Research shows manipulation is better than acupuncture or drugs for spinal pain. In a controlled, clinical trial (published in Spine 2003; 28: 1490-1503). Patients were treated with spinal manipulation, acupuncture or Celebrex (unless the patient had used it previously. The next drug of choice was Vioxx, followed by paracetamol).

Patients were evaluated on the first visit, and at two, five and nine weeks after the first treatment. Pain was evaluated with subjective questionnaires and objective orthopedic tests.

Chiropractic was found to be superior to both medication and acupuncture with objective tests in all area but one. The exception was the visual analog scale for neck pain, in which acupuncture produced slightly better results.

Range of motion tests all show the superiority of chiropractic adjustments. An interesting note, the group receiving chiropractic adjustments showed 47% improvement on the health questionnaire. This was a better result than acupuncture, which scored 15% improvement. It was also a better result than medication, which showed an 18% improvement.

The authors said that spinal manipulation may be superior to needle acupuncture or medication for patients with chronic spinal pain (with the exception of those with neck pain—where it was outperformed by acupuncture).

To quote the authors, “Considering that the patients in this study had experienced chronic spinal pain syndrome for an average of 4.5 years in the medication group, 6.4 years in the acupuncture group, and 8.3 years in the spinal manipulation group, it is notable that manipulation, during a maximum treatment duration of nine weeks, achieved asymptomatic status for every fourth patient (27%). This result is superior t the percentages for acupuncture (9.4%) and medication (5%) for short-term outcomes…

“Medication apparently did not achieve a marked improvement in chronic spinal pain and caused adverse reactions in 6.1% of the patients. The adverse symptoms disappeared once medication was stopped.”