Is Chiropractic spinal manipulation, acupuncture or medication more effective in relieving chronic spinal pain?

Chronic spinal pain is one of the leading causes of disability among adults affecting approximately 1 in 6 Australians. It is defined as pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer and includes health conditions such as disc disorders, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis and scoliosis. Various methods such as Chiropractic spinal manipulation, acupuncture and medications are used to help relieve chronic spinal pain but the real question is which treatment modality is deemed as the most effective?

The three modalities were compared in the study, “Chronic Spinal Pain: A Randomised Clinical Trial Comparing American, Acupuncture, and Spinal Manipulation” published July 2003 in the Journal of Spine. Each chronic pain (>13 weeks) participant was allocated to one of the three treatment groups and assessed at 2, 5 and 9 weeks after receiving the specific treatment.

Chiropractic manipulation proved to be 5x more effective than medication (NSAIDs) and just over 2x more effective than acupuncture following 9 weeks of treatment.

Approximately 27.3% of patients from the spinal manipulation group reported being asymptomatic after 9 weeks compared to 9.4% of the acupuncture group and 5% of the medication group. None of the participants receiving spinal manipulation and acupuncture suffered from an adverse event however, it was noted that 6.1% receiving medication had experienced an adverse event.

Overall general health status was improved by 47% for the participants receiving spinal manipulation, 15% for the acupuncture group and 18% for the medication group. Limitations to the study include exclusion of patients with existing health conditions such as osteoarthritis and spondylolisthesis, and varying durations of chronic spinal pain amongst the groups (Chiropractic: 8.3 years, acupuncture: 6.4 years, medication: 4.5 years). The study yielded clear results however, confirmation from future larger studies is required.

From this study alone, it is a clear indication that Chiropractic care proves to be superior for relieving chronic spinal pain in comparison to acupuncture and medication. The results also demonstrate that there is an evident improvement in overall health status beyond pain relief in those receiving Chiropractic care compared to the remaining two modalities. Chiropractors aim to educate the public on the powerful role Chiropractic care has in restoring health and wellbeing, and just this alone has been demonstrated in the study.