Maybe you’ve heard about chiropractic care through a friend or did some research online. Maybe you’re just tired of living in pain. If going to the chiropractor is a new experience for you, don’t worry! We’re here to help you shed your pain and get back on your feet. Your first visit to our practice will be about getting to know your chiropractor, and a chance for us to get to know you!
Appointments at our office typically begin with a bit of paperwork, as you no doubt would expect. Your skilled chiropractor will perform a physical examination to learn more about the cause of your pain, and only take x-rays if medically necessary. We’ll also discuss your current condition and your goals.
We will take a look at the overall results, and, together, come up with a plan of action specifically for you. We will talk about the type of treatment you will be receiving, any preparation necessary before beginning treatment, and when you can expect to see results. We will also discuss any lifestyle changes that may help you with your goals. As your partner in improving your health, your chiropractor will be with you every step of the way during your treatment.
CHIROPRACTIC MANIPULATION: WHAT IS IT, HOW CAN IT HELP, AND IS IT SAFE?
I MAYBE BIASED, but I believe that chiropractic manipulation to the pelvis, lumbar spine (low back), thoracic spine (mid-back) and cervical spine (neck) is the best treatment for most types of pain. I also believe people should have their hips adjusted as well. If the pelvis is crooked, how can you expect the hips to not be effected?
I say, try chiropractic, especially because it is super safe and relatively affordable! It also often results in more health benefits than expected. Bonus! In this chapter, I explain the how and why. I hope this information encourages you to try chiropractic if you haven’t already.
What Is a Chiropractic Manipulation?
During a chiropractic manipulation (also called an adjustment), a chiropractor applies a high-velocity, short-lever arm thrust to a bone to decompress a joint, restoring normal motion to the joint and/or normal alignment of the bones. Let me explain, in layman’s terms how a chiropractor does an adjustment.
To perform an adjustment, the chiropractor introduces a quick stretch to the muscles surrounding a joint while staying within the joint’s normal range of motion.
Muscles have a quick stretch reflex, and when a muscle is stretched quickly, nerves in the muscle respond by causing the muscle to relax. This autonomic reflex protects the muscles from tearing during any quick stretch.
A chiropractic adjustment does not go nearly deep enough to risk tearing muscles, but the nerves and muscles do not know this. All they know is that an external force is making the muscles stretch quickly, so the nerves protect the muscle from such external forces. Therefore, an adjustment causes muscles to relax.
Fluid is present in the space between the bones. When a chiropractor performs a quick stretch, the barometric pressure of the joint fluid decreases. As with any fluid, decreasing the pressure releases gasses (in this case, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide).
An everyday example of this phenomenon is when you open a can of soda. The soda in the can is under pressure, and when you open it, the pressure on the fluid decreases, and bubbles come out of the liquid. A joint, however, is a closed “container,” so the “bubble(s)” pop immediately.
Why an Adjustment Helps
Many physiological events occur during an adjustment to facilitate healing. I explain some of these amazing events in the following sections.
Increases Range of Motion
During an adjustment, a chiropractor moves a joint within its full healthy range of motion. It is safe because the chiropractor is far from overstretching the ligaments. If you do not move enough, your joints degenerate. When is the last time you stretched all of your joints to their full range of motion? There is a reason we say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” People stiffen as they get older not because of their chronological age, but because of their lack of stretching over time. Look at yogis. There are 100-year-old yogis who are more flexible than average middle-aged Americans.
I like to say that chiropractic manipulations are like going to a partner yoga class, but with a skilled partner who knows how to get to the end range of all your joints quickly and safely. Chiropractic adjustment is like yoga with an “oomph.”
Bones and joints are not rods of iron that rust with time. They are living tissue that degenerates with abnormal stressors over time. Everyday activities result in micro trauma to tissues. As you age, your ability to heal slows down, so you feel your body slowly lose the battle of healing.
When you are young, you heal rapidly because the joints are plump with nutrient-filled fluid, which is why you do not feel this micro trauma occurring. Over time, abnormal stressors of our modern lifestyle cause the joint fluid to slowly seep out, and the cells inside to start to die. With less nutrient-filled fluid and fewer cells to repair the damage as we age, each of these injuries is felt more profoundly. You take longer to heal, and the micro traumas begin to accumulate. This results in degeneration and arthritic changes.
But movement can help heal this damage. It was once thought that cartilage in the joints just wears away with time. Now we know that cells (chondrocytes) inside each joint repair the cartilage. Unfortunately, most people cause damage faster than the few chondrocytes can fix it, resulting in degeneration.
We need movement to support the cell repair and to facilitate the flow of nutrients in and waste out required for the repair process. Why?
Blood delivers nutrients to the joints, but for the nutrients to seep into the joint fluid, the joint fluid has to stir. Movement stirs the joint fluid and allows blood in the capillary bed to deliver nutrients deeper inside the joint fluid. The cells inside the joints receive the nutrients they need for this rebuilding process. Thus, simply moving your joints helps them heal.
