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Chiropractic Care for Joint Problems: What to Know

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 01, 2020

People choose chiropractic care for all kinds of health concerns. If you have problems with your joints, you may be wondering if chiropractic care can help you. The answer may depend on the cause of your pain. Here’s what to consider before you try chiropractic care.

How Chiropractic Care Works

The theory behind chiropractic care is that your nervous system works best when the bones in your spine are aligned correctly, to benefit not just your muscles and joints, but all the systems of the body. Many people use it to address musculoskeletal problems.

Chiropractic care is a form of manual therapy, which means practitioners use their hands and special instruments to deliver treatment. They don’t prescribe medication and they don’t do surgery. But they are licensed and may have recommendations on exercise and other therapies.

Chiropractors have a number of ways to work out problems in your joints and soft tissue:

  • High-velocity low-amplitude spinal manipulation therapy (HVLA SMT). This is the “adjustment” most associated with chiropractic care. The chiropractor pushes a joint, usually in your spine, beyond its normal range of motion with one or more quick, forceful thrusts.
  • Joint mobilization. Here, the joint is worked gently through its natural range of motion, looking for places where movement is restricted.
  • Stretching and massage.
  • Heat and/or cold therapy.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This device delivers a mild electrical pulse to stimulate your muscles and nerves.
  • Ultrasound. Sound waves can help relieve pain and swelling in joints and soft tissue.
  • Low-level laser. A type of laser that doesn’t generate heat can also bring down swelling.

Chiropractic Care and Joint Problems

Some types of joint problems may limit what your chiropractor can do. Spinal manipulation should not be used on joints that are inflamed or infected. It also shouldn’t be done on people with weak bones, as it can cause a fracture.

But other techniques chiropractors use, such as joint mobilization and soft-tissue therapies, may be used safely. Damage to a joint can cause a domino effect of tightness and spasms in the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and other tissues. Working on those can relieve your pain.

The cause of your joint pain will determine whether chiropractic care might be helpful.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common kind of arthritis and a main cause of joint pain. It happens when the cartilage that cushions your joints wears down. Bone rubs against bone, causing pain and swelling.

Chiropractic treatment may be able to address the cause of osteoarthritis. A joint may be damaged over time because it’s out of alignment, or because of the way you sit, stand, or walk. Chiropractic care can fix those issues, which may keep your arthritis from getting worse. But it can’t restore cartilage that’s already lost.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis

These are joint diseases caused by your immune system attacking healthy tissue. The main treatment is medication that works on your immune system. Because chiropractors don’t prescribe medication, you’ll also need to keep working with your medical doctor.

You shouldn’t get joint manipulation done on areas of your body where the disease is active.

These types of arthritis and the medicines used to treat them can lead to osteoporosis. That can put you at risk for a fracture during spinal manipulation.

Chiropractic care has been said to help your immune system work better, which could potentially help with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis. But there’s very little scientific evidence to support that.

Other Joint Problems

If your joint pain is caused by something other than arthritis, chiropractic care is more straightforward. It’s often used to treat soft tissue injuries, whether caused by an accident or by overuse or improper use of a joint.

Soft tissue therapies can help with your pain and range of motion. And a chiropractor can teach you how to avoid the motion that caused your injury so it doesn’t happen again.

Choosing Chiropractic Care

Talk to your primary care doctor or arthritis specialist about whether chiropractic care would be a good addition to your treatment plan and what the risks might be. They also might be able to refer you to someone.

The American Chiropractic Association has a database of practitioners you can search by ZIP code.

Before you start treatment with a chiropractor:

  • Ask about their experience treating your specific problem.
  • Let them know about your symptoms and medical conditions.
  • Tell them what medications you’re taking.

It’s important to discuss your symptoms and any changes in your overall health at every treatment session. Changes to your condition may mean a specific therapy used in one visit may not be right for another.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Spinal Manipulation: What You Need To Know.” “Chiropractic: In Depth.”

American Chiropractic Association: “About Chiropractic,” “Frequently Asked Questions About Chiropractic,” “Research Review: Clinical Practice Guideline: Chiropractic Care for Low Back Pain,” “Tennis Elbow Treatment,” “Whiplash: More Than Standard Neck Pain,” “Maintaining Good Posture,” “Find a Doctor.”

World Health Organization: “WHO guidelines on basic training and safety in chiropractic.”

Association of Chiropractic Colleges: “What is Chiropractic?” “Chiropractic by the Numbers.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Chiropractic Care for Arthritis,” “What is Arthritis?” “Inflammatory Arthritis and Bone Health.”

Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association: “Use of spinal manipulation in a rheumatoid patient presenting with acute thoracic pain: a case report.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Chiropractic Adjustment.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:What People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Need To Know About Osteoporosis.”

The International Chiropractors Association: “Immune Function and Chiropractic: What Does the Evidence Provide?”

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics: “Basic Science Research Related to Chiropractic Spinal Adjusting: The State of the Art and Recommendations Revisited.”

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