Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Should I Buy A Wobble Chair?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have been advised by my chiropractor to purchase a Wobble Chair for home therapy which will cost me around $200 No where on your site could I find reference to this type of equipment. The doctor said it would help restore the disc between my vertebrae in my lower back along with drinking water.He has also asked me to get an MRI because I am still in pain, but the pain has diminished greatly and I would like to wait and see rather than incur the expense. It has already cost me $350 for four visits and he is wanting to see me for a fifth time—why? The chiropractor said that he can put the arch back in my neck and back by placing weights on my head and shoulder after adjusting me. I have deterioration in the vertebrae and torn ligaments in the neck from and old whiplash. He runs all of his patients through a workshop encouraging them to go through rehab to buy weights and wobble chairs to do rehab at home and them come in for period checks at his office to which he bills their insurance.

I originally went to him when I had pain go up my back when I turned to the left to bend over. I workout with a personal trainer 3 times a week and at home other days with or without the pain. The chiropractor has not eliminated the pain—his practices are suspect—my life is pretty much back to normal. I had a chiropractor in Oregon who was able to fix me in two visits. This guy has had four tries and I am still in mild pain. He is still trying to sell me stuff and I'm not buying it. Your advice please.

Answer

Some chiropractors claim that intermittent loading and unloading on spinal joints with a "Wobble Chair" will re-establish the health of degenerated spinal discs by using joint motion to feed the discs with oxygen and nutrients. While movement is essential in healing and maintaining healthy disc structure, there is no reason to believe that use of a Wobble Chair will "restore discs between the vertebrae." A ruptured or degenerated disc cannot be restored to normal, and there is a possibility that a repetitive wobbling movement will aggravate acute disc herniation or degenerative changes in the spine.

Similar to a Wobble Board used by some physical therapists to retrain and strengthen weak ankles, a Wobble Chair has a bicycle-like seat or saddle mounted on a universal-like joint that rotates 360 degrees and allows 35 to 40 degrees of tilting forward and backward and from side to side. Whatever benefits a Wobble Chair might offer, it certainly will not restore a collapsed or degenerated disc to normal.

Chiropractors who use a Wobble Chair might also use head weighting (strapping weights to one side of the head to counteract "spinal displacement"). They might also use an overhead traction device to stretch the neck while the head is tilted back to reposition the skull and "restore the normal cervical curve"—a "Pettibon Postural Correction" technique similar to Chiropractic Biophysics. However, a reversed cervical curve is often a permanent structural adaptation. Any attempt to change a neck configuration that is not causing symptoms might cause problems by irritating joints and ligaments that the body has molded to fit structural characteristics.

If your back pain persists, it might be a good idea to see an orthopedic specialist. Regardless, I would not recommend further treatment "to put the arch back in your neck." The curve of your neck has nothing to do with low-back pain caused by disc herniation or disc degeneration.

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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 revised on September 15, 2005.