Chiropractic Adjustments After a Back Surgery

Some types of chiropractic treatments can be safe and effective for you after you've had back surgery. But each situation is different, and you might be able to have some treatments—but not others.

Back surgery can involve any part of the back from the cervical spine (the upper part) to the lumbar spine (the lower part) and can include a number of different procedures, such as spinal fusion, laminectomy, and discectomy.

Chiropractic care is known best for its adjustments, but it may also involve other techniques like muscle stimulation, trigger point therapy, and more.

Because there are many types of back surgery and many types of chiropractic care, the answer to whether you can have chiropractic care after your back surgery depends on many factors. Learn more about whether you should consider chiropractic care after you have had back surgery.

Male chiropractor adjusting woman on clinic examination table
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How Chiropractic Helps Back Pain

A number of methods are used in chiropractic practice for treating spine and back pain. Chiropractic treatments for back pain are hands-on therapies that are intended to provide relief by decreasing inflammation, releasing muscle tension, or realigning structures around the spine.

Chiropractic manipulation can include adjustments, which are procedures that involve the application of force to and around the spine. These procedures hold a higher risk of adverse events than other types of chiropractic therapy.

Some other types of chiropractic techniques include:

  • Trigger point therapy, a type of deep tissue pressure applied to relieve tightness and stiffness in certain areas of muscle
  • Myofascial release, a type of manual massage directed to a specific area of connective tissue
  • Stretching, which can be passive or active
  • Muscle stimulation, which can include the use of electrical stimulation devices
  • Cox Technic Flexion Distraction (CTFD), a slow, rhythmic technique that often utilizes a special table for moving the legs and neck
  • Neural mobilization, a type of therapy that uses muscle movement to relieve symptoms associated with nerve impairment
  • Heat and/or ice to relieve inflammation or pain

If you go to see a chiropractor for back pain, they might recommend one or more of these techniques before and/or after your surgery to help relieve your back pain.

Is Post-Surgery Chiropractic Safe?

There are many different types of back surgery, and while chiropractic care has been used after back surgery, it can also be dangerous in certain circumstances and after certain procedures.

In general, manipulation is not considered safe while you are still healing from back surgery. During the healing phase, other chiropractic therapies, such as stretching, should be done with caution and only as approved by your surgeon.

Whether you can safely have chiropractic manipulation after you fully heal from back surgery depends on the stability and structure of your back in the area where you had surgery, as well as the condition of the rest of your spine.

Considerations include:

  • After you have healed, chiropractic care that involves rotational motions can be harmful, such as after spinal fusion surgery. During this type of surgery, two or more adjacent vertebrae in the back are positioned so that they permanently fuse together. The surgery is meant to improve spine stability, but it results in limited flexibility of the spine in the area of surgery, A rotational manipulation procedure or a high-pressure force could damage the fused bone.
  • Common types of back surgery, such as cervical disc replacement, lumbar disc replacement, laminectomy (where part of the vertebra is removed), or spinal stenosis surgery can be done in a number of ways, depending on the reason for the surgery and the pre-surgical condition of your spine. You might or might not be permitted to have manipulation or other types of chiropractic care after you heal from one of these back surgeries, depending on your surgeon's assessment.
  • Sometimes back surgery can involve multiple vertebrae or might necessitate extensive grafting. After you fully heal from a complicated multi-level surgery, you might not be able to have some types of chiropractic treatments.
  • You might be able to have muscle stretching exercises, but your doctor might tell you that you cannot have force applied to any part of your spine if you have osteoporosis (a disease that causes fragile bones and isn't affected by back surgery).

Recap

For the most part, you cannot have most types of chiropractic care that involve the application of force or movement of your spine while you are healing from back surgery. And you might or might not be able to have other kinds of chiropractic care after you heal from back surgery. You need to get approval from your surgeon before receiving any type of chiropractic treatment.

How Chiropractic Can Help After Back Surgery

You could experience complete improvement of your back symptoms after your surgery. But you could have persistent pain in the area where you had surgery, or you could have back pain (new or chronic) in another area of your back where you didn't have surgery.

Non-surgical methods for managing back pain include oral medication, local injections, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and more. All of these could potentially play a role in your pain management.

Your care needs to be personalized to your condition. For example, oral medications can be very helpful for some people, but can be ineffective or may produce intolerable side effects for others.

Chiropractic care has been shown to have benefits for some people who have had back surgery.

Evidence for chiropractic care after back surgery:

  • Chiropractic care—including manipulation under anesthesia and flexion-distraction manipulation—has been shown to be one of the beneficial therapies for post-surgical back pain.
  • Research has shown that neural mobilization and myofascial release can be effective for symptomatic relief after lumbar fusion, but the evidence to recommend for or against most manual therapies after most surgical interventions is inconclusive.

While there is some evidence that chiropractic care can be helpful after back surgery, you will need to work with your doctor to find the right fit for you.

Modifications and Precautions

It is important to tell your chiropractor about your back surgery and to check with your surgeon before you have any chiropractic care. Your chiropractor should examine you, review your surgical records, and discuss your chiropractic treatment plan with your surgeon before proceeding with your treatment. This way, your treatment will be personalized to your specific situation.

In general, chiropractic care after back surgery usually consists of non-manipulative therapies. For example, a Veteran Affairs survey found that most chiropractic care after lumbar fusion consisted of healthy lifestyle advice, pain education, exercise recommendations, stretching, and soft tissue manual therapies, with spinal manipulation procedures used in only a small proportion of cases.

Generally, conservative chiropractic techniques are more commonly used after back surgery than high-force chiropractic interventions.

If you experience any new pain or worsening symptoms during or after your chiropractic treatment, it is important that you get medical attention right away. While chiropractic therapy is typically safe, it can cause adverse effects, such as a stroke, spinal disc herniation, cauda equina syndrome, and vertebral fracture.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re still in pain after your back surgery, or if you have a new type of back pain after having had back surgery, discuss your options with your doctor. Chiropractic care can be an option that provides relief of persistent back pain after back surgery. But that chiropractic care may need to be adjusted to account for any preexisting spine issues or any structural changes you've had to your spine as a result of your surgery.

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