Chiropractic—Sham, Placebo, or Science-Based?

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Since its beginnings, there have been questions on how, why or if Chiropractic works. Dr. J G Moellendorf reviews recent research findings to explain Chiropractic results.

Chiropractic care was shown to slow the rate of functional decline, disability, and dependency, resulting in reduced hospitalization and nursing home care while preserving the autonomy and well-being of older patients.

During its 119 year existence, Chiropractic care has been called a miracle by some, while vilified as a sham or placebo by its detractors. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Chiropractor and Naturopath Dr. J G Moellendorf, DC, ND, LCP examines recent research on Chiropractic for low back pain.

Many research projects during the past several decades have found that spinal manipulations or spinal adjustments as done by Chiropractors result in decreased sensitivity to pain. Chiropractors explain this result as the beneficial change in the function of the nervous system due to the effects of their spinal adjustments. Chiropractic detractors state that this is a sham effect because of the expectation of treatment results by the patient—the placebo effect.

The placebo effect or the expectation of results has been shown to decrease pain sensitivity, but the effectiveness of the spinal adjustment beyond placebo has not been adequately researched. The research team led by Joel Bialosky at the University of Florida in Gainesville recently studied this question and published their results titled “Spinal Manipulative Therapy–Specific Changes in Pain Sensitivity in Individuals With Low Back Pain” in the February 2014 issue of The Journal of Pain. The researchers randomly divided the 110 participants into four groups. The first group received spinal adjustments, the second group received placebo spinal adjustments, the third group received placebo spinal adjustments and were told “The manual therapy technique you will receive has been shown to significantly reduce low back pain in some people,” and the fourth group had no intervention. The first three groups received their assigned intervention six times during a two week period. During the first session, the sensitivity to pain was measured just before and immediately following the assigned intervention. Clinical outcomes in the four groups of participants were evaluated at the beginning and again at the end of the study two weeks later. The group receiving spinal adjustments had a greatly decreased sensitivity to pain from heat immediately after their spinal adjustment compared to the other groups.

The researchers noted that the spinal adjustment lessened the sensitivity of the central nervous system to pain beyond just the expectation of receiving an effective treatment.

Chiropractic care is well known for its therapeutic and restorative benefits on the functional abilities of patients with back problems. What is not known is how the effectiveness of Chiropractic care compares with other common medical treatments in a clinical setting over time. A research team led by Paula Weigel at the University of Iowa—Iowa City, compared the results of Chiropractic versus medical care for similar back conditions in older adults. The researchers extracted data from the nationally representative Survey on Assets and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old, and linked this with the participant’s Medicare Part B health claims. Episodes of care patterns between the treatment groups were examined, and the effects on the health outcomes among an older group of Medicare beneficiaries were estimated over a two year period. No significant difference was found between the results of Chiropractic and medical care within an episode over the short term, however, a significant protective effect against declines in functional activities of daily living and self-rated health was found over a two year period in those receiving Chiropractic care compared to those receiving only medical care. The study was published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics titled “The Comparative Effect of Episodes of Chiropractic and Medical Treatment on the Health of Older Adults”.

Dr. J G Moellendorf notes that Chiropractic care was shown to slow the rate of functional decline, disability, and dependency, resulting in reduced hospitalization and nursing home care while preserving the autonomy and well-being of older patients. This in turn results in an enormous savings in the costs of health care for society.
Moellendorf Chiropractic Office, Ltd. uses the latest research findings to provide a comprehensive package of Chiropractic care, decompression traction therapy, active therapeutic movement training, cold laser therapy, and nutrition for the natural treatment of neurological conditions, neck and back pain, and other health conditions without drugs or surgery. Additional information about Chiropractic, Naturopathy, and other forms of natural health care has been provided by Moellendorf Chiropractic Office, Ltd. at

About: Dr. J G Moellendorf, DC, ND, LCP
Dr. J G Moellendorf, DC, ND, LCP attended the University of Wisconsin—Superior where he majored in Physics and Mathematics, with a minor in art photography. While attending the University of Minnesota—Minneapolis, he assisted in research on ribosomal proteins. Completing his Chiropractic studies at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, he graduated Cum Laude (with high honors) in 1983. He started Moellendorf Chiropractic Office, Ltd. in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in 1983. In 1996, Dr. Moellendorf was awarded his Doctorate in Naturopathy from Trinity School of Natural Health. In 2001, he received Chiropractic’s most prestigious award, the honorary Legion of Chiropractic Philosophers degree, for his thesis “The Workings of Innate Intelligence in Obsessive/Compulsive and Addictive Behaviors.” This paper was chosen for publishing in the book Philosophic Contemplations vol. 2 in 2002. In June of 2012, Dr. Moellendorf authored his first book titled Healthcare’s Best Kept Secret. Dr. Moellendorf can be contacted by phone (920) 493-2126, fax (920) 743-1145, email jgmoellendorf(at)itol(dot)com, his website at, or send a carrier pigeon to 44.84722N and 87.36416W.

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