Chronic pain is a very common condition that impacts an estimated 75 million Americans, disabling many who describe their pain as severe and incapacitating. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, January 2012, reports that conservative care, consisting of either spinal manipulation or home exercise, is more effective than over-the-counter and prescription medication for relieving neck pain.

The study involved 272 adults from the ages of 18-65 that had been experiencing neck pain for two to 12 weeks in duration. The participants had a neck pain score of 3 or more on a 0-10 scale. The subjects were then put into three equal study groups for comparison.

The first study group received spinal adjustments from doctors of chiropractic. According to the study, six experienced chiropractors treated their group with specific spinal adjustments to the neck along with gentle, manual stretching procedures.

The second study group was given exercise advice by physical therapists. Stretching and strengthening exercises were prescribed for treatment. This group was asked to perform 5-10 repetitions of each exercise six to eight times daily.

The third group was monitored by a licensed medical doctor who prescribed either anti-inflammatory drugs (Aleve or Ibuprofen) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). With patients who did not respond, or could not take these drugs, the doctor could then prescribe stronger narcotic medications and muscle relaxants for pain relief. The MD’s treatment for neck pain was limited to prescription drug therapy.

The final results of the study were the following. The chiropractic and exercise group achieved the most effective outcomes. After 12 weeks of care, 32 percent of the group that had spinal adjustments became pain free. With the group that exercised, 30 percent became pain free. Only 13 percent of those treated with medication became pain free.

This is the final conclusion reached by the medical researchers. “For participants with acute and sub-acute neck pain, spinal manipulation was more effective than medication in both the short and long term. However, a few instructional sessions of home exercise with advice resulted in similar outcomes.”

My advice: If you are experiencing back or neck pain I would recommend that you consult with a chiropractor who does an excellent work-up and takes diagnostic film studies. An accurate diagnosis is essential to establish a treatment program that is unique to every individual patient. It is also important to actively involve the patient with a program of care that will include specific spinal exercises and stretches that will help stabilize and prevent future exacerbations of pain. Medication may help in the short term, but drugs do not treat the actual cause of pain. Harmful side effects are commonly associated with drugs and shots.

The most likely benefit that you will experience with chiropractic care and gentle exercise is less pain and better health.

Dr. Craig W. Brue is an author, lecturer and chiropractic provided in SaddleBrooke.

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