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Spinal Manipulation Can Ease Your Aching Back

When you wrench your back, your first impulse may be to rummage through the medicine cabinet for an over-the-counter pain drug or even ask your doctor to prescribe a strong opioid painkiller such as Percocet or Vicodin.

But an analysis published April 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that spinal manipulation can ease your backache and get you moving again without the risk of medication side effects.

A new Consumer Reports survey of more than 3,500 back-pain sufferers reached similar conclusions: Nearly 90 percent of people who tried spinal manipulation found it helpful.   

Spinal manipulation involves a healthcare provider applying controlled forces to the spine to improve alignment and allow the muscles and joints to move more easily. While it’s usually done by a chiropractor, some doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) and physical therapists also use the technique.

For the JAMA analysis, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and elsewhere combined results from 26 studies involving more than 3,000 patients with low-back pain lasting six weeks or less. Patients treated with spinal manipulation were able to move through daily activities with less pain than people who didn’t get the therapy.

On average, people treated with spinal manipulation said that their pain improved about 10 points on a 100-point scale.

“The beneficial effects on pain and function are real, but modest—like most other therapies for short-term low-back pain,” says Paul G. Shekelle, M.D., chief of general internal medicine at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare system, and an author of the JAMA study.

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