Chiropractic: Evolution Or Extinction?

Friday, April 20th, 2018

This week, I want to continue with discussions on low back pain (LBP) because that is the topic that is on fire at the moment. The momentum low back pain has picked up recently is a once in a lifetime rebooting of an entire thought process, of long-held clinical pathways, and of stubborn practitioner mentality and dogmatic beliefs.

I blame the national emergency we know as the “Opioid Crisis” for starting a more focused attack on low back pain. The statistics on low back pain are some incredible numbers. It’s the number one reason for disability in the world. That is truly impressive. However, low back pain as a global issue did not crop up in only the last several years. Granted, due to an older, aging population, it has increased, but low back pain has been a serious concern for many years at this point.

Yet, there were no global papers on low back pain. There were no articles in the journals for the American Medical Association and for the American College of Physicians recommending spinal manipulation (chiropractic adjustments) as an effective, first-line treatment for low back pain. We have simply never seen the attention based on the research that we have seen since the onset of the opioid crisis.

One must give kudos to the medical field in the sense that they recognize they have been partly the cause of the opioid crisis and, in turn, are taking steps to address the problem through new thinking and alternative means. Even if that means going against old dogmatic beliefs and against the common grain. I applaud the new directions. Although, there is still a very clear gap that will take time to fill in regards to what the practitioner is doing and what they SHOULD be doing.

We recently discussed a series of papers in The Lancet from March 21, 2018 that dealt with low back pain. The Lancet is one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world dating back to 1823 and the series of papers was compiled by an international, interdisciplinary group of experts. It is considered the best current information we have dealing with low back pain, it’s prevention, and going forward. I highly encourage you to read through the papers.

Since it would get a little boring going over the same three papers over and over, I am going to move along with other research and other information concerning low back pain.

I want to start with a paper that echoes the sentiments of The Lancet series in regards to the gap in what the evidence suggests and in what is actually happening in the real world. In all actuality, from here forward, I believe most of what we discuss on the topic of low back pain will somewhat echo the sentiments found in the recent Lancet papers.

Moving on, the papers we will discuss are arranged strategically and tell a story if you follow along.

To start, here is a paper from 2010 titled “Managing low back pain in the primary care setting: the know-do gap.” It was published in Pain Research & Management and authored by NA Scott, et. al. with the Institute of Health Economics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Why They Did It

The goal for these authors was to identify gaps in knowledge in regards to diagnosis of acute and chronic low back pain in a primary care clinical setting for primary practitioners in Alberta, Canada in order to further determine what barriers lie in the way of the primary practitioners adopting a multidisciplinary approach in the treatment process.

How They Did It

  • The authors accepted papers from 1996-2008.
  • The papers compared clinical pathway patterns found in the primary practices and in the guides and recommendations found through searching literature databases, websites of various health technology assessment agencies, and libraries.
  • The data was organized qualitatively.

What They Found

The search for quality papers yielded 14 that were considered relevant. Knowledge gaps were identified in the primary practices for red flags, imaging use, advice for bed rest and sick leave for low back pain, medications, and recommendations of alternative treatment means such as chiropractic, acupuncture, physiotherapy, etc.

Wrap It Up

The authors stated that a “know-do” gap certainly exists. Meaning, there is a difference in what the research is telling primary practices to do for low back pain and in what they are actually doing in the real world. The authors plan to use this information to develop a plan to implement more multidisciplinary protocols for low back pain by educating the primary practitioners on the guides and recommendations[1].

If we are to talk about the “Know-do” gap, what is a common result of there being a gap in knowledge of diagnosis and treatment when compared to actual researched guides?

To help shed some light on this, let us look at a paper from March of 2018 by Richard Deyo, et. al. at the Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon. This paper is titled “Use of prescription opioids before and after an operation for chronic pain (lumbar fusion surgery)”

Why They Did It

Considering low back fusion surgery is typically performed to treat chronic low back pain, and considering that patients have the expectation of no longer needing opioids after a surgery, the authors were looking to discover three things:

  • What amount of patients having long-term preoperative opioid use discontinued or reduced dosage after surgery?
  • What amount of patients having had a smaller amount of preoperative opioid use initiated long-term use?
  • What predicts whether a patient goes on to use opioids in the long-term after surgery?

How They Did It

  • This was a retrospective cohort study
  • There were 2,491 participants that had undergone lumbar fusion surgery to treat degenerative conditions.
  • The researchers used Oregon’s prescription drug monitoring program to determine pre-op and post-op use of opioids by the test subjects.
  • Long-term use was defined as more than 4 prescription refills 7 months after hospitalization, with at least 3 occurring more than 30 days after hospitalization.

What They Found

  • 1,045 patients were identified as having long-term opioid use PRE-operatively.
  • 1,094 were determined to have had long-term opioid us POST-operatively.
  • From the long-term PRE-op patients, 71% continued long-term in POST-op use and 13.8% experienced episodic opioid use.
  • A mere 9.1% of the long-term PRE-op patients had short-term use POST-op.
  • In the group of patients that received no pre-operative opioids, 12.8% went on to use opioids long-term.

