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Chiropractic treatment: Benefits and risks

Chiropractic adjustments are safer than aspirin, muscle relaxers and back surgery. Net photo

Chiropractic care is a fairly known practice; however, it is a method used to re-align the spine, joints and muscles. Its efficiency lies in the gentle but manual operation of re-alignment.

The word chiropractic means ‘to be done by hand’. Experts explain that this kind of treatment helps patients maintain good health by avoiding unnecessary drugs or surgery.


Eric Mutabazi, a physiotherapist at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, explains that chiropractic care is required when spinal disk problems that could compress the nerves are involved. 


When a patient comes with a disk protrusion, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is done to see the level, or how big the bulge or the protrusion is.


Other conditions that are treated with chiropractic care include abnormal motion or position of spinal bones (spinal kinesiopathology), abnormal nervous system function (neuropathophysiology) and abnormal function of the spine and the bod (pathophysiology).

Mutabazi adds that this kind of treatment can also work for someone with a ‘locked neck’ or one with pain, or a partially dislocated hip or shoulder.

“Any dislocation of bones can be corrected by chiropractic care, expect for a ligament and muscle spasms; these are treated with physiotherapy because with that, the bones and entire structure are treated,” he says.


Noella Kanyabutembo, a chiropractor at Legacy Clinic, says that after reviewing important aspects of one’s health, a number of tests are conducted. These tests are designed to show any areas of the spine that may be causing problems.

A number of activities can cause the spinal bones to lose their normal position or motion; this can result in nervous system dysfunction and eventually, ill health.

The chiropractic approach is then used to detect, reduce and help prevent nervous system dysfunction.

Information published on The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health website shows that given mainly to the spine, a chiropractic adjustment involves using the hands or a device to apply a controlled, rapid force to a joint.

The goal is to increase the range and quality of motion in the area being treated and to aid in restoring health. Joint mobilisation is another type of manual therapy that may be used.

Kanyabutembo also says the primary course of care is specific chiropractic adjustments that help return individual spinal bones to their proper motion and position.

Sometimes, only one area of the spine is adjusted and other times, the entire spine will receive attention.

“There are hundreds of ways of using carefully directed and controlled pressure to restore better position and motion to ‘stuck’ or fixed spinal joints. This may require a quick thrust, or in other instances, a slow, constant pressure,” she says.

Some adjusting approaches can result in a faint ‘popping’ sound. This sound is created by the shifting of gas and fluid in the joint. The presence or loudness of this sound has little meaning and varies with each patient, Kanyabutembo says.


Chiropractic adjustments are safer than aspirin, muscle relaxers and back surgery. Dozens of research studies have documented the safety and effectiveness of the practice.

Experts, however, note that the side effects from spinal manipulation can include temporary headaches, tiredness, or discomfort in the parts of the body that were treated.

There have been rare reports of serious complications such as stroke, cauda equina syndrome (a condition involving pinched nerves in the lower part of the spinal canal), and worsening of herniated disks, although cause and effect are unclear.

A 2007 study of treatment outcomes for 19,722 chiropractic patients in the United Kingdom concluded that minor side effects (such as temporary soreness) after cervical spine manipulation were relatively common, but that the risk of a serious adverse event was “low to very low” immediately or up to 7 days after treatment.

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