Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Who Should I Consult for My Back and Neck Pain?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I am 41 years old and have had several major surgeries. Five years ago, I had a severe car accident. I was fine at the time, but 3 years later I ended up with two herniated disks. I went to a sports doctor who performed a epidural with cortisone that gave me immediate relief, but now I am having other problems. Yesterday I went to a chiropractor for the first time. After 14 x-rays—bending, twisting—he concluded that my neck was out of line. He also showed me the x-rays of my lower back, which looked like it is curved to the right, quite drastically. I am skeptical about getting my spine manipulated, but the thought of surgery scares me. I have a lot of pain in my lower back and my neck is stiff and full of knots all the time. Any suggestions?

Answer

Since you had no symptoms immediately following the auto accident and got along fine for three years, it is unlikely that the accident resulted in disc herniation. Since the symptoms disappeared after only one epidural injection of cortisone, the diagnosis of "two herniated discs" might even be questionable.

The appearance of neck and lower back symptoms five years after an accident would warrant an orthopedic examination for a new, definitive diagnosis. You could have disc degeneration or some other problem that could benefit from physical treatment methods. But first you must have a correct diagnosis. You should not rely upon a chiropractic diagnosis of "neck out of line" and a "lumbar curvature." If you seek another opinion, have your x-rays transferred so that you can avoid further exposure to x-ray radiation.

Gentle spinal manipulation, physical therapy, or massage therapy might be helpful in relieving symptoms, but treatment should be obtained as needed for pain relief and not to "straighten your spine."

Just because you have neck and back pain does not mean that you might eventually need surgery. Surgery is nor appropriate unless spinal instability or nerve impingement occurs.

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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 September 21, 2002.