Wrap It Up

This paper suggests that the strongest predictor of whether a patient would use opioids long-term was the cumulative effect of PRE-op opioid doses. The paper also suggests that lumbar fusion surgery commonly had no effect on eliminating long-term opioid use, so patients that are unaware of the risks of opioid use run a risk of long-term use[2].

While I’m no orthopedic surgeon, I would ask, “Why are they doing lumbar fusions on stable segments in the first place considering the research showing that it should be a treatment of last resort?”

It should come after spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massage, exercise rehab, physiotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, yoga, etc….. That is A LOT any sort of surgery should typically follow so why? Of course, I’m not making the money those folks make so, that may be the decision maker for some of them at least.

Moving from things going wrong to ways they can go right, there is this paper from the journal Pain from March 27, 2018 titled, “Spinal Manipulation and Exercise for Low Back Pain in Adolescents: A Randomized Trial by R. Evans, et. al. with the University of Minnesota’s Integrative Health and Wellbeing Research Program.” As a side note, Gert Bronfort was also listed as an author in this paper. If you are unfamiliar with Bronfort, he has authored several key papers previously.

Why They Did It

The authors state that there is a “paucity” in high quality research on the matter of exercise vs. spinal manipulative therapy in the treatment of low back pain.

How They Did It

  • The research was a multicenter, randomized trial
  • 185 adolescents were included
  • The participants ranged in age from 12-18 years old
  • All had chronic low back pain
  • Outcome assessments were measured at 12 weeks, 26 weeks, and at 52 weeks

What They Found

  • The inclusion of spinal manipulative therapy (chiropractic adjustments) to exercise therapy had a greater effect on the reduction of low back pain severity over the course of a year.
  • At the 26-week mark, the spinal manipulative therapy with exercise group had better effectiveness for disability and improvement over the exercise alone group.

Wrap It Up

The spinal manipulative therapy with exercise group had a significantly greater satisfaction with care at all time points. “There were no serious treatment-related adverse events. For adolescents with chronic LBP, spinal manipulation combined with exercise was more effective than exercise alone over a one-year period, with the largest differences occurring at six months. These findings warrant replication and evaluation of cost-effectiveness[3].”

We chiropractors have to love that paper now, don’t we?

Next, let’s look at a different level of recovery that deals with the way patients think as much as the treatment they undergo. Here is an article that appeared in HealthDay called “Overcoming Fear of Back Pain May Spur Recovery” by Steven Reinberg. The article was based on a recent paper that appeared in JAMA Neurology in April 16, 2018 published by lead researcher Anneleen Malfliet. It is usually wise to at least listen up when it’s in journals such as The Lancet or in the Journal of American Medical Association.

The research paper being cited once again echoes much of the sentiment laid forth in The Lancet low back series. Basically, their recommendations were as follows:

  • We need to help patients think differently about their pain.
  • We need to encourage patients to move in ways they had been afraid of.
  • We need to teach patients with neck and back pain to remain active and/or increase their activity level gradually.
  • We should avoid the use of scary or un-reassuring labels or diagnoses.
  • We should not use pain levels as a reliable symptom or guideline to limit activity.

In short, research proved that patients following these guidelines showed less disability, a reduced fear of moving, and improvement in mental and physical outlook.

“Pain neuroscience education aims to change patients’ beliefs about pain, to increase their knowledge of pain and to decrease its threat,” Malfliet said[4].

Be sure to read the full article at:

Now that we chiropractors are taking the step more and more into the spotlight as the experts in the treatment of biomechanical issues, what can we do on our end to ensure our colleagues can confidently refer to us and see us as peers for these issues?

I can tell you that, being in the ER one night as a result of a viral infection, not only was the virus running crazy through me but my neck was killing me as well. I thought I would ask the ER doc if he had any orthopedic exams up his sleeve that could determine what on Earth was hurting me so bad. Between you, me, and the light post, I already had a good idea but was curious as to what he knew and I thought it may be something that both of us could learn from.

It was. He did a Spurling’s move and that was about it before he gave up and said, “Honestly man, you probably know what’s going on better than I do.” And he was right. I did. But, it showed me that he was honest and that he saw me as an expert in my field and I appreciated it. Of course, he’s more of an expert in his field which is why I was there in the first place. We all have our part to play in the treatment of patients. Don’t we?

Back to my original point: how do we increase our profile as spinal, biomechanical experts. How do we increase interdisciplinary, interprofessional trust in who we are and what we can do for our patients?

I can tell you what NOT to do if that helps anything. I do not see any use for chiropractic terminology that our colleagues do not understand. I personally do not use the term subluxation. In the dictionary, it is described as a partial dislocation. What does that mean in the medical mentality? It means a shoulder that was almost dislocated but reduced naturally. It means something along those lines. It does not mean a slight misalignment of a vertebra that causes cancer or whatever other conditions some describe.

