One of the most common causes of lower back pain occurs when the spinal disks in the lumbar area become herniated. A herniated disk happens when the bone of the disk itself has crumbled or fractured and the soft inner core bulges out through the outer portion of the disk. This places pressure on the spinal nerve root that runs through the disks, and the result can be pain in the lower back as well as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs and buttocks. Medical doctors tend to treat acutely herniated disks with oral steroids and epidural injections of cortisone, both of which have limited success rates and adverse side effects.
Recently, however, a major study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics has found that both chronic and acute herniated disks can be effectively treated by chiropractic adjustments. This year-long study followed 148 patients whose lumbar disk herniation had been confirmed by MRI scans. All patients suffered from back pain, sciatica, and radiating leg symptoms, and 79 of them had experienced these symptoms without noticeable relief for over three months.
The patients in the study were treated with chiropractic adjustments appropriate for their individual cases, characterized by the researchers as “high-velocity, low-amplitude spinal manipulation.” Throughout the study, the patients were examined by doctors at two weeks, one month, three months, six months, and one year. They were also asked to self-assess the success of the treatments at those points, rating their condition on a scale of “much worse, worse, slightly worse, no change, slightly better, better, and much better.”
The results were surprising, especially because the typical clinical expectation is that only 36% of lumbar herniated disk patients will show improvement after two weeks of treatment. However, among the patients who received chiropractic adjustments in this study, 69% reported significant improvement in both mobility and pain reduction after only two weeks. At one month, that number increased, with 79.6% reporting conditions of better or much better. At three months, 90.5% had reported significant improvements. Interestingly, the chiropractic care in the study ended at the three-month mark, but assessments at the six-month and 12-month points found that 88% reported that their condition was still improved.
The authors of the study reported no adverse side-effects and concluded that a large percentage of patients with acute and chronic lumbar disk herniation could be improved by chiropractic care. This likely comes as no surprise to the many chiropractors who have been treating herniated disks and the resulting lower back pain for years—or to their patients who have benefited from that care—but it is heartening to see scientific research catching up to what we’ve known all along: A drug- and surgery-free approach that treats the whole patient and helps their bodies to heal themselves is superior to masking the symptoms with painkillers or relying on dangerous steroids or epidural injections.
So if you have been diagnosed as suffering from one or more herniated disks, see your chiropractor. You have only your chronic pain to lose, and so much to gain.