Who's the True Pain Killer: Drugs or Chiro?

Neck pain patients may get better results from a chiropractor and exercise than drug treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) At some point in their lives, many people will experience neck pain with no clear cause. Yet, there is little research to help patients and their doctors decide which treatment to use.

Getting an adjustment from a chiropractor may be better therapy than using pain killers to manage pain. Nonspecific or mechanical neck pain is a common condition. In fact, it will affect approximately 70 percent of people during the course of their lives.

"Talk to your doctor about alternative therapies for neck pain."

Gert Bronfort, D.C., Ph.D., of Northwestern Health Sciences University, and colleagues compared the effectiveness of different therapies for neck pain. The researchers studied three neck pain therapies: spinal manipulation therapy (spinal adjustments from a chiropractor), home exercise with advice, and medications.

Throughout the year-long duration of the study, patients who got adjustments from a chiropractor reported less pain than those who were treated with medications.

Similarly, patients who did home exercises with a physical therapist said they had less pain than those who took medications.

"While medication has it's place, typically for musculoskeletal/biomechanical problems, it is like putting a band-aid on the symptoms and not necessarily addressing the underlying problem," says Mark Bans, D.C. of Bans Health and Wellness in Austin, who was not involved in the study.

"Chiropractic can realign the joints, allowing any muscle tension and joint/muscle inflammation to decrease and thus the pain resolve quicker. I have had patients tell me that they never knew they could feel this good physically, and I have had other patients tell me that chiropractic did for them in a few treatments what it took months of physical therapy to accomplish.

Again, each of these other modalities has their appropriate time and place, however, it is a good idea for someone with neck or other musculoskeletal/spinal pain to see whether or not chiropractic may help them with their problem.

By having a chiropractor get in and align things properly, it might be the way to get to feeling better much faster, even in conjunction with medication or physical therapy."

It is also important to point out that, like many therapies, spinal manipulation comes with some potential risks.

One Danish study from 1996 found that there is a low risk of stroke following spinal manipulation. This finding has been confirmed by other studies, which show that the strokes occur in about one to three out of a million spinal manipulation treatments.

Some research has also shown that spinal manipulation may be associated with a risk of vascular and neurological problems. However, these risks are also very low.

For their study, Dr. Bronfort and colleagues studied 272 people between 18 and 65 years of age who had nonspecific neck pain for two weeks to three months. The researchers asked participants to rate their pain at 2, 4, 8, 12, 26, and 52 weeks after the study began. Patients also rated their level of disability, global improvement, medication use, satisfaction, general health status, and any negative events or side effects.

After 8, 12, 26, and 52 weeks, spinal manipulation therapy was more effective than medication. After 26 weeks, home exercise with advice was better than using medications.

The full results of this randomized, controlled trial - which was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine - are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 4, 2012
Last Updated:
January 13, 2012