Back pain is the sixth most common health condition among adults in the United States, leaving chiropractors as the first line of defense for the physical health of nearly 16 million adults. But as social distancing has become the new norm, patients are wondering if their pain is even worth a visit to the chiropractor at the risk they may contract novel coronavirus COVID-19.
What the experts say
The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security has deemed chiropractors as essential workers during this pandemic meaning many Americans will still be able to visit their doctor for back treatment. But to some chiropractors, the decision as to whether that treatment is telemedical or in-person all depends on the severity.
"A medical condition would be any type of pain radiating down to the legs, radiating from the source of origin," said Mark Sanna, a chiropractor, and consultant at Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. "Any type of neurological deficit numbness cumulating into the extremities those could all be signs that there could be some nerve involvement. And that would be something that you wouldn't want to have [to be] simply a telehealth visit."
Individuals with back conditions like sciatica, muscle loss, or numbness should be scheduling in-person appointments with their chiropractor for treatment he says. In-person examinations are most necessary when chiropractors need to determine what the cause of a pain is through the use of imaging, medical studies or x-rays, Sanna continued. Meanwhile, individuals who are experiencing minor back problems such as muscle pain, slight stiffness, or are just seeking general check-ups should use telemedicine.
On the other hand, Dr. Anthony Kaveh, anesthesiologist and integrative medicine specialist, suggests that people not visit their chiropractors at all during social distancing.
"Very rarely if ever, would a chiropractor service ever fall into urgent medical need, or an essential service going into areas where other people are going to be chiropractors, patients, etc. is not only other patients visiting a chiropractor at risk a chiropractor themselves at risk but also the patient going there as well," Dr. Kaveh says. "And the risk-benefit ratio clinically is not going to be as in favor of receiving that service."
Although the chiropractic field is very "hands-on" Kaveh highly recommends that individuals with back pain problems seek treatment via telemedicine. Chiropractors should "think creatively" when teaching new physical aide techniques virtually, as well as realize that patients can learn new techniques for muscle stretching themselves. In doing so Kaveh believes this will empower the patient more.
Chiropractors across the nation are already switching from in-person appointments to telemedicine in order to assure their own safety, even major insurance companies like BlueCross BlueShield and Anthem have been approving insurance coverage for telehealth visits. And those who have decided to stay open are taking heed to recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus such as waiting rooms requiring patients to sit six feet apart, sanitizing tables, and using face masks.
Ultimately, the decision on whether to visit the chiropractor or not will be left to the individual patient to decide for themselves, but as cases of the coronavirus continue to rise the CDC suggests the best method to stay safe is to stay at home.