Should You See a Chiropractor for Back Pain?

Dr. Lambros Lambrou Apr 21, 2022

Around a third of adults experience back pain annually, with low-income individuals, seniors and women having a higher likelihood of back pain than the general population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls acute low back pain a "very common condition" and reports that around a quarter of all adults in the United States have recently experienced it.

If you're one of the millions of Americans dealing with back pain, you may wonder if chiropractic care is a good option. Find out more below.

Should You See a Doctor or a Chiropractor for Back Pain?

a person grips back in pain while sitting at their desk

The answer depends on a variety of factors, including the exact nature of your back pain, your overall health condition and your preferences for treatment. If you're not sure where to start, it's typically a good idea to begin with your primary care physician.

Your doctor can rule out some conditions that might not benefit from chiropractic care or help you understand what all your options are. Most doctors who are dealing with back pain don't default to surgery or even medication. According to Harvard Health, manipulation-based treatments such as physical therapy are often the option recommended first once home treatment with NSAIDs, rest and heat/cold fail to generate positive results. Harvard Health also notes that many doctors do recommend chiropractic care for back pain. 

Should You See a Chiropractor for Low Back Pain?

a chiropractor takes notes with their patient

Low back pain is a common complaint and one that a chiropractor may be able to help with. But not all low back pain is a candidate for chiropractic care. Some pain in the lower back might be an indication of problems with the kidneys or other issues, and a chiropractor may not be able to offer much assistance with those.

It also depends on where the pain generates from. Pain that's associated with muscle tissue, such as a pulled muscle, may be better treated with massage therapy. Pain associated with hard tissue is more appropriate for spinal manipulation and other treatments provided by chiropractors. Pinched nerve pain may also be treated by a chiropractor.

A good chiropractor will take time to understand your pain and what you might be dealing with before applying treatments. They can help you understand if your low back pain is a good candidate for this type of treatment. 

Is a Chiropractor Good for a Herniated Disc?

an x-ray of a herniated disc appears on a tablet

Yes, chiropractic care can be helpful if you are dealing with a herniated or bulging disc. In fact, noninvasive strategies such as physical therapy and chiropractic care are preferred conservative treatments before moving on to invasive strategies such as surgery in many cases. That's because options like chiropractic care are less expensive and time-consuming and have fewer risks than surgeries. 

Talk to your doctor about whether seeing a chiropractor is an option for treating your herniated disc. 

What Do Chiropractors Do To Treat Back Pain?

a chiropractor performs a back adjustment on a patient

Chiropractors can provide a variety of treatments to help with back pain. These include:

  • Mobilization, which involves moving joints and muscles to increase range of motion
  • Spinal manipulation, which involves movement to the vertebra to help reduce issues related to pinched nerves, bulging discs or other dysfunction
  • Massage, which may support reduced pain in soft tissues
  • Patient education to help you manage diet, exercise and home treatment like heat and cold therapy

Are There Risks or Pain Associated With Spinal Manipulation?

a person with a headache touches their temples

Any medical treatment has inherent risks — even the over-the-counter Tylenol in your home medicine cabinet. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that spinal manipulation "is relatively safe when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner."

Common side effects of spinal manipulation are typically mild and temporary. They include local discomfort and soreness that can often be treated with NSAIDS and rest as well as minor bruising. Soreness typically resolves itself within a day or a few days. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that more than half of patients experience some side effects, including:

  • Local discomfort (53%)
  • Headache (12%)
  • Fatigue (11%)
  • Radiating discomfort (10%)

Almost two-thirds of these complaints were gone within 24 hours after treatment. 

Is It Worth Going to a Chiropractor for Back Pain

a happy patient gets their neck adjusted by a chiropractor

Chiropractic care can be a good option for treating back pain — and one that doesn't involve invasive surgical procedures or potentially addictive prescription pain medication. The avoidance of potential negative side effects of these other treatment methods is a common reason people start with chiropractic care. 

Harvard Health cites a study on whether this type of care is effective. The study tracked back pain complaints from 750 active-duty military personnel. It found that individuals who received six weeks of chiropractic care ended up with less pain and better overall outcomes than those who did not see chiropractors.

To find out more about whether chiropractic care might be right for your back pain, contact NorthEast Spine and Sports Medicine today

FAQs About Back Pain and Chiropractic Care

a person with neck pain talks on phone

Can a chiropractor make back pain worse?

An experienced chiropractor will evaluate your back pain to help you understand what might be causing it. They may decline to provide treatment if they think spinal manipulation may make your back pain worse. However, in cases where chiropractors treat back pain, discomfort may be made worse or different temporarily. That's because spinal manipulation moves various parts of your body in ways designed to eventually alleviate pain but that might cause temporary soreness.

How much does it cost to see a chiropractor?

Chiropractic care may be covered by your insurance company, including Medicaid or Medicare. This reduces the cost to you, and you may only have to pay a deductible or copay. If you're paying cash for chiropractic services, know that costs depend on the complexity and nature of the services provided. 

How often should I go to the chiropractor?

How often and long you see a chiropractor depends on your condition and treatment plan. A chiropractor will work with you in the initial session or sessions to create that plan. You may need to see the chiropractor a few times a week starting out and then move to once a week for a period of time. In most cases, chiropractic care isn't an instant fix for back pain, and it may take a few weeks before you experience long-term positive results.