An Important Adjustment

An Important Adjustment

Physicians are slowly changing views on chiropractic back care

By Karen Grimaldos

As an ironman athlete and personal trainer, Lori McGraw has a high tolerance for pain. But something felt wrong when she was lifting weights during a recent strenuous workout. “The pain in my back was excruciating,” she says. “I couldn’t even bend down.”

Despite the intensity of her discomfort and concern over her first-time back injury, McGraw did not seek out a traditional medical doctor. Instead, she went directly to a chiropractor.

“I didn’t want to be prescribed pain pills or go through a long process of multiple appointments,” McGraw says. “I had never been to a chiropractor before, but I wanted to avoid that time-consuming process with my regular doctor.”

McGraw says her back pain was gone after four chiropractic treatments, and she was able to return to training and working out without any issues. 

The American Chiropractic Association estimates that more than 27 million Americans receive treatment from chiropractors each year. Many of those patients seek help with back pain, which affects 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives.

Though there has been ongoing controversy within the traditional medical community about chiropractic versus mainstream forms of treatment, the sheer numbers of patients who seek out doctors of chiropractic may be difficult for traditional medicine to ignore.

“The enlightened medical community is more open and accepting of chiropractic care,” says David Fleming, MD, president of the American College of Physicians. “They realize that this is an adjunct to a spectrum of treatment options that can be offered to patients, and that evidence shows there are some patients [who] may benefit [from chiropractic care] by improving the quality of their life and decreasing their level of pain.”

Research shows the benefits. In 2013, the medical journal Spine reported a study showing that 73 percent of patients who received chiropractic care in addition to standard medical care said their pain was gone or much better or moderately better after treatment, compared to 17 percent who received standard medical care alone. Chiropractic care offers a drug-free and surgery-free approach for treating back pain. The most commonly known treatment is the spinal adjustment.

“We perform spinal manipulation in order to mobilize joints so that they function optimally, increasing range of motion and improving neurological function,” says Cindy M. Howard, DC, a doctor of chiropractic based in Orland Park. Howard has been in practice for 15 years and routinely treats strains, muscle spasms and herniated disks.

But chiropractic care doesn’t only mean adjustments. It includes preventive care and rehab that promotes overall back health, too. Howard says that lack of core strength is to blame for much back pain, because it creates an instability that sets patients up for a greater chance of strain or injury. She teaches her back patients how to strengthen their core and uses exercises, stretching, therapy and maintenance adjustments to teach proper form and help prevent further injury.

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Howard acknowledges that there is a misconception in the traditional medical community about the benefits of chiropractic care, but she believes these beliefs will change. “I have several MDs who come and see me for treatment. Once they have a firsthand experience with chiropractic, they recognize the value and benefit and know how to use it to help their patients,” she says.

That definitely holds true for Rahul Sharma, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Weiss Memorial Hospital.

His perception of chiropractic care changed after his mother, who suffers with chronic lower back pain, sought treatment from a chiropractor. “Chiropractic care helped her and definitely improved her symptoms for a couple of years,” he says.

Sharma refers approximately 10 percent of his patients for chiropractic care as a result of his mother’s positive experience and identifies a group of practitioners whom he trusts with spinal manipulation care delivery. He states that he is a firm believer in a comprehensive care approach that includes the input of multiple specialists and practitioners.

As more and more medical practices embrace a team approach to patient care, increasing numbers of chiropractors may find themselves incorporated into a patient’s treatment plan. 

Howard remains hopeful. “I do think more MDs are slowly becoming more willing to cross-refer patients to chiropractors,” she says. “After all, not one of us as a practitioner can do everything for everybody.” +

Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 print edition