Back pain affects around 80 percent of people at some point in their lives, and it is the most common condition treated by chiropractors. The majority of patients with acute  back pain find their symptoms can be reduced after just a few treatments, but for the 10 percent of back-pain sufferers who develop a chronic condition, one that lasts longer than 12 weeks, the impact of that injury on their quality of life can be substantial. A recent study suggests that regular chiropractic treatments can help reduce the pain and disability associated with chronic low back pain, in both the short and longer term.

Researchers with Egypt’s Mansoura University conducted a placebo-controlled study that tracked symptoms over 10 months in patients between the ages of 20 and 60 with chronic low back pain. The study’s 60 participants were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. The first group received 12 sham treatments over the course of a month, and no follow-up treatment, while the second group underwent 12 actual spinal manipulation sessions during the same period, and no follow-up care. Those assigned to the third group also received the 12 initial spinal manipulation treatments, but underwent additional “maintenance” treatments every two weeks for the following nine months. Over the course of the study, participants periodically reported on their pain and disability levels, as well as on how satisfied they were with their back treatments.

The researchers found that after the first month, patients assigned to the two treatment groups experienced significant pain reduction and improved mobility compared to the control group. However, after 10 months, these improvements were only sustained in patients who had continued to receive follow-up manipulation treatments. Patients in the second group who had initially benefited from the month of spinal manipulation, found that with no follow-up treatments their pain levels had returned to nearly the original levels after 10 months.

These findings suggest that while chiropractic spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for chronic low back pain, the best results require a long-term commitment to ongoing sessions. Patients suffering from chronic low back pain may find that the benefits of spinal manipulation can be extended over a longer period, and that preventative chiropractic care can offer a long-term alternative to surgery.

Senna MK, Machaly SA. Does maintained Spinal manipulation therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain result in better long term outcome? Spine. 2011 Jan 17.