While low back pain can affect people of all ages, it’s particularly problematic for older adults and is one of the top three reasons they see a doctor. Despite this, low back pain among seniors often persists for longer than three months, and in the presence of multiple comorbidities (which is often the case with advancing age), low back pain may be under treated or mismanaged. While guidelines for the management of low back pain often emphasize conservative approaches first and foremost, older patients tend to be underrepresented in the studies used to formulate such recommendations. Let’s take a look at the current research on the utilization of spinal manipulative therapy—the primary form of treatment provided by doctors of chiropractic—for the management of low back pain in older adults.
A 2022 study scoured electronic databases for randomized controlled trials conducted during the previous two decades that examined the effects of spinal manipulative therapy in older adults with chronic low back pain. The research identified ten studies consisting of a total of 786 individuals over 55 years of age, of which 261 were between 65 and 91 years old. The types of spinal manipulation included in this study are high-velocity low-amplitude (HVLA) techniques and mobilization or low-velocity low-amplitude (LVLA) techniques. In particular, the research team looked at how these manual therapies fared with respect to improvements in pain and function against other approaches, including standard medical care and exercise therapy, in the short-, medium-, and long-term.
In their final analysis, the authors concluded there is moderate-quality evidence that spinal manipulative therapy results in similar outcomes (compared to usual medical care and exercise therapy) for pain and functional improvement, and it should be considered a non-pharmacological treatment option for this patient population. This is important as up to 80% of older adults already take multiple prescription medications, with nearly a third taking five drugs, to manage their current health concerns. The addition of one or more prescriptions to manage low back pain increases the risk for adverse events and harmful drug interactions.
The researchers add that while their analysis was unable to establish a safety profile as the studies used had heterogenous data on adverse events, spinal manipulation appears to be safe for older patients. They further note that their findings are consistent with other systematic reviews on the effectiveness of spinal manipulative therapy for all age groups.
The findings from this analysis confirm that spinal manipulative therapy has a place in the management of low back pain affecting older patients. If you suffer from chronic low back pain, don’t put it off or assume you need to live with it. Schedule an appointment with your local doctor of chiropractic to see if a course of conservative chiropractic care can help reduce your pain and improve your mobility.