Possible Role for Chiropractic in Multiple Sclerosis
Chiropractic is among the alternative or complementary therapies for people who have multiple sclerosis, yet not much has been published about the relationship between them. If you have MS, have you ever considered or sought treatment from a chiropractor?
The lack of effective treatments for MS, a distrust of the available medical options, and a desire to try more natural approaches to treatment are reasons why many people with MS turn to less conventional modes of therapy ranging from vitamin D supplements to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and others.
Chiropractic is one treatment option that has not received much attention, although at least one study of 3,140 adults with MS has shown that more than 25 percent of the approximately 1,600 respondents were using chiropractic manipulation.
A dramatic result using chiropractic was reported a decade ago by Erin Elster, DC, who wrote about his experiences with 44 patients with MS and 37 who had Parkinson’s disease. Seventy-eight of the patients recalled experiencing at least one previous head or neck injury in the previous 2 months to 30 years.
Elster imaged all of the patients prior to treatment and found cervical subluxations in all of them. He then performed manipulations on the upper cervical spine and reported significant improvements and no further progression of disease during the care period in nearly all of them (34 of 37 of the MS patients and 40 of 44 of the Parkinson’s patients).
Here is his explanation. Injuries to the upper spine and neck can cause partial dislocations (known as subluxations) in the vertebrae, which in turn can affect the spinal cord and thus the central nervous system function.
Since MS is a disease of the central nervous system, it seems logical to believe that anything that hinders the transmission of signals that travel between the brain and spinal cord could have a negative effect on function.
Elster proposed that by aligning the first two vertebrae in the spine, his patients experienced an improvement or even a reversal of their disease. He noted that “this is the first research to show that correction of those injuries can have a dramatic effect on improving and reversing MS and PD.”
A number of studies have looked at injury to the upper spine, head, or neck as a possible risk factor for development of MS. One of the most recent studies (2012) evaluated data on 72,765 individuals who had suffered a traumatic brain injury and compared them with 218,285 controls.
Over a six-year period, individuals who had suffered the brain injury were found to be more likely to develop MS than those in the control group (0.055% vs 0.037%). Other studies have been inconclusive.
It is possible to experience an injury to the brain, neck, or upper spine without realizing it or without giving it much thought, especially if the injury occurred during childhood or adolescence. Mild whiplash associated with an automobile accident, a fall from a bike or horse, a sports injury on the football or soccer field, or a tumble down stairs could be forgotten, but the body does not forget.
Can chiropractic adjustments help individuals who have MS? So far you won’t find much in the scientific literature to help you answer that question except for the report that about one-quarter of patients in one study elected to use this form of therapy.
Other evidence is anecdotal and found in forums and in talking with MSers. For people with multiple sclerosis, chiropractic may have a role in treatment, and it’s a choice to be made after discussing the possibility with others who have tried this approach and consulting chiropractic professionals who are familiar working with MS patients.
Elster E. Eight-one patients with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease undergoing upper cervical chiropractic care to correct vertebral subluxation: a retrospective analysis. Journal of Verterbral Subluxation Research 2004 Aug; 1-9
Kang NH, Lin HC. Increased risk of multiple sclerosis after traumatic brain injury: a nationwide population-based study. Journal of Neurotrauma 2012 Jan 1: 29(1): 90-95
Nayak S et al. Use of unconventional therapies by individuals with multiple sclerosis. Clinical Rehabilitation 2003 Mar; 17(2): 181-91