A recent large-scale study from Great Britain has results that’ll make you wonder whether back surgery is always necessary (Bhattacharyya M. Does the risks and benefits of spinal manipulation in patients with low back pain as a nonsurgical approach translate into better outcomes in routine clinical care: a prospective observational cohort study. J Bone Joint Surg 2008;90B:Suppl.492.). One hundred two patients were followed while they waited to see a spinal surgeon. The patients had disk herniations confirmed by MRI and had sciatic/leg pain. They had also previously tried 4 weeks of medications (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which had provided no benefit.
While they waited to see the spinal surgeon, they were referred for manipulations provided by experienced chiropractors. The adjustments were given five days per week.
A few patients had some transient increase in pain and there were three treatment failures (out of 102). Overall the results were very encouraging with patients moved off of the surgery wait-list.
But how is this possible? The disks are the hard cartilage separating each vertebra in your lower back. When this ligament sprains it can bulge onto a nearby nerve, causing back pain or pain down your leg. Precise adjustments use the bones as levers to affect the alignment of these vertebrae and the movement of the joints in the lumbar spine. If alignment is improved, then there is better posture and distribution of loads. When the mobility is more symmetrical, this also may prevent unequal loading of the soft tissues. Helping these mechanical aspects to heal can be enough to lessen your pain and help you to regain your quality of life. In some cases, it seems it may even keep you from a potentially unnecessary back operation.
Based on the results of the study, anyone without need of emergency surgery should try chiropractic care before having an elective operation for a disk or sciatica/leg pain disorder. Emergency problems would be symptoms like bowel and bladder dysfunction and numbness over the tailbone or hips. Most patients do not fit into the emergency-surgery camp.