The headline above is from a January 7, 2012 article in the health section of the New York Times. This article, as well as a similar one from Medical Press on January 4, 2012, is based on research published on January 3, 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The research studied 272 adults who were suffering with neck pain for 2- to 12-weeks duration. The subjects were divided into three groups, and received either chiropractic adjustments (called SMT or spinal manipulative therapy in the study), home exercise with advice (HEA), or prescription medication. The adjustments were delivered by one of five chiropractors while the medications were prescribed by medical physicians. The medications consisted mainly of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, or both.
The care in each of the three groups lasted only 12 weeks in this study. The people in the study were asked to rate their pain initially and at various points thereafter up to 12 months later. The level of pain was recorded for each of the participants at the intervals of at 2, 4, 8, 12, 26, and 52 weeks. The results reported that chiropractic adjustments did better in helping neck pain patients and showed “a statistically significant advantage over medication after 8, 12, 26, and 52 weeks.”
Even though the care rendered for each of these groups was only for 12 weeks, the long term follow-up showed that 53 percent of the people who had received chiropractic continued to report at least a 75 percent reduction in pain. The exercise group also had similar numbers. However, the group taking medication showed only a 38 percent reduction in pain overall.
Dr. Gert Bronfort, an author of the study and research professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota, noted his reasons for the study included a lack of information on choices for people with neck pain. “There was a void in the scientific literature in terms of what the most helpful treatments are,” Bronfort said. He noted that the results showed chiropractic superior to medications. “Even a year later, there were differences between the spinal manipulation and medication groups,” Bronfort said.
Not only did the group taking medications not fair as well in pain reduction, there was also a problem with usage as people kept taking them in an attempt to get help. “The people in the medication group kept on using a higher amount of medication more frequently throughout the follow-up period, up to a year later,” said Dr. Bronfort. “If you’re taking medication over a long time, then we’re running into more systemic side effects like gastrointestinal problems.”