Is Chiropractic Care Required for Neck Pain?

Maybe “required” is a strong word, but is it possible that negative changes occur with neck pain that can only be fixed by chiropractic adjusting?

As always, this is the time for my disclaimer:  As a chiropractor, my viewpoint on this topic is clearly biased, but very well informed.

It seems like most of medicine jumps on a short course of anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers for non-specific neck or back pain.  Give it a few days of medications and see what happens.  If the patient doesn’t get better, than consider referring out for (most likely) PT or chiropractic care.  If they do get better, everything’s great.  Or is it?

Are there changes that occur either from neck pain, or that lead to neck pain that are at a much deeper level than just symptoms?

I know that, for far too long my profession has promoted the “bone out of place” theory about chiropractic adjusting.  However, this is just not how things work and I think many of my colleagues just found it easier to described what we do in overly simplistic terms.  Closer to reality is what is called the “dysafferentation” model.  Joints like to move and are surrounded by a massive amount of receptors that fire off to the brain when we move.

That’s why we can close our eyes and still touch our noses with our fingertips.  When we have an injury, or spend too much time in a single position at the computer for hours each day or we wake up with severe neck pain, the input from these receptors surrounding the affected joints will slow down.  This means less input into your brain from these receptors.   The brain doesn’t like this and sends a signal out to your pain centers that something is wrong.

At this point, what do you think that any type of medication, regardless of the class it is in, will do to fix this loss of input to the brain?  The correct answer is a big fat nothing.

So what does all this have to do with this particular study?  While a small study, it raises some very interesting questions about neck pain and how what kind of an impact chiropractic care has.  Here’s a summary:

  • Patients had subclinical neck pain, or minor neck pain for which they had not yet sought treatment (specifically, intermittent neck pain such as mild neck pain, ache, and/or stiffness experienced over at least 3 months’ duration)
  • Patients demonstrated  a 19% decrease in reaction time as well as a decrease in cerebellar inhibition (CBI–the brain was no longer reacting the way it was supposed to be).
  • Follwoing a keypad based exercise to increase moto sequence learning, there was a decrease in CBI following chiropractic manipulation.
  • The control group also had a 25% improvement in task performance, but no changes to CBI.

While the article itself gets a little technical, the bottom line is that, in these patients with mild, occasional neck pain, the neurological system is no longer functioning the way it is supposed to.  Additionally, chiropractic adjusting has a positive impact on the nervous system in these patients.

While no hard conclusions can be drawn from this, I would suggest, in my very biased opinion, that NO cases of neck pain can be properly addressed without the use of chiropractic adjusting.  Medications alone, which is a common route of treatment, does nothing to fix the negative changes in the nervous system that are present in neck pain patients.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.