Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Why Is My Spine "Misaligned" Despite 22 Years
of Chiropractic Treatment?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I am a 35-year-old woman who began seeing a chiropractor at age 12 after bending over to retrieve a stick and not being able to stand up again. According to my chiropractor, my spine is constantly misaligned, no matter how frequently or infrequently I get an adjustment.

My chiropractor doesn't claim to do miracles. He just adjusts my spine and pushes a few vitamins on me. However, I wish my back pain would go away for more than a few hours at a time. Is there a condition that causes this kind of problem? Do you have any suggestions on how to get lasting relief? I can hardly stand the thought living with back pain for the rest of my life.

Answer

I cannot tell from our question whether your spine is actually misaligned or whether any misalignment is related to your symptoms. Many chiropractors find "misalignments" ("subluxations") that are not significant and are unrelated to the cause of back pain. Except in rare cases, a diagnosis of subluxation is not appropriate and often means that the cause of the pain is not being addressed. Moreover, real structural misalignments, such as scoliosis, cannot be modified by chiropractic treatment.

It is also possible that your chiropractic treatment is responsible for your pain. Excessive, unnecessary, or inappropriate manipulation can actually aggravate a structural, degenerative, or arthritic problem. Try stopping your treatment for several months and see how you get along. If your pain goes away, don't worry about the alignment of your spine.

Regardless, it would be prudent to seek a medical diagnosis that will explain your pain and steer you to the correct direction to get relief. The best specialist to see first would be an orthopedist. If your chiropractor has obtained x-ray films of your back, try to bring them to the first orthopedic visit.

Please let me know what happens to you.

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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 October 6, 2002.