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Can chiropractic care worsen a herniated disk?

I am a 40 year old female and I have a herniated disc. Can chiropractic care worsen a herniated disk?

14 Answers

Not usually, but the doctor would need to know what kind of herniation and where it is in the spine to make an accurate assessment.
Yes. Chiropractic care, if performed unwell, can increase symptoms or size or a disc herniation. As well as many activities of daily living can also worsen a disc herniation.
There are always risks to any medical procedure. The studies that I have read promote chiropractic treatment of herniated discs. Chiropractic treatment is inherently low in risk, but it is never risk-free. A good chiropractor will take a detailed history, do a thorough examination that may include imaging, and will then determine if you are a good candidate for chiropractic treatment.
There are risks with all medical treatment. Chiropractic care has been shown to be a great conservative start for discogenic pain. Manipulation of the spine with rehabilitative exercise is generally a safe conservative start for treatment for this condition.
A herniated disk is not usually worsened by chiropractic care but utilizing the wrong technique may aggravate it and cause an acute flare up of symptoms. Inform your treating physician about your condition and the location and if possible bring any images and the report with you on your first visit for evaluation. This will ensure that the treating chiropractor utilizes the best technique and treatment plan for your condition.
Chiropractic done properly using gentle technique and other procedures for the disc can benefit you. It also depends on how bad the disc herniation is. Severe disc herniation won’t tolerate an adjustment too well. They should do a full orthopedic and neurological exam at the chiropractor’s office and evaluate any X-ray or MRI before treating.

Vishal K. Verma, DC, CCSP

Anything can happen, right? That's why you sign a waiver before surgery that states "You could become a paraplegic from this surgery"... That being said, I have made a career from patients coming in with a disc herniation and leaving pain free or at least at a minimal level. My advice to you is to find a chiropractor in your area with good Yelp reviews that have experience and good results treating that specific condition. 

Dr. Lonna Denny, D.C.
Anything can exacerbate a herniated disc. This is a serious condition and whomever is going to treat you whether an MD or DC needs to be very skilled and experienced with these types of cases. As a chiropractor, I have successfully treated hundreds of these types of cases and cannot remember anyone getting worse. If anything, they make minimal progress and we would then refer them to a trusted medical colleague to take the next step with injections, surgery, etc. I would start with an experienced DC.


Dr. Brandon Buttry
In my 37 years of practice, I am proud to say that I have not had one case where chiropractic treatment worsened a herniated disc. The treatment will either help or do nothing at all, but I believe it is definitely worth a try before giving in to surgery. It really depends on the severity and longevity of the herniated disc. I have had cases that were so severe that I wasn't sure if it would help or not, but I would allow the patient two weeks to show improvement. Most of these severe cases had excellent outcomes but others were so advanced that surgery was the only solution. If you choose to try chiropractic, find one that uses spinal decompression and/or lumbar traction, decompression works best. Also, if they offer non-invasive laser therapy, that would be a plus.

Yours in health,

Doc J
If treated improperly, any health profession can make it worse. Typically you don’t want an adjustment that involves a lot of twisting for disc issues. I use an adjusting instrument and/or adjustments that don’t involve twisting when presented with a disc issue.
I am aware of no document dangers of chiropractic as long as the treatments are done appropriately by a trained and licensed Doctor of Chiropractic. Never have an unlicensed individual adjust any part of your body. The exception to this statement is in the case of malpractice.
Herniated discs are excruciatingly painful and any little movement could further aggravate them. While some may think that chiropractic care will cause more damage to the spine and further aggravate a herniated disc, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is possible but rare for this to occur. This only occurs when the practitioner is unaware of a herniated disc in the spine. Appropriate treatment will only improve a disc injury.