What is spinal manipulation?

  • Spinal manipulation is also called spinal manipulative therapy. It’s a technique where practitioners use their hands or a device to apply a controlled thrust (that is, a force of a specific magnitude or degree in a specific direction) to a joint of your spine. The amount of force can vary, but the thrust moves the joint more than it would on its own. Spinal manipulation is different from spinal mobilization, which doesn’t involve a thrust (and is performed within a joint’s natural range of motion and can be controlled by the patient).
  • Most spinal manipulations are done by chiropractors (chiropractic treatment often involves spinal manipulation), although other licensed professionals including osteopathic physicians and physical therapists also do spinal manipulations.
  • Spinal manipulation is one of the most common complementary health approaches used by adults and children in the United States, the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) showed.
  • For more information on what chiropractors do, see the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) webpage Chiropractic.

Why do people use spinal manipulation?

Among U.S. adults who used chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, about 67 percent used it to treat a specific health condition, and 53 percent used it for wellness, the 2012 NHIS found. Specifically:

  • 43 percent used it for general wellness or disease prevention
  • 25 percent used it because it focuses on the whole person—their mind, body, and spirit
  • 16 percent used it for improved energy
  • 11 percent used it for better immune function
  • 5 percent used it to improve memory or concentration.

Previous research found that people report positive experiences and reduced pain as a result of receiving spinal manipulation, the NHIS authors noted.

Who uses spinal manipulation and has usage changed?

Between 2012 and 2017, U.S. adults’ use of chiropractic care (which usually involves spinal manipulation) during the past year increased slightly, from 9.1 percent to 10.3 percent, a comparison of NHIS data from the two years showed. The data also show that women were more likely than men to see a chiropractor, and that adults between the ages of 45 and 64 were more likely than people aged 18-44 or 65 and over to have visited one during the past year. According to the same national survey (by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics), non-Hispanic white adults were much more likely to visit a chiropractor (12.7 percent) than Hispanic (6.6 percent) or non-Hispanic black (5.5 percent) adults.

Among children, there was no significant difference in the use of chiropractic care between 2012 and 2017 (3.5 percent versus 3.4 percent). Older children (age 12 to 17) were more likely than younger ones (age 4 to 11) to have seen a chiropractor, but there was no significant difference in the use of chiropractic care between girls and boys. Non-Hispanic white children were more likely than non-Hispanic black or Hispanic children to have seen a chiropractor.