Currently, there is no strong evidence that chiropractic for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a safe or effective therapy. In people with inflamed joints, some chiropractic techniques may cause harm.

Chiropractic care includes techniques such as spinal manipulation, joint movement, and muscle stretching.

While some research suggests that this intervention may provide relief from other types of pain, this does not mean it is beneficial for autoimmune conditions such as RA. The Arthritis Foundation recommends caution for individuals with RA who are considering chiropractic care.

Read on to learn more about whether chiropractic is safe for RA, whether it has benefits, and the risks.

A chiropractor holding the arm of a person with rheumatoid arthritis.Share on Pinterest
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Chiropractic is generally safe for people with osteoarthritis, but certain techniques may not be safe for people with RA. This is because RA is an inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the whole body rather than stemming from a purely mechanical problem.

Chiropractic aims to improve the mechanical function of joints and how the spine interacts with the nervous system. However, physically manipulating joints that are actively inflamed may make the pain and swelling worse rather than better.

There are other techniques a chiropractor may use if a person is having a flare-up, though. Depending on the chiropractor, they may be able to provide alternative pain relief via:

  • ultrasound, which can provide a vibrating massage
  • infrared sauna, which may reduce pain
  • electrotherapy, which involves delivering tiny electric shocks to tissues
  • low level or cold laser therapy, which involves using a laser to try to reduce inflammation

There are no high quality studies assessing whether chiropractic is a safe or effective treatment for RA. As such, there is little information on the potential benefits.

Some people report that chiropractic helps them. There are also some case studies of individual patients that doctors treated with chiropractic.

For example, an older 2015 case study found that chiropractic may relieve pain for those with RA without directly treating inflamed joints.

However, this report focuses on just one person. It does not indicate that chiropractic will be beneficial to all people with RA.

Can chiropractic reduce RA inflammation?

A small study from 2010 suggests that chiropractic may reduce inflammation in the body. It is possible that it may achieve this by lowering the levels of certain proteins in the body that can cause inflammation.

This may lead some to wonder whether chiropractic could reduce the inflammation RA causes throughout the body, too. However, this study only had 21 participants, and it did not focus on RA.

This means that, currently, there is still no evidence chiropractic reduces RA inflammation specifically, nor that it reliably works in larger numbers of people.

Some chiropractors claim that chiropractic techniques can reduce inflammation between the vertebrae. There is insufficient evidence to prove this claim.

A lot of research on chiropractic focuses on back pain. However, the aim of chiropractic is to improve the mechanical function of joints anywhere in the body, so treatment is not limited to the spine.

Chiropractors may use their techniques to improve pain or stiffness in the:

  • hands and wrists
  • feet and ankles
  • head and jaw
  • shoulders
  • neck
  • hips
  • pelvis
  • knees

There is not enough evidence to suggest that chiropractic can treat RA symptoms in these areas.

Yes — If a chiropractor uses physical manipulation on inflamed or swollen joints, the therapy may make symptoms worse. However, chiropractic will not affect the autoimmunity itself.

No — Unless a chiropractor is also a qualified medical doctor, they cannot diagnose a person with RA. However, a chiropractor may be able to notice certain symptoms that suggest a person has RA, such as:

  • pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints
  • symptoms affecting multiple joints
  • pain in the small joints, such as the hands and feet
  • symmetrical symptoms on both sides of the body

Some chiropractors may have access to X-ray testing, which may provide more information. If they believe a person could have RA, they should refer their client to a doctor.

People with RA should speak with a doctor before trying chiropractic care. It may not be safe for everyone, especially if they have current, active inflammation in their joints.

Chiropractic is also not a replacement for medical treatment. Without the right care, RA can get worse and may cause permanent damage to joints. Anyone who believes they could have RA should speak with a doctor for a diagnosis.

If a person tries chiropractic and experiences any worsening of their symptoms, they should stop their sessions and contact a doctor for advice.

While there is some anecdotal evidence that chiropractic for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is helpful, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to suggest it is safe or effective across a broad population.

Chiropractic manipulation could make RA symptoms worse for those with active inflammation in their joints. However, there are other treatments that chiropractors may be able to provide to reduce pain aside from physical manipulation. These include ultrasound, electrotherapy, and infrared sauna.

People considering chiropractic for RA should be cautious about trying this complementary therapy and always discuss it with their doctor first.