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Study casts doubt on usefulness of chiropractic care

A chiropractic student examines a spinal X-ray  
October 7, 1998
Web posted at: 11:02 p.m. EDT (2302 GMT)

MARIETTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It's estimated that one in 10 Americans visit chiropractors each year, most commonly for back pain.

Whether or not spinal manipulation can actually help a sore back has long been debated. Several studies have suggested it can help.

But a just-released study in the New England Journal of Medicine says chiropractic care offers only marginal benefits.

Researchers compared chiropractic manipulation to a type of conventional physical therapy used for people with low back pain. The study found patients in both groups did just slightly better than people who received only an educational booklet on back pain.

"I think probably both the chiropractors and physical therapists will be disappointed in these results," said Dr. Richard Deyo of the University of Washington. "They just suggest that there's some benefits to both types of treatment, but that it's not an enormous benefit"

Sid Williams, president and founder of Life University, the world's largest chiropractic school, said he is disappointed in the studies.

Students practice their chiropractic technique  

"I'm always disappointed when chiropractic isn't way out in front, and I realize that this particular study isn't," Williams said. "But what it indicates is more and more research is needed."

The study also found that chiropractic and physical therapy tripled the cost of care.

A second study in the journal cast doubts on chiropractic's usefulness for other medical conditions. Most doctors are adamantly opposed to chiropractic's use for medical conditions other than selected musculo-skeletal problems, and the new study backs them up on treatment of children with asthma.

The latest studies will not end the debate over chiropractic care -- and even its staunchest supporters agree it's good that research continues.

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