A study published in 2008 has results that will make you wonder whether back surgery is always necessary. In the study, researchers followed 102 patients with disk herniations confirmed by MRI and sciatic/leg pain while they waited to see a spinal surgeon. The patients had also previously tried four weeks of medications (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs), which had provided no benefit.
While they waited to consult with the spinal surgeon, they were referred for spinal manipulative therapy provided by experienced chiropractors.
A few patients experienced some transient increase in pain and there were three treatment failures (out of 102). Overall, the results were very encouraging with patients reporting considerably improvements in back pain and disability—some even moved off the wait list.
But how is this possible? The disks are the hard cartilage separating each vertebra in the lower back. When this ligament sprains, it can bulge onto a nearby nerve, causing back pain or pain down the leg. Precise adjustments use the bones as levers to affect the alignment of these vertebrae and the movement of the joints in the lumbar spine. If alignment is improved, then there is better posture and distribution of loads on the spine. Helping spinal mobility become more symmetrical may also prevent unequal loading of the soft tissues. Helping these mechanical aspects to heal can be enough to lessen your pain and help you to regain your quality of life. In some cases, it seems it may even keep you from a potentially unnecessary back operation.
Based on the results of the study, anyone without need of emergency surgery should try chiropractic care before having an elective operation for a disk or sciatica/leg pain disorder. Emergency problems would be symptoms like bowel and bladder dysfunction and numbness over the tailbone or hips. Most patients do not fit into the emergency-surgery camp.