Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Should I Pay in Advance for
24 Chiropractic Treatments?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I just happened upon your site, and reading some of the questions and answers is making me cringe. Over the weekend, my back started hurting on the left side around my rib area. I had picked up a very heavy cooler that morning but didn't notice any unusual pain until that evening. The pain didn't get much better so I consulted a chiropractor Monday morning. By this time, I'm feeling numbness in my stomach area around to the ribs on my left side.

In the chiropractor's office, I had to watch videos. He took four x-rays. I went back this morning so he could tell me of his findings: subluxations, bone spurs, curvature, neck curving the wrong way. Sound familiar? Now I just don't know what to do! He did a treatment and my back hasn't been aching today, although I still have the numbness and some itching. He wants me to do a total of 24 treatments, at a cost of about $600. I'm really not willing to do that. I just want these problems to go away and I don't know now if chiropractic care is the answer. Any suggestions?

Answer

The symptoms you describe sound like inflammation of a spinal nerve. Such symptoms are often associated with shingles, a viral infection that usually leads to the development of a self-limiting rash a few days after symptoms begin. If the numbness and itching persist and a rash does not develop, it might be a good idea to see a neurologist for a definitive diagnosis.

Time and observation are often required to make a diagnosis. You should not pay for chiropractic treatments in advance. Such treatment should be discontinued if symptoms worsen after a few treatments or if symptoms disappear after a few treatments. Treatment should never be continued longer than a month if symptoms persist. A different kind of doctor and some other type of treatment might be needed. So don't pay in advance for chiropractic treatment you might not need.

Forget about the "subluxations," the "reversed neck curve," and other scary findings. Such findings are parts of a sales pitch used to frighten people into undergoing a long course of unnecessary treatment. A "reversed neck curve," for example, would have nothing to do with rib symptoms and is often insignificant. But some chiropractors will recommend a long course of treatment to "restore the normal cervical curve" in patients who have no symptoms. Risk outweighs benefit when manipulation is used in an effort to change structures in the neck as a "preventive measure." You should not continue treatment with a chiropractor who includes neck manipulation in the treatment of symptoms in your stomach and rib area or who asks you to pay for many treatments in advance.

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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 30, 2004.