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Pros and Cons of Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Homeopathy

Everyone wants the best outcome when they are sick. And, of course, we all want to get better without having to cope with side effects. Therefore, many patients turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments. But some of these treatments are ineffective and/or dangerous. Education is key! This post covers the pros and cons of chiropractic, osteopathy and homeopathy. Additionally, be sure to read the first post of this series that provides important information about CAM therapies.

Other posts in this series cover additional common CAM treatments. Learn the pros and cons of:

Importantly, realize that CAM treatments, like most medical treatments, involve some degree of risk. And some are safer and more effective than others. So do yourself an important favor and do some research, talk to your doctor, and be realistic about potential outcomes. And don’t ignore traditional therapies while undergoing CAM treatments.

Chiropractic.

Chiropractic medicine emphasizes the body’s ability to heal itself. Treatment, provided by a licensed professional, typically involves manual therapy, often including spinal manipulation. A chiropractor usually uses his/her hands to “apply controlled, rapid force to a damaged or injured joint, to allow the joint to move in a normal manner and reduce pain and inflammation.” Additionally, exercise and nutritional counseling may be used. Chiropractors often treat problems related to the musculoskeletal system.

Is it effective?

Some studies found chiropractic care can help patients with back-related pain and neck pain.

Is it safe?

Not always. Adjustments to your neck can increase your risk of stroke, according to a American Heart Association report. Additionally, research reveals that at least dozens of patients have died after neck manipulations, mostly associated with chiropractic treatment. Because of the severity of possible injuries, many doctors advise patients to avoid rapid neck manipulations. In contrast, adjustments to your thoracic or lumbar spine are considered safe.

How common is it?

A 2016 survey found that 35 million US adults saw a chiropractor in the previous 12 months.

Osteopathy.

photo of doctor moving patient's footOsteopathy is a drug-free, non-invasive hands-on therapy designed to improve health by manipulating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, referred to as DOs, are highly trained doctors who are often also primary care doctors or pediatricians. (All 50 states recognize DOs as doctors, with the same privileges.) These doctors focus on the joints, muscles, and spine in an effort to positively impact the body’s nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems. Osteopathic doctors use stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance. Additionally, since they are doctors, they can write prescriptions for medications and/or use surgical methods. 
Does it work?
Osteopathic treatments might help arthritis, back pain, headaches, joint pain, digestive issues, and postural problems. But these claims have not been sufficiently researched. A review of studies found that although there were some studies that found a positive impact of osteopathic manipulative treatment, the studies were not high quality nor numerous enough to prove that these treatments are beneficial.
Is it safe?

Unlike chiropractors, osteopaths can manipulate the neck without a risk of a serious injury. However, as with all medical treatments, there is still some degree of risk. For instance, patients may feel stiff and/or have a headache after treatment. Less common side effects, which are more common in older patients, include severe pain, rib fracture in patients with osteoporosis, numbness and tingling. There are also very serious side effects that occur rarely, including stroke, prolapsed disk, nerve damage, muscle weakness and bladder or bowel problems.

How many osteopathic doctors are there?

In the US, there are over 100,000 practicing Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy, also called homeopathic medicine, is a German medical system that is over 200 years old. These medicines are based on 2 unconventional theories:

  • “Like cures like” – the belief that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.
  • “Law of minimum dose” – the belief that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Therefore, many homeopathic products are so diluted they contain no molecules of the original substance.
What are homeopathic products?

photo flowers and liquid medicine dropperHomeopathic products come from plants (including red onion, arnica, poison ivy, and stinging nettle), minerals (including white arsenic), or animals (including crushed whole bees). Homeopathic products come in many forms, including sugar pellets, ointments, gels, drops, creams, and tablets. Practitioners individualize treatments for each patient. Therefore, different people with the same condition can receive different treatments.

Do they work?

There’s little evidence that homeopathic products effectively treat any specific health condition. For instance, a comprehensive analysis in 2015 by the Australian government found no reliable evidence that homeopathy effectively helps any health condition. As you might expect, homeopathy is a controversial topic since some of the key theories don’t agree with fundamental science. Furthermore, the extreme dilutions and individualized treatments make studying these products difficult.

Are they safe?

That depends. Unfortunately, there has not been enough research on the safety of homeopathic products. However, there are safety concerns. First of all, some products labeled as homeopathic may contain significant amounts of active ingredients which could cause side effects and drug interactions. Furthermore, a 2012 systematic review identified some dangers. For instance, certain homeopathic products contain dangerous levels of heavy metals like mercury or iron. Additionally, the reviewers found that patients who replace an effective conventional treatment with an ineffective homeopathic product can suffer adverse effects, some of which can be serious. Additionally, the FDA has warned the public about specific homeopathic products, including teething tablets and asthma products.

Talk to your doctor and proceed with skepticism and caution.

How popular are these treatments?

According to a 2012 survey, an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million children in the US use homeopathy products each year. The survey data indicates that among the adults using homeopathic products, most self-prescribe them for colds and musculoskeletal pain.

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