Chiropractic care, although usually associated with neuromuscular problems, can be very helpful in providing relief from the symptoms of many gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, gallbladder disease, gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and celiac disease. While research studies have not yet established connections between chiropractic treatment and relief of the symptoms of these disorders, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence supporting this conclusion. In keeping with the views of chiropractic medicine, it is no surprise that manual adjustments of vertebral misalignments should be helpful in decompressing nerves that supply energy to the digestive tract.

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The Integrative Medicine Connection to the GI Tract

Integrative medical care is predicated on the belief that inflammation at any level of the spine corresponds to dysfunction of a particular organ. Disorder of the organ may result in a muscle spasm intense enough to move the corresponding vertebra out of alignment. Once the vertebra is misaligned, nerves may be compressed and blood flow may be inhibited, worsening the problem.

It is also possible for the reverse to occur. It may be that a subluxation of the spine, occurring because of traumatic injury of some other disease process, has resulted in vertebral compression of the vagus nerve, the parasympathetic nerve that supplies the digestive organs with blood, nutrients and oxygen. In this case, the compression of the nerve may be the cause, not the result, of the digestive disturbance.

Integrative Medicine Care for GI Disorders

Because of the intrinsic connection between the nerve roots of the spinal cord and the functioning of the digestive tract, chiropractic adjustments may be just the thing to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms and promote healing. In addition to the vagus nerve, other nerves are integral to proper digestive functions, including the sympathetic nerves coming out of the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine, and the parasympathetic nerves coming out of the sacral region.

Because of these connections, chiropractic adjustments can reduce inflammation both along the spinal cord and in the intestinal tract, improving digestive function. Chiropractors are trained to administer other types of therapy that may be helpful in relieving GI symptoms by reducing tension, improving circulation, and giving their patients a renewed sense of well-being. These techniques include:

  • Ice or heat therapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Deep muscle massage
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Applied kinesiology

Some chiropractors may also recommend that their patients take probiotics to restore a proper environment in the digestive tract.

While it may be necessary for patients to undergo sustained chiropractic treatment for chronic digestive conditions, they can expect to experience some rapid, even immediate, relief during early therapeutic sessions. They may notice less pain, cramping and discomfort, as well as improved bowel functioning, shortly after beginning a course of treatment.

Advantages of Integrative Medicine for GI Disorders

Integrative medical care offers several advantages over more conventional approaches to gastrointestinal ailments. Its holistic approach is non-invasive, always attempting to clear obstacles to good health so that the body can heal itself. In addition to sometimes conferring rapid symptom relief, chiropractic treatment generally stays away from medications, believing that they are likely to mask symptoms, cause side effects, and sometimes produce rebound effects. In many cases, integrative medical care may provide enough symptom relief to enable the patient to avoid the risks and prolonged recovery period of a surgical procedure.

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