I understand chiropractors wanting to stay separate and distinct. I get it. But, there is a difference between being separate and distinct and putting yourself in a category nobody understands, that everyone thinks is out on the fringe, and that nobody knows exactly how to utilize.

If our profession is not careful, it will separate itself into oblivion now that physical therapist, physiotherapists, and the medical world in general have discovered something we have known all along. That is that spinal manipulation and mobilization is one of the best and most effective means of treating neck and back pain.

What has kept us safe from them taking our business all of these years is that they all thought we were crazy! For some, they were right, but the basic principle our profession is based on was one that evidence eventually backed up and proved. Now we are in danger of losing it if we do not learn that separate and distinct may not be the most effective means of conducting our business.

The last paper I want to discuss is one called “How frequent are non-evidence-based health care beliefs in chiropractic students and do they vary across the pre-professional educational years” by Stanley Innes, et. al. It was published in Chiropractic & Manual Therapies in March 15, 2018.

Why They Did It

The authors wanted to determine what proportion of chiropractic students in Australia hold non-evidence-based beliefs from the start and what their beliefs are in the treatment of non-musculoskeletal health condition. In addition, the authors wanted to determine if the beliefs changed any over the course of their education.

How They Did It

  • The study was performed in 2016.
  • The information was taken from two chiropractic schools in Australia.
  • The students answered a questionnaire with the following questions:
    1. How often would they give advice on five common health conditions in their future practices?
    2. What was their opinion about if chiropractic spinal adjustments could prevent or help seven health-related conditions?
  • There were 444 responses to the questionnaire.

What They Found

  • Students were highly likely to offer advice on non-musculoskeletal health conditions.
  • The chances of a student doing so rose to the highest level in the last year of their education.
  • High numbers of students held non-evidence-based ideas of the capabilities of chiropractic spinal adjustments in beginning which then tended to decrease in proportion until the last year. In the last year, the pattern reversed.

Wrap It Up

The authors were quoted as saying, “New strategies are required for chiropractic educators if they are to produce graduates who understand and deliver evidence-based health care and able to be part of the mainstream health care system[5].”

I want you to know that I am a chiropractic advocate. I want chiropractors to practice how they wish. I want the minimal practices to be comfortable and be as stripped down and as effective as they can be. I want the interdisciplinary doctors to do everything they can do to get people well and make a difference in lives. But I want them to do things in a way that is backed by science, that brings us to the center of healthcare rather than the fringes, I want us using terminology and ideas that garner confidence and respect rather than ridicule and scorn, and I want us all to thrive and prosper while we grow our incredible profession.

There will always be an internal feud amongst chiropractors. Likely, some of my close colleagues whom I respect immensely will take offense to what I am saying and to them, I can only say, “I’m sorry, but it’s the way I feel about it and it’s the way I see it.” Thank God we are all different. The same would be boring.

A colleague of mine told me he feels that philosophy and science can live hand in hand. I want to believe that too. I hope it is true. But, what I do know for a fact is that if we do not take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that opioids and low back pain has presented us, and move toward better integrating ourselves with the medical profession, I fully believe we will have our techniques and treatment stolen from us and we will cease to exist in our current form.

One constant you can always count on in life is change. I hope the inner-professional feuding does not keep change from happening quickly and in the right direction.

Did you know that research and clinical experience shows that, in about 80%-90% of headaches, neck, and back pain, in comparison to the traditional medical model, patients get good or excellent results with Chiropractic? Chiropractic care is safe, more cost-effective, it decreases your chances of having surgery, and it reduces your chances of becoming disabled. We do this conservatively and non-surgically. In addition, we can do it with minimal time requirements and minimal hassle on the part of the patient. And, if the patient develops a “preventative” mindset going forward from initial recovery, we can likely keep it that way while raising the general, overall level of health!
Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think. And….SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!! We cannot make a difference without your help.

Till next time……
The Amarillo Chiropractor Blog is written by Dr. Jeff Williams.
Amarillo TX Amarillo Pain & Accident Chiropractic Clinic provides customized chiropractic care to the Amarillo TX, Canyon TX, Pampa TX, Happy TX, White Deer TX, Dumas TX, Groom TX, Conway TX, Panhandle TX, Claude TX, Clarendon TX, Borger TX, Tulia, TX, Hereford TX, Fritch TX, Bushland TX, and Vega TX communities.

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  1. Scott NA, Managing low back pain in the primary care setting: the know-do gap. Pain Res Manag, 2010. 15(6): p. 392-400.
  2. Deyo R, Use of prescription opioids before and after an operation for chronic pain (lumbar fusion surgery). Pain, 2018.
  3. Evans R, Spinal Manipulation and Exercise for Low Back Pain in Adolescents: A Randomized Trial. Pain, 2018.
  4. Malfliet A, Effect of Pain Neuroscience Education Combined With Cognition-Targeted Motor Control Training on Chronic Spinal Pain
    A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurology, 2018.
  5. Innes S, How frequent are non-evidence-based health care beliefs in chiropractic students and do they vary across the pre-professional educational years. Chiropr Man Therap, 2018. 26(8).