Chiropractics and Other Manipulation Therapies

The popularity of manipulation therapies such as chiropractic and osteopathy has rocketed in recent years, and they are two of the few legally regulated complementary therapies. Ideal for back ache and muscular problems, they have provided relief to many – but rumours abound about dangerous practices. So are they dangerous?

Chiropractic and Osteopathy – What are They?

Chiropractors treat mechanical problems with bones, joints and muscles, and through manipulating specific areas; they can have a knock on effect on the nervous system. They work all over the body, but concentrate on the spine, making gentle adjustments with their hands. This is said to help improve the body’s natural healing ability, and help the nervous system. As well as the skeletal system and spine, chiropractors also work on tendons, ligaments and muscles.

Osteopaths are similar to chiropractors in many ways, but an osteopath tends to use fewer x-rays to diagnose problems, and they lean more towards manipulating the soft tissues instead of some of the harder manipulations often favoured by chiropractors. Osteopaths use different methods to release muscular tension, realign the musculo-skeletal system, and like chiropractors, techniques intended to help the body heal itself. Techniques include massage, stretching, manipulation and thrusts.

The effectiveness of chiropractic and osteopathy is supported by research, and both therapies were included in the House of Commons Select ‘big five’ – selected on the basis of their evidence, training and good professional associations.

What are Manipulation Therapies Good For?

Chiropractic is recommended for:

  • Back, neck and shoulder pain
  • Injuries to limbs
  • Postural problems
  • Sports injuries
  • arthritis
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Digestive problems
  • Period pain
  • Asthma

Osteopathy is also recommended for back, neck and shoulder pain; headache and migraine; period pain; digestive problems and sports injuries, but is also ideal for treating:

  • Repetitive strain injury
  • sleeping problems
  • depression and anxiety

One form of osteopathy, called cranial osteopathy, has also been used to treat glue ear, colic, and recurrent infections in children.

But Are They Dangerous?

Osteopathy and chiropractic are both very well regulated professions, so if you ensure that any practitioner you visit is properly registered, you should avoid any problems. Nobody is allowed to describe themselves as an osteopath or chiropractor unless they are registered with their relevant body, which is either the General Osteopathic or General Chiropractic Council. In addition to making sure all practitioners are trained, the membership ensures that they have the appropriate insurance, and provides a complaints procedure for anyone not satisfied with treatment they have received.

What Could Go Wrong?

There have been various reports of problems with chiropractic in particular, although not so much with osteopathy. In 1996, for example, Canadian Lana Dale Lewis had a stroke after having treatment for migraine from a chiropractor. The last time she saw him, she had complained about the way her neck was manipulated, as it had caused her intense pain afterwards. A couple of days later, she suffered a stroke, followed by a second, fatal stroke a few days later. Admittedly, this was in Canada, where at the time chiropractic was not regulated as it currently is in the UK.

When Should Manipulation Therapies be Avoided?

You shouldn’t have a manipulation therapy such as osteopathy or chiropractic if you have been diagnosed with severe osteoporosis, inflammation of the joints, a bone infection, problems with your circulation or a recent fracture.

Tell your therapist if you have a prolapsed disc (or slipped disc) as forceful manipulation is not advisable.

All in all, the tight regulation of manipulation therapies should give you some degree of reassurance that you are in safe hands. If you are in any doubt at all about a practitioner, or have any concerns about the methods they are using to treat your ailment, stop the treatment straight away.

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