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, and that illness is the result of nerves being compressed by muscle spasms or joints that are out of place.
Chiropractors don’t use medicines or surgery; they are trained to diagnose physical problems and are likely to call themselves primary healthcare practitioners rather than complementary therapists.
Chiropractors treat illness by moving, or manipulating, the bones of the spine and other joints and muscles to release the compressed nerves, and most commonly treat back pain, neck pain, headaches and pain from muscle, joint and bone problems.
While there is no evidence at this time that chiropractic therapy can treat cancer itself, many individuals with cancer turn to a chiropractor for some relief of certain symptoms or side-effects of cancer.
Chiropractic Therapy as a Complementary Therapy
While there is no evidence at this time that chiropractic therapy can treat cancer itself, chiropractic therapy is useful for muscle and bone problems, so it may help people living with cancer cope with some types of pain and discomfort.
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
One of the main reasons people with cancer see a chiropractor is to help control pain, headaches and tension.
There is some scientific evidence to suggest that chiropractic care may help to relieve headaches and back pain. But there is no evidence to suggest that it helps to prevent, treat or cure cancer and chiropractors would not claim to be able to cure cancer.
Trials have looked at spinal manipulation as a treatment for various conditions. Research studies have found that chiropractic care works well for ongoing lower back pain. In 2009 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended spinal manipulation as given by chiropractors as an effective treatment option for people with ongoing lower back pain.
A 2010 review of scientific evidence on manual therapies found that spinal manipulation can also help people with
- Neck Related Headaches
- Neck Pain
- Knee and Elbow Conditions
- Whiplash Injury
The 2010 review stated that spinal manipulation does not appear to be helpful for asthma, high blood pressure or period pain. The studies could not tell whether it helps with fibromyalgia, pain in the middle area of the back, premenstrual syndrome, sciatica, or jaw joint disorders.
Chiropractic manipulation has been studied for many conditions, but there aren’t any research studies on whether chiropractic therapy helps people living with cancer. Further clinical trials will help to show how well chiropractic care works, and whether it will help for cancer or not as none of these studies were specific for people with cancer.
How is Chiropractic Care Administered?
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 and elbows 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.
Sometimes the chiropractor may use a rapid thrust type action, which can cause a popping sound due to the sudden change of pressure in the joint space. This is not dangerous and shouldn’t be painful.
Some chiropractors may also recommend other techniques as part of the treatment, such as
- Hot and cold treatment
- Physical stretches
- Needling (acupuncture)
- Electrical currents or laser
Most chiropractic sessions last about 15 to 20 minutes. During your treatment it is important that you tell your chiropractor if you are in any discomfort or want them to stop. The number of treatments you will need will depend on the problem you have.
After treatment your chiropractor may suggest exercises that you can do at home to help or prevent further problems. You may need treatments once or twice a week or only once every few weeks.
Side Effects and Risks
It is important to 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 leukaemia 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.
Spinal manipulation can have some side effects. Immediately after treatment, between 25 and 50 out of every 100 people (25 to 50%) feel mild pain or discomfort, a slight headache, or tiredness. This usually passes within 24 hours. If it doesn’t improve, you should contact your chiropractor for advice.
There have been some concerns about the possible risk of having a stroke because of manipulation to the neck. The British Medical Journal’s clinical evidence website claims that between 1 and 3 out of every 1 million people who have manipulation to their neck are at risk of having a stroke so the risk is very low. But your chiropractor will follow strict guidelines set out by their regulatory body. The guidelines prevent them from using specific manipulation techniques on people at high risk of having a stroke.
It may also help you to know that a research review comparing the risks linked to using spinal manipulation for neck pain and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs found that manipulation was much safer than using the drugs.
Who Shouldn’t Have Chiropractic Care
If you have cancer it is important that you let your cancer specialist know before you have chiropractic care. And also let your chiropractor know that you have cancer. In most cases you will be able to go ahead with treatment. But most doctors and chiropractors wouldn’t recommend treatment for people who have
- Any type of bone cancer (primary bone cancer or secondary bone cancer)
- Diseases affecting the spinal cord
- Diseases of the bone marrow, such as leukaemia and myeloma
- Broken bones
- Severe bone thinning (osteoporosis)
You may be advised not to have chiropractic treatment if you are taking drugs to help thin your blood (anti coagulants) or if you are taking some types of steroids. There may be other medical conditions for which your doctor would not recommend chiropractic treatment, so always ask them before going ahead.
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.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.