There is a plethora of research supporting the benefits of chiropractic care for many musculoskeletal (MSK) complaints including low back pain, neck pain, headaches, and more. However, less research is available for non-MSK complaints like gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. So, what can chiropractic offer patients with GERD, and why is this important?
Normally, when we chew and swallow food, it passes through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that opens to let food pass into the stomach and then closes to prevent food and acids from flowing back into the esophagus. If the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately, individuals can experience the symptoms associated with GERD, including an acidic taste in the mouth, chest pain, choking, difficulty or inability to swallow, nausea, and/or burning sensation in the stomach and/or chest. More than 60 million Americans experience GERD at least once a month with 15 million adults suffering daily from the condition. The persistence of GERD can damage the esophagus, which can lead to inflammation and a breakdown in the lining leading to erosions, ulcerations, fibrotic scarring, and though rare, it can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
Common causes of GERD include (not all-inclusive): hiatal hernia, in which the stomach slides or rolls up above the opening in the diaphragm allowing acids that normally stay in the stomach to flow easily into the esophagus; excess weight from obesity or pregnancy, which can apply pressure against the stomach promoting acid reflux into the esophagus; a diet rich in fatty and/or spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, or alcohol; eating late at night; poor posture (slumped); smoking; certain medications; and stress.
In a 2016 study, 22 middle-aged adults with a history of GERD (mean 20.4 months) received between three and sixteen treatments consisting of thoracic spinal manipulation, diaphragm mobilization, traction of the cardia, and posture correction—all of which can be provided in a chiropractic setting. All but two patients reported significant improvements that persisted up to three months following the conclusion of care.
In addition to the manual therapies listed above, your doctor of chiropractic can teach you exercises and offer nutritional advice to help manage GERD without the use of medications.