While chiropractic treatments are popular for relieving pain, acupuncture is also becoming more widely recognized as a pain management technique for physical rehabilitation. This guide looks at chiropractic treatments vs. acupuncture and the pros and cons of each.
What Is Chiropractic Treatment?
Chiropractic treatment involves a hands-on approach to examining, diagnosing, and treating a patient who is experiencing pain. Spinal manipulation is the most common form of therapeutic chiropractic treatment. This type of manipulation restores the mobility of the joints by applying controlled force. Chiropractic doctors are highly trained, having completed up to five years of specialized coursework at an accredited college of chiropractic medicine with a minimum of 4,200 hours devoted to classroom, lab, and clinical work.
Advantages of Chiropractic Treatments
Chiropractic treatments are largely recognized by the medical community as a viable option for patients who are experiencing neck, back, or joint pain, as well as headaches and neuromusculoskeletal problems. The biggest advantage of chiropractic treatments is that they are noninvasive and drug free, and they are incredibly effective for treating many ailments. In fact, chiropractic treatments have historically helped patients recover from injury faster than more traditional medical treatment options. This type of treatment is also useful in advancing the progress of traditional physical therapy while helping patients avoid pain medications that can cause dependence.
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Studies on Chiropractic Treatments
A study published in the March 2004 edition of the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” found that chiropractic care was more effective than other treatments in treating pain in the lower back. An additional study published in “Spine” in July 2003 showed that chiropractic manipulation provided more relief for chronic spine pain than some medications. Most patients will feel immediate relief from chiropractic adjustments and manipulation, whereas the results of traditional medical treatment may take much longer to achieve. Even though chiropractic care and chiropractic treatments have only recently been accepted by the mainstream medical community, chiropractic manipulation has already been recommended as the first line of treatment for adult acute low-back pain by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
Disadvantages of Chiropractic Treatment Options
Although chiropractic care is considered generally safe (and in most instances it is typically agreed that it is safer than most traditional medical therapies), it is not without disadvantages. Some patients complain of aching and soreness following chiropractic care, although most patients report that these adverse effects generally decrease or are not noticeable at all within twenty-four hours of treatment. Overall, treatment by chiropractic manipulation has a good track record when it comes to safety, and most patients are pleased with the results achieved when it comes to alleviating pain and stiffness. Not all health insurance plans pay for chiropractic treatment, which is a disadvantage when it comes to affording treatment. Moreover, adjustments by a chiropractor often involve frequent visits, which are inconvenient and add to the cost of treatment. Not all conditions respond to chiropractic manipulation, and it is not a catch-all field of medicine.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture generally gets a bad rap, mainly because it is considered alternative medicine. Acupuncture involves stimulating points on the body with thin metallic needles that are inserted into the skin and then manipulated by hand or using electrical stimuli. It is purported to work by regulating the flow of the vital energy of the body, or its “qi.” This practice has been undertaken in Asian countries for millennia and is one of the basic tenets of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture is often recommended by practitioners of alternative medicine for the treatment of chronic pain, including back pain, neck and joint pain, and chronic headaches.
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Advantages of Acupuncture
One of the biggest advantages of acupuncture is that it is considered to be relatively safe, provided your acupuncture session is undertaken by a professional who is well trained in the field. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, from carpal tunnel syndrome to fibromyalgia and tennis elbow. It has also been shown to strengthen the immune system, improve respiratory health, relieve insomnia, and reduce stress while bringing emotional balance to patients. Acupuncture is generally cheaper than most traditional treatments, although costs vary from provider to provider. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the effectiveness of acupuncture—a phenomenon that is due in part to the fact that contradictory studies have been published, some claiming that it works and others claiming that it is nothing more than an age-old farce. Nonetheless, some medical professionals believe in the power of acupuncture, and continuing research shows promise for its ability to alleviate pain. Additionally, patients who are recuperating from illness, injury, or surgery can often recover faster when acupuncture is undertaken to increase circulation and reduce inflammation. In forty-three states, practitioners of acupuncture are required to pass the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) examination prior to treating patients with acupuncture.
Disadvantages of Acupuncture
Most people are concerned that acupuncture treatment will hurt. While there is some discomfort involved, most patients describe the insertion of needles into the skin as more of a feeling of pressure. Once in place, the needles should not cause discomfort, although the experience can vary based on your individual perception of pain and the level of expertise of the provider. When performed with sterile needles by an experienced and well-trained professional, acupuncture is generally safe, and very few complications have been reported. However, some serious adverse events have occurred, including puncture of organs and serious infections. Still, there are fewer adverse side effects associated with acupuncture than with other standard treatments, like steroid injections or the use of anti-inflammatory medicines. Another disadvantage associated with acupuncture is that most health insurance plans will not pay for it. Active treatments may require two or more visits per week for months, and some patients report feeling worse before feeling better.
For patients who want to experience the best of what both the chiropractor and the acupuncturist offer, an evolving field of medicine known as chiropractic acupuncture combines the two. This field focuses on the body’s energy pathways or meridians in relation to the spinal and nervous systems. Practitioners are chiropractors who implement acupuncture into the chiropractic treatments of their patients to alleviate pain and achieve a more effective result. Chiropractors who are qualified to do dual procedures are governed by the American Board of Chiropractic Acupuncture.
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Chiropractic Treatments vs. Acupuncture: Which Is Best for You?
When it comes to chiropractic treatments vs. acupuncture, choosing between the two to determine which is best for you really comes down to which you are most comfortable with and which your own physician recommends. Always discuss your interest in the use of chiropractic or acupuncture treatments with your regular practitioner when doing a comparison to make sure that you’re a good candidate for this type of therapeutic care.