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Expert Answers: Chiropractors and COPD

We heard an interesting question in our COPD community on Facebook recently, and wanted to share our experts’ answers on the topic with everyone. The question is:

“I’ve heard that gentle manipulation by a chiropractor can be helpful for COPD patients, especially older people. What can you tell me about this?”


See what our experts had to say, and add your two cents in the comments section below!

Response from Leon

Chiropractic has a long history of helping people of all ages with all sorts of ailments. Most often it is associated with musculoskeletal complaints but some feel it has a place for other ailments as well – for our purposes, COPD.

What is the rationale behind the use of chiropractic manipulation which may improve symptoms of COPD? The thought process is if the chest wall can’t move well, COPD will progress. Reducing this impairment may improve the overall prognosis. Manipulation of the spine (and soft tissue therapy) increases the range of motion in the joints and decreases muscle spasticity. The end result may be easier breathing and less work for the respiratory muscles to do in breathing. Overall there may be less shortness of breath. If you are considering utilizing a chiropractor, the following guidelines should be considered with your practitioner:

  • Work with a chiropractor that manipulates the entire body, not only the upper cervical vertebrae.
  • Bring in as much of your medical record and history as possible on your first visit. The more your chiropractor understands about your condition, the more they may help you.
  • Ask your chiropractor about what lifestyle changes, if any, would be beneficial to you.
  • Discuss how long your initial trial should be before you start checking results. Ask about how to measure your results.
  • Remember that with time, your body may start improving. Some changes may be felt within the first few weeks, but you’ll need to allow time for the benefits to accumulate.
  • Ask your chiropractor if there are things you can do at home to improve your COPD.

There is some controversy over the actual benefits patients with COPD can achieve through the use of chiropractic care. For many older patients with COPD and its concomitant comorbidities, the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OSM), or chiropractic care, would seem to carry certain risks.

Anyone interested in pursuing treatment via chiropractic should conduct their due diligence in a very serious and conscientious manner. This must include discussing your plans with your present medical doctor. My personal/professional opinion would be to stay the course with your medical doctor, specialist (pulmonologist) and pulmonary rehabilitation.1-3

Response from Lyn

Chiropractors generally use a combination of methods to relieve symptoms related to musculoskeletal conditions; nutrition and exercise, soft tissue therapy, and spinal adjustments. Since patients with COPD often have limited mobility due to musculoskeletal changes, it’s reasonable to think that chiropractic care could be beneficial. In fact, many chiropractic clinics work interdisciplinary as part of your healthcare team to optimize your treatment.

A few studies have shown improvement in forced vital capacity, walking distance, and levels of dyspnea after chiropractic care. The focus of most chiropractors in treating COPD patients is control of symptoms to prevent complications in the future. They will sometimes use other therapies in conjunction with chiropractic care that will also help a person cope with COPD. Acupuncture, trigger point therapy, and massage are commonly used.

You would be wise to consult with your own doctor about your specific needs before beginning any treatment regimen.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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