Does Spinal Manipulation Work?

by Feb 18, 2021

What is spinal manipulation?  How does it work?  Is it effective?  These are common questions I, a massage therapist, hear often from curious patients.

Spinal manipulation is a procedure most commonly used by chiropractors, but can also be performed by osteopaths and physical therapists.  The technique is administered by either the doctor’s hands or specialized tools and often involves a sudden controlled force to the spinal joints.  The goal of spinal manipulation is to improve spine mobilization and enhance bodily function.  It can be used for preventative and restorative purposes and is popular among those who want to avoid drugs or surgery for painful or debilitating conditions.

Is it effective though?  Is spinal manipulative therapy the ultimate treatment for every cause of back pain, spine stiffness, or compromised mobility?

As is the case with all types of therapy, the effectiveness depends on the patient.  Many of my clients receive spinal manipulation before or after their massages with me, with some doing so routinely.  Others have told me that they tried it, and it just wasn’t for them.  Then I have the ones who ask the three questions I listed at the start of this blog.  What can be said about spinal manipulation?

Is Spinal Manipulation Effective?

Spinal manipulation, while used to treat a wide variety of conditions, is most commonly used to treat back and neck pain.  The procedure, with its demand growing over the last few years, has undergone studies comparing its effects to those of pain-relieving drugs.  While research shows it can relieve pain more effectively than or just as well as drugs, especially when combined with other types of bodywork, it has also shown that the pain can return a few weeks after treatment.

Does this mean that spinal manipulation doesn’t work in the long run?  Not necessarily.  Spinal manipulation, just like massage and other types of bodywork, can reduce pain and improve mobilization.  But bodywork treatments don’t put a stop to our activities of daily living.  Strenuous activities, long periods of sitting, and being unmindful of posture are the most common causes of back and neck pain.  Spinal manipulation can treat the pain, but it won’t cure the pain.  The way we treat our bodies outside the doctor’s office plays a crucial role in pain management.  So to increase the likelihood of an effective manipulation, combine the procedure with at-home self-care.  Ask your chiropractor what you can do post-session to prolong the efficiency of the treatment.

With all that said, some patients report little to no pain relief after spinal manipulative therapy.  Some even say they felt a bit more pain for a day or two afterward.  I’ve heard this from my own clients, and I’ve read it in the studies.  However, this can be the case with any type of therapy.  Massage therapy, acupuncture, talk therapy, prescribed medications, hydrotherapy… any type of therapy.  There is no one-size-fits-all pain treatment.  Really, it depends on each patient’s unique needs.  Is it worth trying out?  I would say yes, as my experiences with it have always been positive.  But rather than a solid yes, I’ll ask you to read the next section and make a decision from there.

Is it Safe for Everyone?

While regarded as a safe treatment for most, whether effective on the patient or not, there are contraindications for spinal manipulations.  Certain conditions can increase a patient’s risk for complications, but the risk is still very low.  Rare adverse effects include vertebral artery dissections, dural tears, nerve injuries, stroke, edema, bone fractures, and worsened herniated discs.

Though spinal manipulation can still benefit the following conditions, a patient with any of the following should consult a physician prior to scheduling an appointment.

  • Osteoporosis
  • Herniated disc
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer, or a history of cancer
  • Pregnancy

Is It Right for You?

At Moyer Total Wellness, chiropractic consultations are free for members and first-time patients.  Schedule an appointment and bring your questions to our talented doctors.

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.


Morris, Rebecca. “What Is Spinal Manipulation?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 9 Feb. 2015, Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.

Nielsen, Sabrina Mai, et al. “The Risk Associated with Spinal Manipulation: An Overview of Reviews.” Systematic Reviews, vol. 6, no. 1, 24 Mar. 2017,, 10.1186/s13643-017-0458-y. Accessed 9 Nov. 2019.

“Spinal Manipulation: What You Need To Know.” NCCIH, July 2019, Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.

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