Chiropractic Care vs. Physical Therapy For The Elderly

Chronic low back pain is the number one musculoskeletal complaint among the elderly, which affects half of those counted in this age group. Not only is it most often caused by falls, but it also a leading predictor of future death for senior citizens. Fifty percent of older adults who live in retirement communities suffer enough chronic lower back pain that it excludes them from very basic activities of daily life, like cooking, cleaning, or walking to the market. 

Unfortunately, the most common treatment of this problem has become the taking of narcotic pain mediation. This creates a special problem for older people due to the heightened risk of stupefaction and dizziness which may lead to falls that can cause even more chronic lower back pain or even death. Within this cohort population of elderly citizens about 30% to 40% fall at least one time in a year and the injuries they suffer is a primary source of hospitalization in the United States. 

Technically, chronic pain is described as pain that doesn’t go away for a period of at least 12 weeks. The length of time that the elderly, who suffer from lower back pain, must subject themselves to the narcotic effects of pain killers for relief makes finding a non-pharmacological approach to pain management especially desirable. 

Studies have shown that a multi-modal approach, or a regimen that utilizes different techniques ranging from manual therapy to behavioral modification programs, to be most effective. But a recent study looked a two major approaches to managing chronic lower back pain in the elderly: chiropractic care (CC) and physical therapy (PT), and compared them to see which was most effective.

Participants between the ages of 60 to 85 years were randomly divided into a group that received only CC and another group that received only PT. The treatment for all participants lasted for 6 weeks, which was broken up over 12-18 visits to a professional.

Patients reported on their chronic lower back pain on a 21-point questionnaire at the end of the 6 weeks of treatment, then again later at 12 weeks. The questions asked about pain in different areas of the back on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 100 (pain as bad as it could be). 

Results showed no increase in pain or further complications were reported for either CC or PT. While both treatments came out as equally effective, the patients who received CC showed longer lasting benefits at the 12 week follow up. Final analysis recommends that CC is underutilized in the elderly community as an alternative pain management technique to medication and PT.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steven Pisano