Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Do I Need 12 Weeks of Neck Adjustments?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I just went to a "chiropractor orthopedist." One reason I went was that my neck was bothering me (a little) and seemed stiff. I work on computers all day as a graphic designer. I was curious, because I am 45, to see if everything was in line. I filled out paperwork. She examined my joints, legs, and neck. One of her assistants took 4 x-rays of my neck and back. I came back the next day.

Then they put this metal thing on my neck to relax it and then took it off, supposedly to relax the muscles before she does the adjustment. Well, she showed me from my x-rays that my neck was a "military neck" and I could see this, and also a very slight curve froman accident years ago when I hit my nose on the steering wheel going 35-40 miles an hour. Also, she told me that in one for the vertebrae there was degeneration going on and that my bones were not as thick as the bones in my neck, osteopenia before osteoporosis. She said I was not getting enough calcium or not absorbing it. After this she gave me my first adjustment, cracked my neck left to right, etc. I felt a little light-headed at first, and now I notice my neck is tight, like stressed even more than before.

What questions do I need to ask her? I'm new to all this. She said she could help put the curve back in my neck. Is this true? Should one feel good beforehand and then have pain after the adjustment? She suggested a12-week course of therapy.

Answer

Working on a computer all day as a graphic designer is bound to make your neck and back a little stiff. Moist heat, massage, and exercise should be helpful in relieving symptoms.

I would not continue with repeated neck manipulation if adverse effects occur after the first treatment. Since there is risk of injury with neck manipulation, it should not be done unnecessarily or if there are no immediate benefits.

You should not commit yourself to a 12-week course of neck manipulation. Treatment should be discontinued when symptoms disappear. If symptoms persist after couple of weeks of treatment, you should seek another opinion from a medical orthopedic specialist.

I would not be concerned about localized degenerative changes in your spine; this is not uncommon after middle age. If your x-rays show loss of bone density or signs of vertebral compression, have your family physician order a bone density exam. This will show conclusively if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Unless you have neck pain or muscle spasm causing a temporarily abnormal neck curve, it's not likely that your neck curve can be changed. Many people have an "abnormal" asymptomatic neck curve that is often a structural adaptation that cannot and does not need to be changed.

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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 April 16, 2002.