Chiropractic Treatment: The Science Behind Alternative Medicine

Chiropractic treatments involve manipulation or adjustments of the spine to alleviate pain and elicit a healing response. Chiropractic care comes from the idea that most disease can be traced back to the spinal column, and by freeing up compressions and improper alignment of the vertebrae, the body is free to heal itself.

Although it is still questioned by some medical purists, chiropractic care has been accepted as part of mainstream medicine for decades. It is even covered by most health insurance plans in the United States. And, like other forms of alternative care, chiropractic has also received scientific validation.

Chiropractic TreatmentHistory of Chiropractic

Chiropractic treatment was discovered almost by accident. In 1895, an Iowa doctor named D. D. Palmer successfully cured one of his patients of deafness when he replaced a subluxed vertebra.

It was theorized that misplaced vertebrae caused impingement of the nerves, resulting in pain or disease. From there chiropractic therapy, meaning “hand” “practiced”, was born.

Uses of Chiropractic

Chiropractic care is not just for back pain, as many assume. Because the nerves of the spinal column run throughout the body, impingement can cause any number of problems. Chiropractic adjustments have been used to treat:

  • Back pain
  • Colds and flu
  • Constipation and other digestive disorders
  • Ear infections
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Hearing loss
  • Hip pain
  • Arthritis and general joint pain
  • Injuries such as from sports or car accidents
  • Pregnancy
  • Scoliosis and Kyphosis of the spine
  • TMJ Syndrome

How Chiropractic Works

Chiropractic is a hands-on therapy where the doctor manually moves the bones, mainly the vertebrae, back into proper alignment. Misaligned or “subluxed” bones cause impingement of the nerves. It is this impingement, chiropractors believe, that is the root cause of most pain and discomfort. Relieving the impingement not only relieves pain, but also allows the body to heal naturally.

Current Research

There is a plethora of research in support of chiropractic treatments. Studies show that it is both safe and effective.

A study published in the May 2001 issue of the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” showed that chiropractic care is effective for patients with recurrent and chronic low back pain. The study used 158 participants, 75% of whom showed total improvement after completing 12 visits. This is compared to patients with similar back problems using a back brace, which appeared to have little to no effect.

Another study published in February 2001 by the “Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research” showed that chiropractic care is effective in the treatment of tension headaches. This was compared to conventional medication, which produced adverse effects in 82% of the participants. No significant adverse effects were reported by those who received chiropractic treatments, yet they noted relief of their symptoms.

A surprising study found in the March 2008 issue of the “Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research” showed that chiropractic care is even helpful during pregnancy. One patient who had had two previous cesarean sections had begun chiropractic care for low back pain toward the end of her pregnancy. In her 40th week she successfully delivered her baby vaginally, which is unusual for mothers who have previously undergone cesarean section. The success was attributed to her prior chiropractic care.

In a rare case study of chiropractic, one physician found that manual adjustments relieved symptoms of TMJ syndrome. The study, published in January 2002 in the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” documented the case of a 41-year old female patient who had been diagnosed with TMJ syndrome, and suffered chronic headaches, ear pain, ringing in the ears, vertigo, decreased hearing ability, and pain in the jaw. Following a series of adjustments, the patient noted complete recovery of her TMJ symptoms, including related headaches. This, after treatment by two medical doctors had failed.

Another case study found in the June 2004 issue of “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” showed how chiropractic helped save one patient from spinal surgery. The patient had been involved in a motor vehicle accident and had suffered a spinal cord injury that was documented by MRI. The recommended treatment was surgery.

However, to avoid surgery, the patient opted for chiropractic. After a series of treatments, the patient’s symptoms completely resolved, and a new MRI showed the injury had been corrected. The patient surprisingly avoided major spinal surgery thanks to appropriate chiropractic treatment.

Another remarkable case study found in the “Journal of Chiropractic Medicine” from March 2011 showed the benefit of chiropractic for senior patients. One 70-year old patient, who had sustained two previous falls injuring her hips, underwent chiropractic treatments along with passive stretching. Not only did her pain resolve, but her mobility and range of motion also improved.

These are just a few examples of the case studies and other scientific studies which validate chiropractic care. However, due to the holistic nature of the practice, and the fact that chiropractors generally do not prescribe medication or recommend invasive procedures such as surgery, it is still viewed by many as “alternative”. Whether alternative or mainstream, chiropractic is undoubtedly a safe, effective manual therapy enjoyed by many.


1. Chiropractic Philosophy and Practice –

2. “Patients with long-lasting or recurrent low back pain helped with chiropractic care” –

3. “Headaches: Study Shows Chiropractic Effective” –

4. “Pregnant Woman Has Natural Birth After Two Cesareans with Chiropractic – Case Study” –

5. “Chiropractic Care and TMJ Problems a Case Study” –

6. “Relief of Symptoms in Cervical Spinal Stenosis Through Specific Chiropractic” –

7. “Chiropractic care of a 70-year-old female patient with hip osteoarthritis” –