Chiropractic vs. Medical Advice, Bed Rest, Natural History/Resolution and Over-the-Counter Drugs for Low Back Pain
By: Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
William J. Owens DC, DAAMLP
A report on the scientific literature
Mechanical spine pain is any back pain excluding tumor or infection and has been called low back pain, chronic low back pain, acute low back pain and non-specific low back pain. This is a societal problem and according to Panjabi (2006) “…70-85% of the population in industrialized societies experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime... The total cost of low back pain has been estimated to exceed 50 billion dollars per year in the USA” (p. 668)” Low back pain is historically one of the most prevalent conditions successfully treated in chiropractic offices and still is being questioned in too many medical conversations in spite of the evidence. This lack of referrals to the chiropractic profession by too many medical providers has contributed to perpetuating this reversible epidemic. Day, Yeh Franko, Ramirez, and Krupat (2007) reported that only 26% of fourth year Harvard medical students had a cognitive mastery of physical medicine.
Schmale (2005) reported:
Incoming interns at the University of Pennsylvania took an exam of musculoskeletal aptitude and competence, which was validated by a survey of more than 100 orthopaedic program chairpersons across the country. Eighty-two percent of students tested failed to show basic competency. Perhaps the poor knowledge base resulted from inadequate and disproportionately low numbers of hours devoted to musculoskeletal medicine education during the undergraduate medical school years. Less than 1⁄2 of 122 US medical schools require a preclinical course in musculoskeletal medicine, less than 1⁄4 require a clinical course, and nearly 1⁄2 have no required preclinical or clinical course. In Canadian medical schools, just more than 2% of curricular time is spent on musculoskeletal medicine, despite the fact that approximately 20% of primary care practice is devoted to the care of patients with musculoskeletal problems. Various authors have described shortcomings in medical student training in fracture care, arthritis and rheumatology, and basic physical examination of the musculoskeletal system. (p. 251).
With continued evidence of lack of musculoskeletal medicine and a subsequent deficiency of training in spine care, particularly of biomechanical (subluxation or bio-neuro-mechanical lesions) orientation, the question becomes, “Which profession has the educational basis, training and clinical competence to manage these cases?” Let’s take a closer look at chiropractic education as a comparison.
Fundamental to the training of doctors of chiropractic, according to the American Chiropractic Association, is 4,200 hours (similar to medical doctors and osteopaths) and students receive a thorough knowledge of anatomy and physiology. As a result, all accredited doctors of chiropractic degree programs focus a significant amount of time in their curricula on these basic science courses. This material is so important to a chiropractic practice that the Council on Chiropractic Education, the federally recognized accrediting agency for chiropractic education, requires a curriculum which enables students to be “proficient in neuromusculoskeletal evaluation, treatment and management.” In addition to multiple courses in anatomy and physiology, the typical curriculum in chiropractic education includes physical diagnosis, spinal analysis, biomechanics, orthopedics and neurology. As a result, students are afforded the opportunity to practice utilizing this basic science information for many hours prior to beginning clinical services in their internships.
It was reported by Shaheed, Mahar, Williams, and McLachlin (2014) that out of the 4,336 studies they identified, there was only 13 found to be relavent, leaving this an area that still needs more review. However, in the entire study it was concluded that, “None of the trials evaluating [medical] advice or bed rest reported statistically and clinically important effects at any time point…The effects of advice on disability are similar to those for pain, with pooled results showing no clinical significant effect for the short and long-terms” (Shaheed, 2014, p. 5). “Pooled results from 2 studies on bed rest showed a statistically significant negative effect of bed rest in the immediate term…” (Shaheed et al., 2014, p. 10).
Shaheed et al. (2014) concluded that “There is no convincing evidence of effectiveness for any intervention available [with] OTC (over the counter drugs) or advice in the management of acute low back pain” (p. 11). The authors did report, “In the intermediate term, results from one of the studies involving referral to an allied HCP [health care provider] and reinforcement of key messages at follow-up visits showed significant effects in the intermediate and long-terms” (Shaheed et al., 2014, p. 12).
A 2005 study by DeVocht, Pickar, & Wilder concluded through objective electrodiagnostic studies (neurological testing) that 87% of chiropractic patients exhibited decreased muscle spasms. This study validates the reasoning behind the later study that people with severe muscle spasms in the low back respond well to chiropractic care and this prevents future problems and disabilities. It also dictates that care should not be delayed or ignored due to a risk of complications. The above statistic indicates that while medicine cannot conclude an accurate diagnosis in 85% of their back pain patients, chiropractic has already helped 87% of the same population.
In a study by Leeman, Peterson, Schmid, Anklin, and Humphrys (2014), there is further successful evidence of the effects of mechanical back pain, both acute and chronic pain with chiropractic care. This study considered both herniated discs and radiculopathy or pain radiating down into the leg as a baseline for analysis. The study also considered acute and chronic lumbar herniated disc pain patients. In this study, the acute onset patient (the patient’s pain just started) reported 80% improvement at 2 weeks, 85% improvement at 1 month, and a 95% improvement at 3 months. The study went on to conclude that the patient stabilized at both the six month and one year marks following the onset of the original pain. Although one might argue that the patient would have gotten better with no treatment, it was reported that after two weeks of no treatment, only 36% of the patients felt better and at 12 weeks, up to 73% felt better. This study clearly indicates that chiropractic is a far superior solution to doing nothing and at the same time helps the patient return to his/her normal life without pain, drugs or surgery.
Again, this is an environment where research has concluded that medicine has poor choices based upon outcomes for what they label “nonspecific low back pain.” The results indicate that chiropractic has defined this “nonspecific lesion” as a “bio-neuro-mechanical lesion” also known as the chiropractic vertebral subluxation and the evidence outlined on these pages, combined with the ever growing body of outcome studies verify that medicine can reverse this epidemic by considering chiropractors as “primary spine care providers” or the first option for referral for everything spine short of fracture, tumor or infection.