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Should I see a Chiropractor or have NHS outpatient treatment for my low back pain?

Should I see a Chiropractor or have NHS outpatient treatment for my low back pain?

Chiropractic treatment for low back pain

When people get back pain most people take pain killers and if that doesn’t do the trick they go to see their GP.  The GP will generally do 1 of 3 things:

  1. Prescribe stronger pain killers and potentially time off work
  2. Refer you to see an NHS physiotherapist as well as no. 1
  3. If things are really bad, refer you for an x-ray or MRI as well as an appointment with a neurosurgeon or similar

Sometimes option 1 does the trick, however if not then you move on to option 2, etc.  So the question is, if the pain is hanging around for a while and you’ve been referred to the NHS physiotherapist or similar, should you wait the 6+ months or go and see a Chiropractor?

What does research say you should do for low back pain?

I’m a Chiropractor and therefore will have my own biased opinions.  So, I’m going to answer this question with research.  In my experience most patients are given a sheet of simple exercises when they see the NHS physiotherapist.  However, most people need a more ‘hands on’ approach and end up coming to see me.  For this blog I’m looking to compare the improvements from the physical, hands on treatment offered by the NHS with improvements from Chiropractic treatment.

One specific study looked to compare the 2 different treatment types.  They split 741 patients, aged between 18-65 with low back pain, into 2 groups.  One group received Chiropractic treatment and the other ‘hospital outpatient treatment’, which consisted mainly of mobilisations, manipulation, traction and exercises.  The majority of the patients had had various previous treatments, including prescription pain killers and had a chronic history of back pain.  Each patient had their Oswestry score (a well know questionnaire for measuring pain and difficulty of different tasks) and flexibility measured at the beginning, then after 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1 and 2 years, and in a second paper at 3 years.

There was a 30% better improvement with Chiropractic Adjustments, even up to 2 years later

What did the research find?

Research ideas on science and healthSo here are a few facts from the study:

  • 87% of Chiropractic patients showed partial or complete relief of their back pain after only 6 weeks
  • The Chiropractic patients showed an extra 30% more improvement in flexibility compared to the increase of the hospital outpatients
  • Those with scores higher than 40 (high level of pain and disability) responded 30% better to the Chiropractic Adjustment even 2 years later
  • After 2 years 45% of hospital outpatients had the same pain again or worse compared to only 28% of Chiropractic patients
  • Between 1 and 2 years the frequency and duration of time off work was less in those treated by Chiropractic
  • Those who had Chiropractic were able to sit for longer and have better sleep, it also helped their social and sex life slightly more
  • After 3 years the Chiropractic patients showed an extra 29% improvement over those treated in a hospital
  • 3 years after the study 82% said Chiropractic had helped them, compared to 63% of hospital patients

The Chiropractic group had better sleep, could sit longer and even had improvements in their sex life!

So, should you use a Chiropractor or NHS for low back pain?

Chiropractor or NHS? ….Chiropractor!  This research shows that Chiropractic care is more effective, with regards to pain levels and flexibility, in comparison to the treatment offered by the NHS as a hospital outpatient.  The effects of Chiropractic appear to have a longer lasting benefit, whereas those treated in hospital may begin to deteriorate after 6 months or a year.  Chiropractic is also particularly effective with those who have a long history of severe pain.  In total, if more people visited a Chiropractor for their low back pain then the world would see less sick days, less strain on the NHS and happier, healthier people!

If you have low back pain ,whether recent or a long history, and this strikes a chord with you, go find a Chiropractor.  If you’re near Bristol then give us a call on 01179741501 or click here to book an appointment. You can also find out more about our chiropractic services here.


Meade, T.W. Dyer, S. Browne, W. Townsend, J. Frank, A.O. (1990) BMJ. Low back pain of mechanical origin: randomised comparison of Chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment. 300: 1431-1437.

Meade, T.W. Dyer, S. Browne, W. Frank, A.O. (1995) BMJ. Randomised comparison of Chiropractic and hospital outpatient management for low back pain: results from extended follow up. 311: 349-351.


  1. interesting research. may i ask how you became a chiropractor? i am personally thinking of becoming one myself

  2. Thank you for sharing the importance of seeing a chiropractor for lower back pain. I have never really had this problem but my wife has been feeling pain for the past few months. That is great that 87% of chiropractic patients showed partial or complete relief of their back pain after only 6 weeks. If this pain continues, we are going to have to find a chiropractor near our city. Thanks!

  3. Do chiropractors recommend that before treatment that the patient reduces any pain relief they may be taking or even come off the painkillers altogether?

    • Hello Colleen, that is completely down to the patient and the level of pain they are in. A Chiropractor should be able to examine you properly and find out what is causing the pain whether you have taken medication or not.


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