Chiropractic adjustment may help ease pain and improve function for conditions such as neck pain, lower back pain, and headache.

A chiropractor is a licensed healthcare professional who uses manual therapy to help treat musculoskeletal conditions, which affect the bones, joints, and muscles.

A chiropractic adjustment, or spinal manipulation, is a technique chiropractors may use to apply pressure to the spine with their hands or a medical instrument.

This article looks at the purpose of chiropractic adjustment and some of the conditions it may help.

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During a chiropractic adjustment, a chiropractor will apply a controlled force or pressure to a joint. This thrust helps move the joint.

The purpose of chiropractic adjustment is to increase the range of motion and movement of a joint to improve function.

The spine is a common site for chiropractic adjustment, but chiropractors may also use it for other joints in the body.

Spinal manipulation or spinal mobilization may help with short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) neck pain, either as a stand-alone treatment or alongside other treatments. Spinal manipulation may also help improve function and reduce pain associated with the neck.

A 2021 review found that spinal manipulation on its own or alongside other treatments for neck pain was effective for treating neck pain lasting for less than 6 weeks, with few side effects. The researchers noted that higher-quality trials are necessary to make a final conclusion.

Learn about exercises for neck pain.

According to a 2019 review of 47 randomized controlled trials, spinal manipulation may have similar effects to standard treatments for chronic lower back pain.

Spinal manipulation may improve function better in the short term compared with non-recommended treatments, sham (placebo) therapies, or when combined with standard treatments.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, spinal manipulation may provide moderate improvements in pain and function in people with lower back pain.

According to a 2020 review of seven studies, spinal manipulation may help lower pain intensity and frequency of cervicogenic headaches in the short term. Cervicogenic headaches arise from neck pain. However, spinal manipulation did not help with pain duration.

A 2019 review of six studies found that spinal manipulation may help reduce migraine pain and intensity, as well as the frequency of migraine days. Researchers require higher-quality evidence to confirm these findings.

Read more about chiropractic adjustment for migraine.

Sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy, is an injury to the nerve in the lower back, which causes pain.

A 2021 study looked at the effects of spinal manipulation and physiotherapy for subacute or chronic sciatica in 44 people. Researchers found that spinal manipulation improved the effects of physical therapy to reduce pain.

Read about treatments for sciatica.

There is not enough evidence to suggest spinal manipulation has significant benefits for other conditions, such as high blood pressure or menstrual cramps.

A large-scale 2017 review suggests there are risks with spinal manipulation, although it is unclear how frequently these occur. Some of these risks may be minor but in some cases, severe.

Risks of spinal manipulation can include headache, fatigue, or radiating discomfort, all of which may be temporary.

Spinal manipulation may have more severe risks, including:

Spinal manipulation of the neck may raise the risk of arterial dissection. An arterial dissection is a tear in the wall of an artery and can cause a stroke.

There is little research on having spinal manipulation while pregnant, so it is important to speak with a healthcare professional about potential risks.

Pre-existing conditions may increase any risks of spinal manipulation. It is important to discuss the treatment beforehand and disclose any health conditions to the practitioner.

How often should I get a chiropractic adjustment?

According to a 2019 review, repetition of spinal manipulation over time may provide benefits compared with having a light massage or no treatment.

The research suggests that a series of spinal manipulation sessions over a few weeks may help improve conditions such as back pain or headache.

The frequency of chiropractic adjustments may depend on the condition people want to treat, symptoms, and any existing health conditions.

How long do the benefits of a chiropractic adjustment last?

There is little evidence on how long the benefits of chiropractic adjustment last.

Anecdotal reports suggest anywhere between a few days to a few weeks or possibly months, but it may depend on the type of treatment people have and the severity of their condition.

Chiropractic adjustment may help treat a range of musculoskeletal conditions, including lower back pain, neck pain, headache, and sciatica.

There may be potential risks with spinal manipulation, which can range from minor to severe.

Before having any chiropractic treatments, it is important to discuss the treatment, potential risks and benefits, and any existing health conditions with a healthcare professional.