Measuring the Appropriateness of Spinal Manipulation for Chronic Low Back and Chronic Neck Pain in Chiropractic Patients

Published in: Spine, Volume 46, Issue 19, pages 1344–1353 (October 2021). doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000004009

Posted on RAND.org on February 25, 2022

by Ian D. Coulter, Patricia M. Herman, Mallika Kommareddi, Eric Hurwitz, Paul G. Shekelle

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Study Design

RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method (RUAM) applied to chiropractic manipulation for patients with chronic low-back pain (CLBP) and chronic neck pain (CNP).

Objective

Determine the rate of appropriate care provided by US chiropractors. Summary of Background Data. Spinal manipulation has been shown effective for CLBP and CNP but may not be appropriate for all patients with these conditions.

Methods

Ratings of the appropriateness of spinal and cervical manipulation previously developed by two RUAM expert panels were applied to data abstracted from random samples of patient charts from chiropractors in six US regions to determine the appropriateness of manipulation for each patient.

Results

Of 125 chiropractors sampled, 89 provided charts that could be abstracted. Of the 2128 charts received, 1054 were abstracted. Charts received but not abstracted included 460 that were unusable (e.g., illegible), and 555 did not have CLBP or CNP. Across the abstracted charts 72% had CLBP, 57% had CNP, and 29% had both; 84% of patients with CLBP and 86% with CNP received manipulation. Patients with CLBP who had minor neurologic findings, sciatic nerve irritation, or no joint dysfunction were significantly less likely to receive manipulation. Patients with CNP who had substantial trauma etiology, no joint dysfunction, or no radiographs were significantly less likely to receive manipulation. Most manipulation for CLBP (64%) was appropriate and most manipulation for CNP (93%) was for patients where appropriateness was uncertain or equivocal. The proportions of patients receiving inappropriate manipulation for either condition were low (1%–3%) as were the numbers of patients presenting to these chiropractors for which manipulation was inappropriate.

Conclusion

Chiropractors in this US sample tend to provide manipulation to very few patients with CLBP or CNP for which it is inappropriate. However, more research is needed to determine which patients with CNP benefit from manipulation.

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