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Medical Doctors, Chiropractors Top Choices for Spine Care

Updated: Oct 15, 2018



  • Neck/Back pain sufferers use multiple methods to address pain

  • Chiropractors, physical therapists rated higher on care than medical doctors

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Neck and back pain sufferers in the U.S. who saw healthcare professionals in the past 12 months for this type of pain were most likely to seek care from a medical doctor (62%) or a chiropractor (53%). About a third visited a massage therapist or a physical therapist for their neck or back pain (34% for each).

Medical Doctors, Chiropractors the Top Choices for Neck or Back Pain

Did you see any of the following healthcare professionals for your neck or back pain in the last 12 months? (asked of those who saw a healthcare professional for neck or back pain in the past 12 months)

Medical doctor-62%


Massage Therapist-34%

Physical therapist-34%

Physician's assistant-26%

Nurse practitioner-22%

Surgeon who can operate on spine-22%

Doctor of osteopathic medicine-15%


Smaller percentages of U.S. adults suffering from neck or back pain who sought care saw physician's assistants (26%), nurse practitioners (22%), surgeons who can operate on the spine (22%), doctors of osteopathic medicine (15%) or acupuncturists (9%).

Most patients with this kind of pain (81%) saw more than one type of healthcare provider for care in the past year, demonstrating a willingness to address their pain through different types of care.

These figures are from the latest Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic annual report, Managing Neck and Back Pain in America, which surveyed more than 5,000 U.S. adults. According to the National Institutes of Health, back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S. and can affect one's ability to work, complete daily tasks and enjoy life.

Chiropractors, Physical Therapists Given High Marks in Care Experiences

Neck and back pain patients were asked about their experiences with the healthcare professional they saw most often for care. Sample sizes were large enough for examining the experiences of those who saw chiropractors, physical therapists and medical doctors. These experiences were evaluated across four key elements of care, including patient perceptions that their provider provided convenient and quick access to care, listened to them, demonstrated care and compassion, and explained things well.

Patients of chiropractors and physical therapists are more likely to report that their provider often did these four things than are patients of medical doctors. The vast majority of neck and back pain patients who saw a chiropractor in the past year say their chiropractor listened to them (93%), provided convenient and quick access to care (93%), demonstrated care and compassion (91%), and explained things well (88%). More than eight in 10 neck and back pain patients who saw a physical therapist most often for care say the same on these key elements of care.

Two-thirds or more of neck and back pain patients who saw a medical doctor most often say their care provider listened to them (72%), explained things well (67%) and demonstrated care and compassion (66%), while a slim majority report having received convenient, quick access to care (53%).

Listen to you 93% 88% 72%

Provide convenient, quick access to care 93% 86% 53%

Demonstrate care, compassion 91% 86% 66%

Explain things well 88% 83% 67%

Heat and Yoga/Stretching Among Popular Ways of Self-Addressing Pain

The most popular nondrug remedies employed by adults who sought professional care for significant neck and back pain are superficial heat or heating pads (77%) and yoga, stretching or other exercises (72%) to alleviate pain. Six in 10 used ice or cold packs (60%) to address their pain.

Many neck and back pain sufferers also used non-drug therapies that require a healthcare professional, such as massage (53%), spinal adjustment (47%) and physical therapy (42%), while smaller minorities received cortisone injections (18%) and acupuncture (9%).

Over-the-Counter Medications Commonly Used Among Spine Pain Sufferers

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common medication used by U.S. adults who sought care for significant neck or back pain in the past year. Nearly three in four (73%) took an NSAID, while half of such pain sufferers report having used acetaminophen (50%).

More than one in five neck and back pain patients took prescription pain medications in the past year. Opioids and benzodiazepines were used by 22% each, while a smaller percentage used Gabapentin or Neurontin (12%).

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-73%




Gabapentin or Neurontin-12%

More Than One in Five People Who Saw a Healthcare Professional for Neck/Back Pain Tried Opioids in Past Year

Did you try any of the following for your neck or back pain in the last 12 months (asked of those who saw a healthcare professional for neck or back pain in the last 12 months)

Bottom Line

One in four adults in the U.S. have neck or back pain significant enough that they saw a healthcare provider for care in the past 12 months. Many of these adults are using various methods to try to address their pain -- including seeing more than one type of healthcare provider.

An integrated approach to addressing spine pain -- one in which different types of healthcare providers work together -- could be an asset to neck or back pain sufferers in America.

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