Governor Phil Bredesen recently signed a proclamation noting that October was
Tennessee Chiropractic Health Month. When the word chiropractic is mentioned, most people instantly think of
the spine. Chiropractors, in fact, provide spinal treatment for millions of patients each year.
treatment for back problems can take many forms. Many people think of chiropractic manual spine treatment in
terms of “snap, crackle and pop”. This sound is created when the spinal joints move in certain ways
to shift the joint fluids. There are often air bubbles in the joint fluid and these bubbles actually create the
Not all forms of chiropractic treatments involve spinal joints going “pop”. One
very successful chiropractic treatment for lower back pain utilizes a technique called flexion/distraction. Patients
lay comfortably on a specially designed table while the chiropractor moves the patient through a gentle set of movements that
gradually restore normal spinal joint function. This effectively relieves the pressure on the spine. This
treatment is very effective for most causes of lower back pain. Surprisingly, flexion/distraction is comfortable
even for patients experiencing disabling pain.
That leads me to the focus of this article. Lower
back pain is one of the most common complaints in the world. The human spine is incredibly diverse functionally.
It allows great movement versatility and is normally very resilient, and yet it is a frequent source of pain and disability
when something goes wrong.
In spite of this condition being so common, it is often misunderstood.
Many medical writers describe “back pain” as if it is a simple condition. Ask any healthcare
expert (or even a friend, co-worker, neighbor or clerk at a convenience mart) about back pain, and you will likely be treated
to some well-meaning advice.
“Apply heat.” “No,
apply cold.” “Take muscle relaxers.” “Take steroids.” “No
don’t take steroids.” “Exercise.” “No, you need rest.”
“See a medical doctor.” “No, see a chiropractor.” “Try physical
therapy or massage.” “Acupuncture helped me.” “You need a specialist, you
should see a spinal surgeon.” “No, surgery is the last thing you want!” “Just
be patient, it will go away by itself.”
See what I mean? Chances are that three out of four
readers will agree or disagree with some of those bits of advice based upon their own experiences. If you have
experienced back pain and had a very positive response to one of these treatments, you may be eager to recommend it to others.
If you experienced a negative or even neutral response to one of the treatments, you may be inclined to steer people
away from it.
Here is the surprising part of this story: All of the treatments mentioned above work
in some cases. That sounds like a good thing, and it is, but that also creates a lot of confusion about how to
treat back pain. Some treatments work well for most people, while some people seem to fail to respond to any
There are so many causes of lower back pain that finding the right solution for each individual case
can become complex quickly. In addition to the wide range of potential sources of back pain, some people are
unfortunate enough to have more than one condition that could be the culprit. Determining the actual cause of
the pain is essential for a successful treatment.
While a small percentage of patients have back pain that originates
from some structural or anatomical problem that can only be dealt with by spinal surgery, most people with lower back pain
will find their long-term solution in a treatment that successfully improves function.
Treatments such as the chiropractic
flexion/distraction protocol I mentioned earlier help restore normal function to the spinal joints. In addition
to addressing the spinal joint function, it is helpful to prescribe specific therapeutic exercises to patients to help restore
strength and flexibility to the muscles, and provide therapy to help heal connective tissue. Each patient with
back pain needs a distinctly unique approach designed to treat that individual. What works for some people may
not be the best approach for others.
Next week: I’ll recommend websites that can help
you understand your body better.
Dr. Mark Kestner