Chiropractic Treatment of the Lumbar Spine

Pain in the lumbar spine (the 5 vertebrae that make up the base of the spine) is one of the most common ailments in modern society; nearly everyone experiences low back pain at some point in their lives.

There are many possible causes of lower back pain, including sciatica, osteoarthritis, herniated disc, and spinal stenosis. Chiropractic care is a conservative treatment option chosen by many patients to help relieve the pain caused by these conditions.

What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine, invented in the 1890s. In its original form, chiropractic had a metaphysical element, in that it emphasized a belief that the body possesses an innate intelligence and that spinal disorders interfered with that intelligence via the central nervous system. Beliefs like these have served to foster skepticism and controversy around chiropractic care in general.

Most chiropractors today mix the traditional chiropractic techniques of manual manipulation of the spine and joints with a more mainstream medical outlook. Chiropractic care tends to be holistic, and may incorporate lifestyle coaching, exercise, and general health advice. Chiropractic is considered to be a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). As such, a chiropractor may also engage in other alternative medical treatments, like ultrasound and traction.

How do chiropractors treat lumbar spine conditions?

When a patient presents with lower back pain, a chiropractor will take a complete medical history, order tests, and perform an examination to determine the cause. If the diagnosis is able to rule out an emergency condition and points toward more common injuries like bulging discs or spondylosis, the chiropractor will create a treatment plan which may include:

  • Hot or cold therapy – Ice or heat packs may be applied to the lower back to reduce swelling, loosen muscles, and relieve pain.
  • Flexation and distraction – The patient lies prone on a table that is split in half horizontally. The chiropractor raises and lowers the lower half of the table in a repetitive sequence. This causes the joints, vertebrae, and muscles of the lower back to flex and stretch, with the goal of relieving pressure and tension and returning motion to the spinal joints.
  • Electrical stimulation – Electrical impulses may be conducted to the muscles of the lower back through electrodes placed on the patient’s body. The expected result of this procedure is to fatigue the muscles to point where they are forced to relax, thereby relieving tightness and stiffness.
  • Manual manipulation – Manual manipulation is the main technique chiropractors use to relieve pain, and is commonly called an “adjustment.” In manual manipulation, the chiropractor will use his or her hands to push and pull on the muscles and joints of the lumbar spine, as well as other areas that affect the lumbar spine. This manipulation may be gentle or more forceful. The goal is to relieve pain and pressure by correcting vertebral subluxations (a chiropractic term for out-of-alignment vertebrae) and re-aligning the spine.

Keep in mind that chiropractic treatments are still somewhat controversial, and may not be indicated or appropriate in every case. Be sure to check with your doctor to determine if your back pain may be helped by chiropractic treatments or by other forms of treatment.