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Is it safe to see a chiropractor for back pain?

December 03, 2014

Is it safe to see a chiropractor for back pain?

Generally, yes. As long as you go to one who is properly trained and licensed, visiting a chiropractor is fine if you're healthy. Research suggests that chiropractic treatment may be helpful for muscle-related or unexplained lower-back pain (but not for chronic issues such as arthritis).

But there are risks that you should know about. During treatment, the chiropractor applies sudden, controlled force with her hands or an instrument on specific points along your spine. If the source of your pain is a slipped or herniated disk, in some cases spinal manipulation can actually make things worse, especially if it's not performed correctly.

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Much rarer are strokes, which might happen when manipulation of the neck causes arteries to become overstretched, leading to a tear or the formation of a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. Chiropractors treating lower-back pain may do neck manipulation, but it's completely all right to ask yours to avoid your neck.

If you've got any numbness or tingling, or if you have cancer, you should skip the chiropractor altogether. If not, see your doctor and ask her to refer you to one if she thinks it might help.

Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

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