Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Should I have Stopped My "Short Leg" Treatment?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I am a 33-year-old woman. I went to chiropractor who came to our work health fair found that I had some scoliosis. When I went to his office, he then found that one leg was 7 mm shorter than the other. I also told him I have lower back pain when I walk around or stand for long periods of time. He told me that the 7 mm most likely caused the scoliosis and that I was in the right place. My spine apparently has a curve toward the bottom and also a curve toward the top that was compensating, he said, for the lower curve. Although I've had the back pain for 13 years, it only happens, like I said, when I walk or stand for long periods of time, which only happens perhaps once every few months. And the pain is in my lower back—the chiropractor said that made sense because how my spine was it was almost like my butt was sticking out, therefore pinching the nerve.

I found that after appointments I actually felt more sore than when I hadn't gone. And I also found that my upper back felt sorer, too (I had never really noticed much pain there before—although it could be because I wasn't paying attention but I don't know). Anyway, the chiropractor said he'd get me a heel lift but in the 10 or so visits, he never did. I ended up stopping going because I wasn't sure if it was helping or just doing more damage. What do you think?

Answer

It's not likely that you need a heel lift. A deficiency of 7 mm is little more than quarter of an inch. According to US Dept. of Health and Human Services guidelines, shoe lifts are not recommended for treatment of back pain when leg deficiency is less than three-quarters of an inch. Besides, except in cases of a very large deficiency, lifting the shoe of an adult will not change the curves in the spine. Practitioners who conduct "health fairs" typically find a "short leg that is causing scoliosis." Usually, such findings are nonexistent or not significant. There are many reasons why you could be having back pain that is not related to a scoliosis, which is probably not significant if the curvature is so slight that you were not aware of it. A prominent butt might indicate a swayback problem  that would benefit from postural exercise. You were wise to stop the treatment when you did.

My book, A Chiropractor's Self-Help Back and Body Book, discusses the problems you describe.

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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 March 3, 2006.