Does chiropractic care help with lower back pain?

A new study says chiropractic care and traditional treatment can ease back pain.

May 18, 2018, 11:57 AM

About 1 in 5 Americans endure lower back pain, and adding chiropractic treatments to one's usual medical care may help relieve it, at least a little, according to a study done with military personnel.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the second-leading cause of disability worldwide and back pain, specifically, is the most common reason U.S. soldiers require medical attention for an issue that interrupts combat readiness.

Common treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, including ibuprofen and, in extreme cases, opioids or injections. Since almost all lower back pain improves within a few weeks, doctors are more likely now to recommend gentle exercise and patience.

Researchers recently studied active-duty personnel aged 18 to 50 who suffered from back pain, experimenting to see whether chiropractic spinal manipulation, when added to regular care, could be effective.

PHOTO: A doctor examines a patients back behind an MRI of a lumbar disc herniation.
A doctor examines a patients back behind an MRI of a lumbar disc herniation.
STOCK/Getty Images

Those in the study were divided into two groups. One group was people who got regular care, including medication and physical therapy, and the other group added chiropractic care to those treatments.

Of the 750 individuals studied, about three-quarters of whom were male, those who also received chiropractic care have less lower back pain and better overall satisfaction after six weeks of trials.

One issue with the study is that those receiving the additional treatments were aware of it, so results could be skewed by a placebo effect; when people know they're getting extra care and expect a treatment to do them good, it's more likely to work.

Chiropractic care isn't a first-line treatment, the study suggests. But, for some people, it could potentially help as a component of multidisciplinary care to alleviate lower back discomfort.

Sunny Intwala is a third-year cardiology fellow affiliated with the Boston University School of Medicine and a clinical exercise physiologist who works in the ABC News Medical Unit.