Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Should I See a Chiropractor or a
Neurosurgeon for My Leg Pain?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I am seeing a chiropractor for lumbar spinal stenosis. I have had three treatments and felt some relief of the pain in my legs. The chiropractor is telling me NOT to see the neurosurgeon that I have an appointment with on Tuesday. He is certain that he can help me with my problems. I have two small herniated discs, 3mm at L5 and L4. I also have foraminal stenosis and scoliosis as well as lumbar degenerative disc disease and facet arthritis.

Should I at least give the chiropractor a chance to prove he is helping me, or should I let the surgeon carve me up? I'm so confused and scared right now.

Answer

If you have true lumbar spinal stenosis caused by bony encroachment upon your spinal canal, it is not likely that spinal manipulation will have any permanent beneficial effect. I would not advise you to cancel your appointment with the neurosurgeon. If chiropractic treatment provides some temporary relief, it is OK to get such treatment provided that a neurosurgeon neurologist advises you that it is safe. Manipulation sometimes worsens leg pain caused by foraminal stenosis or a herniated disc. Should the leg pain or weakness get worse, discontinue the chiropractic treatment.

If the neurosurgeon recommends surgery, get another opinion from another neurosurgeon or an orthopedist, preferably one working in a medical university hospital. Go by the way you feel. If leg pain becomes intolerable, or if there is increasing leg or foot weakness caused by nerve damage, or if you suddenly have trouble controlling your bladder or your bowels, it may become apparent to you that spinal-decompression surgery is your only alternative for relief of symptoms, especially if the need is confirmed by at least one other neurosurgeons. In the meantime, have your neurosurgeon keep you under observation.

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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 page was posted on July 23, 2002.