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Your Complete Guide to Chiropractic Care for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common health problems today. In fact, most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

Normal aging and physically demanding occupations or activities can cause discs in your spine to wear out, with poor posture and unhealthy movement patterns speeding up the process.

Visiting a licensed chiropractor can not only help alleviate back pain, but can prevent future recurrences.  

What types of back issues do chiropractors treat?

Chiropractors treat many types of back pain, including mechanical back pain (e.g., a strained back while playing sports), disk derangement or herniation, and/or joint compressions (e.g., compression of the lower-back joints from prolonged sitting), among others.

A word of caution about symptoms

Most back pain resolves itself over time, and surgery is seldom needed for back problems. However, you should seek medical care for back pain that lasts several days, or if you are experiencing pain that radiates into the lower extremities or the buttock, and/or numbness, tingling, or weakness in extremities.

What happens in a typical chiropractic treatment?

The first meeting with a chiropractor is an evaluation to assess the functionality of the spine, including alignment, range of motion, and strength and flexibility of supporting muscles and ligaments.

“We also discuss possible root causes of a patient’s back pain, which may include postural habits or activities of daily living that could be straining the back and causing pain,” explains Matthew H. Kowalski, DC, a licensed chiropractor at The Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and President of the New England Spine Institute.  

What kinds of therapies does a chiropractor offer?  

During a treatment session, a chiropractor may administer the following manual or hands-on techniques.

  • Spinal manipulation (“chiropractic adjustment”): Adjustment of the spine by moving it through its range of motion and applying forces to improve joint function
  • Stretches: to help increase flexibility in the spine and lower extremities
  • Soft tissue release techniques
  • Flexion distraction: A form of spinal traction that is used to treat disorders of the small joints in the lower back, known as facet joints
  • Stay active: Aerobic exercise five days a week at least 20 minutes a session. Walking is a great way to keep the back healthy and helps with managing stress.
  • Improve your posture: Don’t slouch or sit in one position for too long without a break.
  • Exercises and stretches: Perform regular exercises to strengthen the core and muscles in the back and lower extremities.   
  • Ergonomics: If you sit for long periods of time, get up every 30 minutes and walk. For more information on how to create an ergonomic workstation, see this article.
  • Lift safely: Bend your legs and keep your back straight.  
  • Weight management: Being overweight—especially having excess abdominal fat—strains the lower back. Manage your weight through exercise and a healthy diet.
  • Stress reduction: Stress can aggravate back problems, so find ways to relax, and consider trying an eight-week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, which has been scientifically proven to help with anxiety, depression and pain syndromes.

How often should you see a chiropractor for back pain?

A typical course of chiropractic treatment can last two to four weeks, perhaps eight weeks for an acute bout of pain. Depending on the severity the symptoms, a patient may see a chiropractor 1-3 times a week. 

“After a course of treatment, many patients return periodically for maintenance care to make sure that their spine is functioning optimally, and that they’re doing their exercises or stretches correctly,” says Dr. Kowalski.   

Lifestyle factors that promote a healthy back  

Most chiropractors offer more than hands-on treatment. Dr. Kowalski often speaks with patients about diet, exercise and other lifestyle modifications that can help ease back pain.

The following changes can help improve spinal function:

The picture of integrative care  

Dr. Kowalski provides chiropractic care at The Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine alongside other spine care practitioners and clinicians who offer integrative services, such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga and tai chi.      

- By Dustin G. 

In this video, Matthew Kowalski, DC, a licensed chiropractor at The Osher Clinical Center for Integrative Medicine at BWH, discusses chiropractic care for back pain.