Will Continued Adjustments Help Me or Wear Down My Spine?


Samuel Homola, D.C.
April 11, 2020
Question

I’ve been going to chiropractors for 14 years. Once-a-month treatment has turned into weekly manual and or activator type adjustments. I’ve been told that I have degeneration with retrolisthesis of 4, 5, and 6 cervical vertebrae, mid back and pelvic misalignment issues due to scoliosis, muscular tension, improper posture, and repetitive motions at work.

There are times I feel I’m in a vicious cycle and this will always be part of my life and it is wearisome. There are times I want to just stop all these adjustments and just let my body do what it wants to and just live with the results. We all have to have something, right?

I like your reality based thinking, from what little I’ve read about you. Can the spine ever change its course with manipulation or not? In my 14 years, I believe there is improvement when I don’t do the things that aggravate it. Will continued adjustments wear down the spine, making it weaker over time and worse? The adjustments don’t hold. It doesn’t take much movement on my part and I hear a pop in my neck or back. That has happened after so many adjustments.

Answer

It’s okay to get an occasional hands-on spinal manipulation if such treatment relieves back-related musculoskeletal symptoms. But repeated or regular spinal manipulation will not change the alignment of the vertebrae and it will not prevent degenerative changes or prevent the development of health problems. If symptoms worsen after a few treatments, or if symptoms persist after a few weeks of treatment, the treatment should be discontinued.

When you are told that “the adjustment did not hold,” that is an excuse offered when the treatment was not effective or has aggravated symptoms, perpetuating unnecessary or possibly harmful treatment. Use of an Activator instrument is not a helpful treatment and is not an adequate substitute for appropriate use of manipulation. I would advise against manipulation of the vertebrae in your neck, since the risk of stroke caused by injury to vertebral arteries outweighs any known benefit.

My advice would be to discontinue use of manipulation and see how you get along. In some cases, symptoms that have been aggravated by ongoing, unnecessary spinal manipulation will subside. As we age, all of us will develop degenerative changes that might benefit from occasional manual therapy or a self-help program. But regular spinal manipulation will not correct or prevent the degenerative changes of wear and tear or aging. You should not continue with the services of any chiropractor who suggests that you need ongoing spinal manipulation to prevent or correct vertebral “subluxations.”

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient’s Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic’s history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This article was posted on November 17, 2017.