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November 16, 2021

Most younger Americans would visit a chiropractor over a doctor for neck or back pain, survey shows

Results also demonstrated that the personal preference appears to vary by region and employment status

Adult Health Chronic Pain
Chiropractic care Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

Chiropractic care can help relieve chronic pain affecting bones, cartilage, connective tissue, joints and muscles. It often focuses on the spine, but can be used to relieve pain in other parts of the body as well.

More than half of Generation Z and younger millennials are more willing to go to a chiropractor for treatment of neck or back pain than to a medical doctor, according to a new survey.

The survey, commissioned by the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, was conducted online by The Harris Poll between October 5-7, 2021 and included answers from over 2,000 U.S. adults.

Results showed that the personal preference appears to vary among age groups, as well as by employment status and region. 

Only 35% of Baby Boomers, which consists of adults between ages 57-75, said that they would be more willing to see a chiropractor. However, 54% of Gen Z and 52% of younger millennials – people ages 25-32 –said that they were open to the idea.

Adults who were employed also were more likely to choose chiropractic care than their unemployed counterparts. The researchers said this preference could be influenced by the fact that more employers and health insurers are increasing access to non-traditional treatments for chronic pain.

The survey also found that people in the West were more willing to try chiropractic care than those living in the Northeast.

"After more than two decades of the nation's opioid crisis, it is not surprising that younger Americans would choose effective, drug-free and non-invasive chiropractic care to manage neck and back pain and avoid costly surgical approaches," said Sherry McAllister, president of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress.

A 2020 study by the foundation found that a majority of young adults reported experiencing chronic neck, shoulder or back pain before they were 16.

What is chiropractic care?

Chiropractic care is defined as hands-on manipulations by a trained professional that helps the body heal itself. It is considered a more natural approach to the management of chronic pain that reduces the need for surgery and medicine, especially opioids.

The therapy can help relieve chronic pain affecting bones, cartilage, connective tissue, joints and muscles. It often focuses on the spine, but can be used to relieve pain in other parts of the body as well.

One 2019 study found that cervical spine manipulation can successfully decrease neck pain in the short-term by modifying the expression of neuropeptides – proteins produced by the nervous system that act as neurotransmitters – in the blood.

Some people with chronic pain may see a physical therapist as well as a chiropractor. Physical therapists focus more on using stretches and exercises to relieve pain. It is a primary care treatment that often is provided in conjunction with other therapies.

Research on adverse events remains mixed

According to McAllister,  research has shown that patients of every age who have their chronic pain treated by a chiropractor have fewer opioid prescriptions and need to take less pills.

She pointed to a 2020 analysis of health insurance claims that found patients with spinal pain who visited both a chiropractor and a primary care doctor were less likely to take opioids than those who were only treated by their primary care doctor.

While some studies warn about possible adverse events with this type of non-traditional treatment, others have ended up with no conclusive evidence about the safety or benefits of the practice.

The most common side effects associated with chiropractic adjustments include headaches, fatigue and discomfort in the parts of the body that were manipulated.

Serious adverse events are exceedingly rare, but they do happen occasionally. These include pinched nerves in the spinal canal that can lead to permanent paralysis, worsening herniated disks and cervical arterial strokes that occur when arteries in the neck are dissected.

One 2017 systematic review found that serious adverse events accounted for 1 of every 2 million spinal manipulations.

Researchers say that certain pre-existing conditions may lead to an increased risk of adverse events with chiropractic care. 

The therapy is generally not recommended for people with osteoporosis, spine deformities, spine cancer, an increased stroke risk and certain conditions that may require surgery.

So what does all this mean for you?

Currently, the American College of Physicians recommends that doctors encourage patients with low back pain to first seek a non-medication treatment approach to treat their pain, and chiropractic care is on their list of approaches to try along with exercise, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi and meditation.

People who are experiencing chronic pain are advised to first talk to their primary care doctors about the best non-pharmaceutical approaches and to go over the risks and benefits of chiropractic care for their specific situations. 

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