Chronic Pain, Treatment Approaches

Thoughts on Chiropractic Care

I couldn’t believe this myself when I first added them all up, but I have actually seen a total of seven chiropractors over the past eight years.  I have one chiropractor now who I absolutely love, but because it took me a while to find him and even after I’d found him, I went to college in a different area, I’ve ended up having the opportunity to sample many different approaches to chiropractic care.

I’m sure that these days, pretty much everyone has heard of chiropractors and has some idea of what they do.  For those who aren’t sure, chiropractors perform what are called “adjustments” on bones and joints.  Using either their hands or a tool called an activator, they push or tap on different parts of your body, mainly focusing on the bones of the spine, to make sure your bones are lined up in the optimal position.  I have never really found the adjustments to be painful, although at times I have been sore for a day or so afterwards (never so sore that I regretted the adjustment, however).

Based on my experiences with these seven chiropractors, I have come up with the following suggestions for anyone who is interested in trying chiropractic:

1) If you don’t feel better after the first, or at least the second visit, look elsewhere.

The first chiropractor I ever saw promised me that I’d start feeling better after about four to six weeks, and I never did.  In retrospect, I was totally taken in by his initial presentation, detailed explanations, and optimism.  I signed up for an extended treatment package, which gave me a “discount” off of the price of each adjustment.  I showed up twice a week, got an adjustment from him, and followed his instructions to put ice on the areas he’d adjusted when I got home.  I never actually felt a difference in my level of pain.

After about a month, I was tired of being patient, so I went to see a new chiropractor, who my father said had really helped him.  I felt better the instant I got up from the exam table.  “You mean I can actually expect to feel better right away?” I asked.  He nodded at me, incredulous that any chiropractor would have told me differently.  This is the chiropractor I still see today.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will only need one or two visits for your pain to be “cured.”  A general rule of thumb is that the longer your problem has been going on, the more time and chiropractic visits it will take to get better.  I consider the pain relief I experience from each individual visit to be more of a short-term fix than anything else.  However, assuming your chiropractor knows what he or she is doing, your visits will have a cumulative effect, and long-term relief will come over time.

2) It is normal to be a little bit sore after an adjustment. 

This is simply because your body will be aligned a little bit differently.  Even though your bones and joints are lined up in what is anatomically-speaking a healthier position, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are not necessarily used to being in that position.  It will take some time to get used to it.

I know I mentioned how I felt immediate relief the first time I saw my current chiropractor, and I did.  I felt a mild rush of euphoria the second he popped something around my right shoulder blade that had been bothering me for months.  But I was also incredibly sore that night.

You should be able to tell whether or not the adjustment helped you by whether or not the pain has shifted.  If he pain feels exactly the same as it was before the adjustment, your chiropractor probably didn’t really make a big difference.  But if you feel soreness in a new area of your body and notice you are no longer focused on the area that you asked the chiropractor for help with, this is probably a sign that what he or she did was effective.  The key is to be able to see a difference in in the type and location of the pain you are feeling.  Post-adjustment soreness will gradually fade away over the course of the next day or so.

I have found that my level of soreness following an adjustment corresponds with how much pain I was in prior to an adjustment.  If I was in a lot of pain and things felt totally out of place before the adjustment, I will definitely be sore for about 24 hours afterwards.  If I’m having a week where everything feels okay but I go to the chiropractor as a form of maintenance, I probably won’t be very sore afterwards and I’ll go about the rest of my day as normal.

3) Don’t allow a chiropractor you are unfamiliar with to adjust your neck. 

Many people, including some medical professionals, believe that chiropractic adjustments to the neck pose a risk of stroke.  My best understanding of the reason this could happen is that during the extreme neck movements that occur during an adjustment, the edges of your cervical vertebrae (the bones in your neck) can come into contact with the major arteries that run up either side of your neck and damage them.  This can restrict blood flow to your brain if a clot is formed.

I personally choose to let my chiropractor adjust my neck because I really trust him.  He has been in business for decades, and I honestly think he would tell me if he believed there was any risk from what he was doing. With that being said, I only let him adjust my neck with the activator.  My neck remains in a neutral position than the activator, which seems a lot more safe to me than having him pick my head up in his hands and contort my neck to pop things into the right place.

Whether or not you will allow a chiropractor to make adjustments to your neck is a decision that only you can make.  I suggest you inform yourself as much as possible.  Here are a few starting points:

4) Don’t believe chiropractors who make exaggerated claims about what chiropractic treatment can and can’t treat.

The first chiropractor I saw (the one who didn’t end up helping me) sent me home with a small paperback book about all the things chiropractic could fix.  It basically claimed that regular chiropractic adjustments could reverse the course of about every health problem short of cancer and AIDS.  As far as I can tell, there is really no evidence that this is possible.  I would stick to viewing chiropractic primarily as something you do for musculoskeletal pain.  My current chiropractor has made adjustments on all different parts of my body, not just my back.  Over the years, he has performed adjustments on my knees, ankles, elbows, and even hands, but the purpose has always been the same: to treat muscular pain and improve my body mechanics.  I strongly believe you will be wasting your time seeing a chiropractor who claims he or she will cure your ear chronic ear infections.

For an example of the type of chiropractor not to see, check out this article about a chiropractor who was found guilty of causing the death of a patient with epilepsy.  This chiropractor convinced the patient to stop taking the medication she used to control seizures, insisting that chiropractic treatment alone could “cure” her. The patient died after she ceased her medications.

My current chiropractor has never made such wild promises about what I could hope to experience after his treatments, and he has never once suggested that I should follow his advice over that of regular doctors.

5) Check to see if your insurance company will pay for chiropractic care. 

The different health insurance plans I have had have paid for between ten and twelve visits a year.  For someone with severe issues, this isn’t very much (I definitely went through that many visits alone in the two months after I first hurt my back).  But it’s still worth looking into, especially if you can’t afford to pay out of pocket.

A side note to this is that there are some physical therapists who have been trained to perform manipulations similar to those performed by chiropractors.  The physical therapist who did this for me performed motions that were similar to what my chiropractor did, but they were more gentle and seemed to be done with much less force.  My pain relief afterwards wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was still pain relief, and it was covered by insurance.  Unfortunately I don’t really have any great trips for how to find a physical therapist who has been trained in this, but you could try asking around for someone who knows how to do “joint mobilizations.”

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chiropractic Care”

  1. it’s great to hear chiropractic from a patients point of view! well done. Chiropractic aims to ensure proper communication between you brain and body via the central nervous system in your spine. As a result your body is able to heal itself better so Chiropractic doesn’t cure anything – You Do!!!!

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