Low back pain is a very common condition, and one that is very expensive for our health care system. Experts estimate that chronic back pain costs the US about $100 billion each year in direct and indirect costs. As the authors of a new study write:
“One factor explaining these enormous costs is the high rate of recurrence and chronic disability related to low-back disorders…It has been suggested that only 10% of LBP patients generate more than 80% of the total costs related to LBP.”
Because of the enormous costs of treating chronic back pain, prevention is an important goal. This current study set out to examine the role of chiropractic in treating chronic low back pain. The authors studied 30 patients who had back pain for at least six months. All patients were subjected to a one-month control period that consisted of no treatment. This was included so that the researchers could observe the natural course of the back pain symptoms.
After this baseline period, half of the patients (Group 1) received intensive chiropractic treatment consisting of 12 treatments in one month, then no treatments for nine months. The other half of the patients (Group 2) received the same intensive treatment, but also received maintenance chiropractic treatments every 3 weeks for nine months. At the end of the nine-month period, both groups were again examined.
After analyzing the results, the authors found the following:
Pain levels were reduced in both groups of patients. The intensive month of chiropractic adjustments reduced pain, even without follow-up care.
Disability levels, however, showed a different response. For the patients with no continuing treatment, the disability levels returned to their pretreatment levels on the Oswestry. The Group 2 patients – who received maintenance care – continued to see improvement in disability scores over the whole nine months.
The following graph illustrates the differences between the two groups on disability levels:
The authors conclude:
“This study appears to confirm previous reports showing that LBP and disability scores are reduced after spinal manipulation. It also shows the positive effects of preventive chiropractic treatment in maintaining functional capacities and reducing the number and intensity of pain episodes after an acute phase of treatment. Maintenance chiropractic care involving spinal manipulation combined with other treatment modalities (exercises, pain management program) should be investigated. Such combined interventions may have a critical influence on pain, disability, and return to work.”
Descarreaux M, Blouin JS, Drolet M, Papadimitriou S, Teasdale N. Efficacy of preventive spinal manipulation for chronic low-back pain and related disabilities: a preliminary study. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2004;27:509-514.