Chiropractic care | Cancer Research UK
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What chiropractic care is

Chiropractic care is a regulated health care profession. It is not a treatment or therapy. Chiropractors give a wide range of treatments that may include

  • Manual therapy, which means using their hands to manipulate or move bones, muscles and joints
  • Prescribed exercises
  • Self-care advice

Chiropractors don't use medicines or surgery. There is an emphasis on spinal manipulation and manipulation of other joints. Manipulation puts the bones and joints back into their natural place.

Chiropractors are trained to diagnose physical problems and are likely to call themselves primary healthcare practitioners rather than complementary therapists.


Why people with cancer go to chiropractors

One of the main reasons people with cancer see a chiropractor is to help control pain, headaches and tension. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that chiropractic care may help to relieve headaches and back pain. But there is no evidence to suggest that it helps to prevent, treat or cure cancer and chiropractors would not claim to be able to cure cancer.


Evidence on the use of chiropractic care

Trials have looked at spinal manipulation as a treatment for various conditions. Research studies have found that chiropractic care works well for ongoing lower back pain. In 2009 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended spinal manipulation as given by chiropractors as an effective treatment option for people with ongoing lower back pain.

A 2010 review of scientific evidence on manual therapies found that spinal manipulation can also help people with

  • Migraine
  • Neck related headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Knee and elbow conditions
  • Whiplash injury

The 2010 review stated that spinal manipulation does not appear to be helpful for asthma, high blood pressure or period pain. The studies could not tell whether it helps with fibromyalgia, pain in the middle area of the back, pre menstrual syndrome, sciatica, or jaw joint disorders. 

Further clinical trials will help to show how well chiropractic care works, and which other conditions it might be helpful for. Trials may also tell us more about possible side effects. It is important to make sure that any side effects of a treatment don’t outweigh potential benefits.

It is important to remember that none of these studies were specific for people with cancer. We don’t have any evidence to show that it helps to treat people who have cancer.


What chiropractic care involves

On your first visit to a chiropractor they will ask you some general questions about your health and lifestyle. Their aim is to find the exact cause of your symptoms. They will want to know about

  • Any injuries you have had
  • Your type of work and other activities
  • Where and how often you have pain
  • Perhaps the type of bed or mattress you have

The chiropractor will do a physical examination, which may include checking your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing pattern. They may suggest that you have an X-ray or MRI scan of your spine or other affected joints. 

Sometimes the chiropractor will ask to speak to your GP. This is because there are some situations where it is recommended that you don't have chiropractic care.

Often for chiropractic care you can stay fully clothed. But for some care you may need to take off your clothes, except for your underwear. You will be given a gown to wear. You usually lie on a couch (table) to have the treatment. The chiropractor will use their hands to manipulate your spine or joints. 

Sometimes the chiropractor may use a rapid thrust type action, which can cause a popping sound due to the sudden change of pressure in the joint space. This is not dangerous and shouldn’t be painful. 

Some chiropractors may also recommend other techniques as part of the treatment, such as

  • Massage
  • Hot and cold treatment
  • Physical stretches
  • Exercises
  • Needling (acupuncture)
  • Electrical currents or laser

Most chiropractic sessions last about 15 to 20 minutes. During your treatment it is important that you tell your chiropractor if you are in any discomfort or want them to stop. The number of treatments you will need will depend on the problem you have. 

After treatment your chiropractor may suggest exercises that you can do at home to help or prevent further problems. You may need treatments once or twice a week or only once every few weeks.


Side effects of chiropractic care

Spinal manipulation can have some side effects. Immediately after treatment, between 25 and 50 out of every 100 people (25 to 50%) feel mild pain or discomfort, a slight headache, or tiredness. This usually passes within 24 hours. If it doesn’t improve, you should contact your chiropractor for advice.

There have been some concerns about the possible risk of having a stroke because of manipulation to the neck. The British Medical Journal’s clinical evidence website claims that between 1 and 3 out of every 1 million people who have manipulation to their neck are at risk of having a stroke so the risk is very low. But your chiropractor will follow strict guidelines set out by their regulatory body. The guidelines prevent them from using specific manipulation techniques on people at high risk of having a stroke. 

It may also help you to know that a research review comparing the risks linked to using spinal manipulation for neck pain and the use of non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs found that manipulation was much safer than using the drugs.


Who shouldn’t have chiropractic care

If you have cancer it is important that you let your cancer specialist know before you have chiropractic care. And also let your chiropractor know that you have cancer. In most cases you will be able to go ahead with treatment. But most doctors and chiropractors wouldn’t recommend treatment for people who have

You may be advised not to have chiropractic treatment if you are taking drugs to help thin your blood (anti coagulants) or if you are taking some types of steroids. There may be other medical conditions for which your doctor would not recommend chiropractic treatment, so always ask them before going ahead.


The cost of chiropractic care

If you have chiropractic care privately, it will usually cost between £30 and £45 for a session. Some GPs will refer you for chiropractic care on the NHS, although this varies from area to area. And if you have private health insurance your policy might cover chiropractic care.


Finding a chiropractor

In the UK the chiropractic profession is regulated by law. The professional regulatory body for chiropractors is the General Chiropractic Council. Anyone who refers to themselves as a chiropractor must be registered with this organisation. This means that they have to meet the correct set of standards for training, professional behaviour and skills. And they must have indemnity  insurance. 

About 3,000 chiropractors are registered with the General Chiropractic Council. You can contact the General Chiropractic Council and ask for a list of chiropractors in your area. You can find contact details for the GCC below.

Some GP surgeries provide chiropractic care within their service.

 You can ask the chiropractor

  • How many years of training they've had
  • How long they've been practicing
  • If they have treated cancer patients before

Chiropractic organisations

General Chiropractic Council
44 Wicklow Street
London WC1X 9HL
Phone: 020 7713 5155

The regulatory body for chiropractors. The website has details of the chiropractor code of practice.

Royal College of Chiropractors
Chiltern Chambers
St Peters Avenue
Phone: 0118 946 9727

The Royal College of Chiropractors promotes high quality chiropractic care and produces quality standards to help ensure this.

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Updated: 27 January 2015