A common question from patients in a chiropractic office is, “Can I adjust myself?” A study published on April 22, 2015, in the Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research demonstrates that self-manipulation of the spine is not as effective as a specifically given chiropractic adjustment.
The study begins by pointing out that forms of spinal manipulation have been used in the treatment of lower back pain by many different types of practitioners. The study authors stated the purpose of the study by saying, “It is hypothesized that self-manipulation of the lumbar spine, without the utilization of an experienced practitioner, can result in therapeutic benefits but can also cause instability and chronic low back pain.”
The authors report that prior to this study there have been no scientific studies showing that self-manipulation is either beneficial or harmful. They note that there has been much research on the benefits of spinal manipulation for those suffering from back pain. The difficulty in a study of self-manipulation is that there is a wide variety of variables in self-rendered care of any kind.
In the specific case documented for this study, a 17-year-old boy came to the chiropractor suffering from chronic lower back pain that he had been experiencing for over a year. The boy was very active in sports and his problem may have coincided with a weightlifting injury he sustained near the time his problems started to appear.
The boy was treated with pain medications and injections, but these provided little help. As a result, he resorted to self-manipulation of his lumbar spine. Multiple times per day, the boy would twist his body to create tension in his lumbar spine resulting in a popping sound in his lower back. This procedure seemed to create some relief and an increased range of motion. He would perform this self-manipulation as frequently as every 20-30 minutes every day in order to get relief.
Upon going to the chiropractor, the boy was instructed to discontinue the self-manipulation. A chiropractic examination with x-rays was performed to evaluate the boy’s condition. The examination did show that several segments of the boy’s lower spine was less movable than normal, while the entire area of the spine was more movable than normal. This was probably the result of the self-manipulation.
Chiropractic care was begun at the rate of 3 visits per week for 3 months. Adjustments were given to the areas of the boy’s spine that were less movable. The results reported in the study showed that the boy improved significantly from the chiropractic care with a reduction in his back pain. Additionally, there was an increased stability of his spine due to the chiropractic care without the self-manipulation.
In their conclusion the authors wrote that specific chiropractic adjustments are different from self-manipulation in several ways including safety, specificity, and effectiveness. They note that while self-manipulation can produce similar popping sounds in the spine, the effects of a specific, “…chiropractic adjustment cannot be reproduced without the expertise of a skilled practitioner.”