sudden controlled force to the abnormal vertebra. This serves to reduce the subluxation, the term used to refer to the altered position of the vertebra that leads to pain and loss of function. The aim of spinal adjustment is to increase range of motion, reduce pain, and improve function.

The researchers note that lower back pain is complex and treatments have to be customized for individual patients. As part of the study, 32 people with low back pain underwent two sessions of spinal manipulation during the span of one week. The researchers studied their level of pain and evaluated the level of improvement including measurements of muscle activity, disc hydration and spinal stiffness. A control group consisting of 16 people underwent similar physical examinations, but did not receive the treatment. In addition, a third group of 59 people who did not have any back pain symptoms were evaluated.

The study found that the individuals responded differently to spinal manipulation. Of the 16 people who underwent chiropractic adjustment, about 15 patients felt less pain and showed significant physical measurement improvement in back muscle thickness, disc diffusion/hydration and spinal stiffness. These changes exceeded or were similar to the measures in the control groups and the positive changes continued for the week of treatment. On the other hand, the researchers found that others with low back pain who had the treatment reported no improvement and showed no physical changes either – it simply had no effect on them.

A coauthor of the study concluded, “Back pain is not one problem – it’s a group of problems,” and so there won’t be one treatment that works for everyone. He also noted that spinal manipulation works so fast in those who responded that it could be used as a screening tool to help provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

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