Shocking, Inappropriate Use of Chiropractic Methods in Spondylolisthesis Treatment

The oth­er day I encoun­tered some­thing I found dis­heart­en­ing, even shock­ing.

I was doing research on the top­ic of spondy­lolis­the­sis.  One web­site fea­tured per­son­al sto­ries of spondy­lolis­the­sis suf­fer­ers.

Spondy­lolis­the­sis is a rel­a­tive­ly com­mon con­di­tion (up to 6% of peo­ple have it) affect­ing the low back. It occurs when one of your ver­te­brae slides for­ward on the ver­te­bra below.  You lose the nor­mal align­ment of the spinal col­umn because you’ve lost the integri­ty of the joints hold­ing the spinal bones togeth­er.

Appar­ent­ly, one woman had con­sult­ed a chi­ro­prac­tor for treat­ment of her spondy­lolis­the­sis, and was told that with spinal adjust­ments her align­ment could be restored to nor­mal.  It’s clear from her sto­ry that chi­ro­prac­tic care didn’t help her; it may have actu­al­ly made her con­di­tion worse.

I was appalled.

In many sit­u­a­tions, chi­ro­prac­tic adjust­ments are effec­tive.  They can restore the nor­mal pat­tern of joint motion in a joint that’s stiff­ened or blocked.  But they shouldn’t be used to try to realign spinal seg­ments in a sit­u­a­tion like spondy­lolis­the­sis — where there’s a loss of phys­i­o­log­i­cal joint integri­ty.  To attempt to do so is irre­spon­si­ble.

It’s trag­ic that a chi­ro­prac­tor would make an unre­al­is­tic ther­a­peu­tic claim because, in fact, once spinal adjust­ments are tak­en off the table, there’s a lot a chi­ro­prac­tor could do to help some­one with spondy­lolis­the­sis.

Con­nec­tive tis­sue treat­ments to alle­vi­ate stress of the mus­cles and fas­cia can be help­ful.  Anoth­er option is lum­bar decom­pres­sion to open up space for the discs in the low back.

But the cor­ner­stone of any treat­ment pro­gram for spondy­lolis­the­sis is self-care and ther­a­peu­tic exer­cise.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because spondy­lolis­the­sis is some­what of a spe­cial­ized area, a lot of gener­ic low back advice doesn’t apply.  That’s why I’ve writ­ten Liv­ing Well with Spondy­lolis­the­sis.  Liv­ing Well with Spondy­lolis­the­sis brings togeth­er in one place impor­tant prin­ci­ples of self-care along with illus­tra­tions of ther­a­peu­tic exer­cis­es that are safe and effec­tive for peo­ple with the con­di­tion.

If you’ve been told you have spondy­lolis­the­sis or know some­one else who has, check it out.


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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One Response to Shocking, Inappropriate Use of Chiropractic Methods in Spondylolisthesis Treatment

  1. Paul Bailey says:

    Dr Lavine,
    Glad i was able to catch you today. Writ­ing this to con­firm our tele­phone call and appoint­ment for next Tues­day Novem­ber 13th, 4:30 pm at your Prince­ton office. I was diag­nosed with spondy­lolis­the­sis a while back and have been search­ing for infor­ma­tion and treat­ment options for this and oth­er low back/sacroliliac issues that i am aware of. I signed up for your e-mails a while back after I came across your web­site while doing inter­net research on SIJD and final­ly decid­ed today that I would have to make an appoint­ment to see you as the infor­ma­tion and web­site are all very per­ti­nent to my low back issues.

    Look for­ward to meet­ing with you.

    Paul Bai­ley

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