Chiropractic therapy

Chiropractic therapy is based on the idea that a healthy spine and nervous system play an important role in your overall health and well-being. Chiropractors see illness as the result of nerves being compressed by muscle spasms or joints that are out of place. They treat the illness by moving, or manipulating, the bones of the spine and other joints and muscles to release the compressed nerves. It’s most commonly used to treat back pain, neck pain, headaches and pain from muscle, joint and bone problems.

During a chiropractic appointment, the chiropractor will ask questions about your health and the symptoms you have. The chiropractor will also do a physical exam to check your posture and feel your spine or other bones and joints. The chiropractor may also order tests such as spine or joint x-rays to help find what may be causing your symptoms. Based on this information, the chiropractor will make a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Chiropractors most often use their hands to manipulate bones and muscles. Manipulation puts the bones and joints back into their natural place to try to restore proper alignment and nerve function. The chiropractor may also use hot and cold treatments, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, massage, traction, special equipment and other methods. They may suggest exercises to help correct problems or prevent more problems.

Chiropractic therapy as a complementary therapy

There is no evidence at this time that chiropractic therapy can treat cancer itself. Chiropractic manipulation has been studied for many conditions, but there aren’t any research studies on whether chiropractic therapy helps people living with cancer. Some research shows that it is useful for muscle and bone problems, so it may help people living with cancer cope with some types of pain and discomfort.

Unfortunately, many studies on chiropractic therapy are not well designed. As a result, they do not give strong evidence that chiropractic therapy works. Research continues to explore the conditions where chiropractic therapy may be most useful. Chiropractic therapy may help with:

  • low back pain
  • migraines or other headaches caused by neck problems
  • neck pain
  • joint pain in the arms, shoulders, hips or legs

Side effects and risks of chiropractic therapy

Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about starting chiropractic therapy. They may be able to recommend a chiropractor who has worked with people with cancer. Tell your chiropractor that you have cancer, any treatments that you have had or medicines that you are taking.

Chiropractic therapy may not be recommended if you have primary bone cancer, cancer that has spread to the bone (bone metastases) or a cancer that involves the bone marrow (such as leukemia or multiple myeloma). Certain hormone therapies used to treat breast or prostate cancer can weaken bones or cause severe osteoporosis, which means that some chiropractic manipulation may be risky. People who have bleeding problems or are taking blood thinners (anticoagulants) may be at a higher risk of stroke after a neck manipulation.

Chiropractic manipulation is generally thought to be safe when done by a qualified chiropractor. After treatment, some people are a little sore or stiff, or they may have a headache. These effects don’t last very long. But there have been very rare cases when neck manipulation has led to a stroke causing blindness and paralysis.

Finding a chiropractor

It’s important to have chiropractic treatments done by a licensed chiropractor who has completed chiropractic training. Most Canadian provinces and one territory have laws that regulate and govern how chiropractic therapy is practised.

Expert review and references

  • Alcantara J, Alcantara JD, Alcantara J . The chiropractic care of patients with cancer: a systematic review of the literature. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2012.
  • Bronfort G, Evans R, Anderson AV, et al . Spinal manipulation, medication, or home exercise with advice for acute and subacute neck pain: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. American College of Physicians; 2012.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Cancer Research UK. CancerHelp UK. London, UK: Cancer Research UK; 2013.
  • Evans, R. C., & Rosner, A. L . Alternatives in cancer pain treatment: the application of chiropractic care. Seminars in Oncology Nursing. Philadelphia: Elsevier Inc; 2005.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Review of CAM practices for back and neck pain shows modest results. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM); 2010.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Chiropractic: An Introduction. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM); 2012.
  • Posadzki P. . Is spinal manipulation effective for pain? An overview of systematic reviews. Pain Medicine. Wiley; 2012.
  • Schneider, J., & Gilford, S . The chiropractor's role in pain management for oncology patients. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. Elsevier; 2001.