Chiropractic Benefits and Risks

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If you suffer from back pain, will a chiropractor help you more than a medical doctor? The answer may de­pend on where you hurt—and on how much you’re willing to spend.
At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, researchers who studied 1,633 people found chiropractic to be as effective as standard back treatment by physicians or orthopedic surgeons. And a study of 741 patients with back pain, reported in the British Medical Journal, found that chiropractic of­fered more relief than physical therapy.

If you’re on a budget, however, chi­ropractic may not be the wisest choice, since it requires more visits than stan­dard therapy. In the North Carolina study, chiropractic patients saw their provider 10 to 15 times: patients seen by physicians went three to five times.

And if your pain is higher up on your body, you might want to think twice about a chiropractor. In a survey in the journal Neurology, 177 neurologists re­ported a total of 55 strokes, 16 cases of spinal cord damage and 30 incidents of other nerve damage in patients who’d had chiropractic manipulation of their neck or head. In rare cases, the re- searchers say, stroke occurs when rapid twisting of the neck causes blood ves­sels in the vertebrae to twist and tear, blocking off blood flow to the brain.

“Patients should realize there’s a small chance of complications and have the opportunity to give informed consent before receiving treatment,” says survey coauthor Dr. Gregory Al­bers, director of the stroke center at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto. Calif. —ELEANOR GILMAN

Pain Control
The next time a migraine heats up in your head, try heating up the rest of your body with your mind. It may help.

Raising body temperature is a form of biofeedback, one of several unconven­tional pain therapies recently endorsed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Biofeedback patients learn to control involuntary body functions, such as raising body temperature and lower­ing blood pressure, to induce relaxation and control pain. It’s often prescribed for tension and migraine headaches. “In time, biofeedback is going to be as con­ventional as using acetaminophen or ibuprofen,” predicts Dr. Gary Kaplan, a chronic pain specialist at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Wash‑ Migraine Relief

Biofeedback can re­lieve headaches, but learning how to do it usually means getting hooked up to a machine that records bodily con­ditions such as blood pressure and ington. (To try a form of the therapy at home, see the box below.)

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