Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Is Pain a Sign that Adjustments Are
Correcting My 12-Degree Scoliosis?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have been having discomfort in my shoulders and hips. And despite sleeping on a firm mattress, I am not getting adequate rest and I awake feeling misaligned. I went to see a chiropractor. He took some x-rays and told me that I have a 12-degree curvature in my lower back. He has given me two adjustments so far, using something like a gun that presses at some points on my back.

Now I have pain I did not have before, all over my back. I hope it' s not permanent. Does the pain mean that my scoliosis is being corrected?

Answer

If you are an adult, a 12-degree curvature in your lumbar spine should not be a cause for alarm. Curvatures that measure 10 degrees or less are not considered to be significant. It' s unlikely that a 12-degree curvature will worsen or cause problems. Curvatures that measure 20 degrees or more, however, might eventually worsen and contribute to the development of muscle and joint problems, such as arthritis. Symptoms resulting from such curvatures can often be relieved by manual manipulation and stretching of supporting muscles, but the spine cannot be straightened. Use of an adjusting machine that taps on individual vertebrae will not correct a scoliosis or relieve the symptoms caused by scoliosis.

Since the treatment you have received (pressing on your back with a "gun") caused pain you did not have before, you should discontinue such treatment. Appropriate spinal manipulation should not cause pain, and there is no reason to believe that you must get worse before you get better.

It' s not likely that the treatment you have received has caused any permanent damage. If symptoms persist, see an orthopedic specialist for a second opinion.

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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 June 5, 2002.