Chiropractic for herniated discs is one of the most common treatment modalities for people who have been diagnosed with chronic pain due to an abnormal disc pathology. It is crucial to understand all about herniated discs and chiropractic in order to decide if this treatment approach is indicated for your particular condition, and if so, how long to continue care.
I hope that my 18 years of suffering from misdiagnosed herniated disc pain and undergoing treatment with dozens of chiropractors will help you to better understand this complex topic. I am no longer in any kind of treatment. I found that although chiropractic was my choice of therapy for decades, it never cured me, nor provided substantial or lasting symptomatic relief. In fact, it may have made things worse in my own case.
Traditional chiropractic treatment for herniated discs consists of spinal adjustments possibly combined with dietary alteration or a back exercise program. Although many chiropractors claim that treatments can reduce the size of most herniations, objective research does not support this with any solid or medically recognized evidence. In fact, some back doctors theorize that chiropractic may exacerbate bulging discs in as many cases as it reduces them.
Furthermore, most doctors will agree that bulging discs often decrease in size and resolve all by themselves, making the claims of cures from chiropractic coincidental, in theory. I can tell you from my own 18 years of care directed at reducing the size of my 2 herniated discs at L4/L5 and L5/S1, chiropractic did not seem to help or aggravate the size or symptoms of the disc issues.
Last year, I discovered that I have 6 discs in my neck, and 4 in my upper back herniated, with degenerative changes demonstrating that these herniations have been there for a very long time. Obviously, chiropractic did nothing to help or hurt these discs either.
Many chiropractors claim they can positively diagnose herniated discs without even using medical imaging. This is normally done using a battery of illogical and laughable tests, such as the straight leg raising test. If this describes your care provider, run and do not look back.
When it comes to providing a cure, most chiropractors take a middle ground stance, saying that they may be able to resolve a herniation and they may not. However, most will state that they can relieve the symptoms of herniated discs, even though clinical research and carefully collected statistics clearly show that the vast majority of disc issues are not at all painful. In these cases, the diagnosis is obviously wrong and the treatment is nothing more than a placebo.
However, even in these worst case scenarios, I would rather a patient endure years of unnecessary chiropractic compared to just one failed back surgery or a problematic addiction to back pain management drugs.
Ok, so here is my take based on extensive personal experience, the latest objective back pain research and the opportunity to call many chiropractors friends and students of mine:
If you are considering chiropractic treatment for a herniated disc, at least know the facts. Odds are that the herniation will not go away. If it does, it probably will resolve even without any treatment. Odds also point to the fact that the herniation is not likely to be the actual source of pain anyway.
Chiropractic may be recommended to be continued for many years, which can be costly. If you are looking for disc pain relief, from a verified structurally symptomatic disc concern, I recommend going to a chiropractor who offers non-surgical spinal decompression. Although pricey, this treatment is effective and finite, compared to ongoing symptomatic treatment slavery.
To wrap it all up, here is the summary… Chiropractic may help and it may not. A cure may be possible, but the question of whether chiropractic provided it or whether the disc simply healed naturally will always remain unknown.
A few patients might suffer an escalation of symptoms under chiropractic care. Therefore, the best you can do is investigate the treatment, consider giving it a try and see for yourself. Just be sure to discuss the pros and cons and any inherent risks for your specific condition. The more you know, the better your chances of finding relief.