Chiropractic Care for Back Pain
Chiropractors treat back pain and a whole lot more
Illustration by Elizabeth Ellis
As we turn another page on the calendar (most likely a virtual one, these days) and shift into spring mode, a seasonal to-do list creeps into our consciousness like the year’s first batch of dandelions. For many of us, spring tasks are physical: stoop, bend, and rake to gather the usual assortment of twigs and branches that winter storms deposited in the yard; prepare for another season of planting; crack open the windows — weather permitting — and give the house a thorough cleaning.
It’s a joy to feel and smell the spring air, but all that activity can be tough on the body, particularly if you’ve been ignoring your annual resolution to go to the gym. If ibuprofen isn’t cutting it and aches and pains persist, you might consider seeing a chiropractor. Not only can chiropractors offer relief from acute or chronic back pain, they treat an array of other ailments, too.
Although it’s true that the work of chiropractors is spine-centric, the corrective manipulation or adjustment that chiropractors employ can have a wide-ranging effect. “We treat the spine, but not just for low-back pain,” says S. Sofia Haffenreffer, DC, a chiropractor at Back to Health Chiropractic in North Hampton. “[Chiropractors] treat the spine, and the spine houses the nervous system. The nervous system makes absolutely everything in your body work. When we adjust somebody, all kinds of symptoms change and often get better,” Haffenreffer says.
Chiropractors address a variety of musculoskeletal disorders that affect the body’s muscles, joints, bones, and nerves. So, although patients commonly visit chiropractors for treatment of low-back pain and headaches, Lisa Lanzara-Bazzani, DC, a chiropractor at Bazzani Chiropractic in Nashua, says chiropractic adjustments to the spine enable the immune system to work better, and can bring relief to patients of all ages who suffer from an assortment of health conditions, from colic to arthritis.
Chiropractic is based on the premise that spinal misalignments, or subluxations, create interference within the body’s communication system and hamper the body’s innate ability to heal itself. The idea is that the body cannot perform optimally when subluxations exist, because the misalignments obstruct the flow of information between your brain and the rest of your body.
Chiropractic doctors check the spine for bones, or vertebrae, that have moved out of position, and restore alignment to the spine by using various methods to nudge wayward vertebrae back into place. Some chiropractic practitioners solely use their hands, some use tools or machines, and some use a combination of methods.
Physical, chemical, or psychological stressors can bring about spinal misalignment, says Bazzani. Individuals who must repeatedly twist to one side during their working hours, for example, can experience “microtraumas” that cause subluxations, she says. Exposure to toxins in food and the environment can also lead to poorly positioned vertebrae, chiropractors say, because it throws off the body’s chemical balance and causes changes within muscles. And stress, because it induces muscular tension, can trigger a cascade effect that adversely affects the spine and overall health.
Chiropractors view proper spinal alignment as key to health and well-being, so a chiropractor presented with, say, a child suffering from an ear infection will not focus on treating the child for an ear infection, per se, but instead will zero in on the child’s subluxations, because “when those are cleared, the body does exactly what it knows how to do, which is to heal itself,” Haffenreffer says. “With that interference, those subluxations, the body isn’t as efficient in clearing out those problems.”
Most chiropractors take a holistic approach to care, and when treating patients they consider all of the various factors that they believe can influence health. As a result, some patients might leave a chiropractor’s office with orders to incorporate lifestyle changes to support any spinal adjustments that they might receive. Improvements in diet, posture, and flexibility, for example, can help keep the body’s communication pathways clear and maximize health, Haffenreffer says. “[Most chiropractors] tend to focus on healthy lifestyle ... It is a holistic perspective. It’s a perspective of wellness and trusting that the body can do what it needs to do.”
Indeed, “chiropractors look at the whole” rather than the symptom, Bazzani says. “We don’t take anything away [from the body] or add anything to it,” such as pills or injections.
Insurance companies typically categorize chiropractic care as an alternative or complementary form of medical care, Haffenreffer says. Whether the chiropractor prescribes ongoing treatments or a limited number of office visits depends largely on patient goals, she says. If a patient simply wants her headache or low back pain to go away, a chiropractor can take care of that within a limited number of visits, she says, depending on factors such as the patient’s medical history and physical condition. “If their goal is to get rid of pain, we can do that in x number of visits,” she says. “And that is what insurance will cover.”
But some patients visit a chiropractor even when nothing is wrong, as a type of preventive maintenance. They see chiropractic care as an integral part of their general strategy to maintain good health. To that end, some patients visit a chiropractor for a chiropractic tune-up, receiving spinal adjustments on a regular basis, such as once a month, once every six weeks, or once every quarter. “It depends on the person and what kind of work they do, what kind of activity they do, their lifestyle,” and other factors, Haffenreffer says. “Some patients come in and ask, ‘Do I have to come here forever?’ The answer is, ‘‘Not unless you choose.’” And many do see it as an overall wellness approach rather than a means to fix a specific problem, such as low-back pain, she says.
Many patients turn to chiropractors after hearing success stories from friends, Haffenreffer says. In other instances, doctors refer their patients to a chiropractor — an increasingly common occurrence, she says. “We work with a lot of pregnant women,” Haffenreffer says as an example, who have been sent by their obstetricians. “At this point we have a lot of physicians who will refer to us.”