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Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy in Treating Low Back Pain with Spinal Adjustments vs. Exercise Rehabilitation

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Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy

 in Treating Low Back Pain

with Spinal Adjustments vs. Exercise Rehabilitation



William J. Owens DC, DAAMLP

A report on the scientific literature


In the United Kingdom, Field and Newell (2016) reported that back pain accounts for 4.8% of all social benefit claims with overall costs reaching $7 billion pounds or $9.35 billion US dollars. Boyles (2016) reported that “Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, found that the nation's dramatic rise in expenditures for the diagnosis and treatment of back and neck problems has not led to expected improvements in patient health. Their study appears in the Feb. 13 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. After adjustment for inflation, total estimated medical costs associated with back and neck pain increased by 65% between 1997 and 2005, to about $86 billion a year… Yet during the same period, patients reported more disability from back and neck pain, including more depression and physical limitations.


“We did not observe improvements in health outcomes commensurate with the increasing costs over time," lead researcher Brook I. Martin, MPH, and colleagues wrote. "Spine problems may offer opportunities to reduce expenditures without associated worsening of clinical outcomes." ( Part of the explanation for the rise in cost of treatment of low back pain is the utilization of physical therapy by allopath’s (medical primary care providers and medical specialists) as the primary option for the treatment of low back pain vs. the literature verified better alternative of chiropractic based upon outcome studies.  


Through the years, both chiropractors and physical therapists have concurrently utilized exercise rehabilitation as a modality to treat low back pain. As a rule, the chiropractic profession has utilized exercise rehabilitation as an adjunct to the spinal adjustment where in physical therapy, it has been the main focus of the treatment plan. In addition, other passive modalities to mitigate pain, such as electrical stimulation and/or hydro/cryotherapy has been utilized as an adjunct to each professions main treatment. As a rule, exercise rehabilitation is a crucial adjunct to the treatment of low back disorders as it adds necessary motion to the joint and helps balance muscle tone required to create a biomechanically stabilized joint over time.

However, Ianuzzi and Khalsa (2005) wrote (pg. 674)


Facet joint capsule strain magnitudes during simulated high velocity low amplitude spinal manipulations were within the range of motion occurred during maximum physiological motions, indicating that the procedure is biomechanically safe and provide a stimulus that is likely sufficient to stimulate facet joint capsule neurons. However, physiological motions of the lumbar spine by themselves (e.g. Exercise) are generally ineffective in treating low back pain, suggesting that facet joint capsule strain magnitude alone would be insufficient in providing a novel stimulus for facet joint capsule afferents.


The high strain rates that occurred during spinal manipulation could provide a novel “yet biomechanically safe” stimulus for afferents innervating given facet joint capsule. Alternatively, during spinal manipulation, the relative magnitudes (patterns) of facet joint capsule strain was in a region of the lumbar spine may be unique, which could result in a novel pattern of facet joint capsule mechanoreceptor firing in the spinal region and subsequently a novel stimulus to the central nervous system.


Simply put, the facet joint capsules are comprised of ligaments where the mechanoreceptors are located. A spinal manipulation (chiropractic spinal adjustment) stimulates the neurons in the capsule where exercise (physiological motion) does not. In addition, it has been shown that chiropractic spinal adjustments are safe to the joint capsule and ligaments that comprise the capsule.




  1. Field J., Newell D. (2016) Clinical Outcomes In a Large Cohort of Musculoskeletal Patients Undergoing Chiropractic Care In the United Kingdom: A Comparison of Self and National Health Service Referral Routes, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 39(1), pgs. 54-62
  2. Boyles S., $86 Billion Spent on Back, Neck Pain, WebMD (2016) Retrieved from:
  3. Ianuzzi A., Khalsa P. (2005) High Loading Rate During Spinal Manipulation Produces Unique Facet Joint Capsule Strain Patterns Compared With Axial Rotations, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 28 (9), 673-687

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Read 11382 times Last modified on Tuesday, 25 October 2016 13:27


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