When you get a headache, or feel neck or lower back pain, what is the first thing that you think to do? Do you reach for the bottle of Advil? Call your medical doctor and ask for a refill of your muscle relaxers or pain killers? Decide it’s time that you call the chiropractor? These are all common answers. But how does each of these affect the way that you feel?
Over The Counter NSAIDs
Probably the most common response from people in pain is to take over the counter NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Examples of over the counter NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). NSAIDs generally work by blocking chemicals in the body that produce inflammation. By limiting the production of inflammation, an NSAID may be able to limit your pain. But what is causing the inflammation in the first place? Although the NSAID may help decrease pain and inflammation, it does not address the root cause.
NSAIDs also come with side effects, they may lead to heart burn, stomach ulcers and liver or kidney problems. In many cases, taking an NSAID is similar to putting tape over the check engine light in your car, it just hides the problem. If you don’t address what caused the light to come on in the first place, your car will eventually break down. NSAIDs help make you feel better by masking your symptoms, but if the cause of your symptoms is not addressed, the pain will typically return over time.
If your pain is severe enough, you might go to see your medical doctor. They may prescribe muscle relaxers or prescription anti-inflammatory medication. Similar to NSAIDs, these prescriptions will likely make you feel better, but they don’t fix the problem. Muscle relaxers, like Soma, Flexeril or Valium, are usually prescribed when someone is experiencing severe muscle spasms.
These medications do help relax muscles, so they can lead to decreased pain, however it does not address the cause of the muscle spasm. They are also usually only used at night and for very short periods, since they cause drowsiness and can lead to dependency if taken for an extended period.
Prescription anti-inflammatory medications work similar to the over the counter versions, however they are generally much stronger. When a patient comes into my office in severe pain, I will often times refer them to their medical doctor for possible prescription anti-inflammatories. These are usually successful in decreasing inflammation and pain in the short term, and later allows me to fix the problem.
So, how is chiropractic care any different than taking a medication? Medications are designed to help symptoms associated with pain, such as inflammation or muscle spasm. Chiropractic care is about not just looking at the symptoms, but trying to find what is causing the symptoms. Chiropractors are trained to find subluxations, or misalignments of the spine. These misalignments can put pressure onto a nerve, which can cause inflammation , resulting in pain.
When the vertebra shifts out of position, it can also pull on the muscles that attach at the bone. This can cause the muscles to spasm. By correcting the misalignments of the spine, chiropractors are not only able to help relieve pain and muscle tension, but also help correct the cause of the problem.
Although medications can help you feel better if you are suffering from neck or lower back pain, they really only mask the symptoms. Chiropractic care is effective at not only getting you feeling better, but also making sure the problems get fixed.