Chiropractic, Neck Pain, Disc Herniation

This study examined 27 patients in a private chiropractic practice who presented with neck or back pain and who had MRI-documented cervical or lumbar disc herniations that corresponded with clinical findings.

“Patients were treated with a course of chiropractic care consisting of traction for the cervical spine or flexion distraction in the lumbar spine in the acute phase of care, in addition to interferential/ultrasound combination and cryotherapy. In the subacute phase, rotational manipulation was judiciously added, as were isometric and flexibility exercises. In the chronic stage of care, distraction manipulation and rehabilitative exercises were continually employed. Rehabilitative exercise included extension exercises in addition to pelvic tilts, lifts and knee flexion stretching.”

“Treatment frequency was typically four to five times/wk for weeks 1 and 2, then three times/wk with decreasing frequency as the patient progressed. Duration of active care varied from 6 wk to 6 months.”

“When patients reached the point at which their VAS [visual analog scale] score was ?2, their exam findings reversed and their extremity pain resolved, a repeat MRI was obtained. This scenario occurred as early as 6 wk after initiation of care.”

If the patients did not reach these milestones, follow-up MRI was performed 1 year after the initiation of care.

The study found that 22 of 27 (80%) had good clinical outcomes; 17 of the 22 (77%) “had not only good clinical outcome but also evidence of reduced or resolved disc herniation upon repeat MRI scanning.”

Five patients (18.5%) had a marginal or poor outcome, but none had worse clinical signs or pain ratings at the end of the study.
At the beginning of the study, all 27 patients had left work because of the severity of the pain; at follow-up, 21 (78%) were back to work in their former occupations.

VAS scores decreased from an average of 6.9 before treatment to 1.9 following treatment.

One important issue that the author addresses is the controversy of whether manipulation is contraindicated for disc herniation. After reviewing the literature, and from his clinical findings, he concludes that manipulation is indeed safe for disc herniation: “…in the cervical and lumbar spine, rotational manipulation most likely cannot be implicated in disc failure or exacerbation of a disc herniation, and for rotational forces from a manipulation to be involved in disc failure, facet fracture must occur first.” No complications occurred in this study.

BenEliyahu DJ. Magnetic resonance imaging and clinical follow-up: study of 27 patients receiving chiropractic care for cervical and lumbar disc herniations. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 1996;19(9):597-606.