When you sit or stand still for too long, the weight of your body slowly squishes the fluid out of your joints. Your joints become deficient of the much-needed nutrients that would normally flow into a healthy, moving joint. If you sit too long, you literally starve your joints, causing them to degenerate over time.
Like physical movement, an adjustment literally “feeds” the joints it moves. When the gas bubbles form in the joint and pop, the fluid stirs. Nutrients flow in, facilitating the joint’s healing and reversing the degenerative process.
Chiropractic adjustment decompresses a joint, reversing the degenerative process.
The increased space between the bones takes the pressure off nerves (decreasing your experience of pain) and allows for more blood flow and lymphatic drainage. All of this facilitates the healing of the surrounding tissues.
Even young adults who do not move enough will experience degeneration in their joints. I am seeing people at younger ages getting degenerative joint disease from sitting too much beginning early in their life.
Relaxes Spastic Muscles
An adjustment relaxes spastic muscles through the quick stretches I described earlier in the chapter.
This is why adjusting the spine helps with muscle spasms and pain. One quick adjustment relaxes tight muscles far more deeply than a whole hour of massage. An adjustment is far safer than taking pain medication in the long run, and it corrects the cause of the pain, unlike pain medication, which just masks the pain.
Healing Occurs, Even at a Biochemical Level
During an adjustment, other biochemical reactions occur. The body releases endorphins into the area of the adjustment. This provides the short-term pain relief people report after an adjustment. The long-term effects of an adjustment are faster healing and restored full range of motion.
Chiropractic Adjustments Are Safe
I have patients who come in very concerned about getting their back adjusted, even though, in my opinion, an adjustment is one of the best treatments for pain. Unfortunately, these patients have heard that adjustments can cause further injury to their back.
I have had patients tell me that their medical doctor told them that they should not have a back adjustment because they had disc herniations in their spine. An adjustment is often the best treatment for herniated discs! I have countless patients who have avoided surgery because I adjusted their spine!
When I herniated four discs in my neck, my friend, who is a radiologist, was shocked to hear my chiropractic adjustments were helping me fully recover; he was sure it was unsafe! To be fair, an adjustment is not always warranted and, when done improperly, can strain the back. This is a case of not blaming the tool, but the person wielding the tool.
Medical doctors see the few patients who were more sore after seeing a chiropractor, so they think all chiropractic treatments are unsafe. Thankfully, I have a good reputation with the surgeons in my area. My patients have told me that when they tell their surgeons that they are receiving chiropractic treatments from me, their surgeons agree that I seem to help people with spinal complaints.
Research validates that chiropractic manipulation is much safer than taking NSAIDs. Yet people in our culture are generally more comfortable taking a pain pill than having a chiropractic adjustment! I believe this is due to misinformation. In fact, people die daily due to medicine taken as prescribed. Yet most people feel comfortable taking their medications!
The health benefits of an adjustment are often greater than expected. By stretching the vertebrae of the spine apart and creating more space for the nerves that exit the spinal cord, blood flow and lymph drainage increase. This allows nutrients to flow into and waste to flow out of the tissues, resulting in ideal conditions for the tissues to not only heal, but to function optimally. Without this space, there is more pressure on the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues.
Nerves especially do not like pressure; they function better with space. Better communication between the brain and the body makes for better functioning organs, leading to a healthier body in general. This is why patients often report their headaches resolve, their sinuses drain, and/or the pressure in their ears clears after a neck adjustment. These are all great side effects for those suffering from head pain. This is why I love chiropractic.
Nerves that exit the neck region send signals to the head and upper extremities. If these nerves are being compressed, they will cause head, neck, arm, or hand pain.
After treating neck pain with a cervical (neck) adjustment, I often hear things like “I haven’t had a migraine since,” “My sinuses have cleared,” “My vertigo is gone,” “My carpal tunnel syndrome resolved,” and “My arms don’t fall asleep or hurt anymore.”
This is why adjusting the neck can help alleviate arm pain.
Nerves that exit the mid-back region send signals to the organs in the mid-torso, including the lungs, stomach, spleen, and liver. After treating for mid-back pain, I have heard things like “My GERD has improved” and “My asthma is better.”
Nerves that exit the lower back region of the spine send signals to the organs in the lower torso, including the lower intestines, reproductive organs, and lower extremities.
After treating low back pain, I often hear things like “I don’t have sciatica any more”, “My bowel movements have been more regular than ever,” “My menstrual cycle is more normal,” “My ED (erectile dysfunction) seems to have resolved,” and “I was told by my medical doctor that I was infertile, and now I am pregnant!”
My favorite examples of successful low back treatments are when patients come in barely able to walk or seated in a wheelchair and leave walking without even a limp. Usually low back pain takes six to twelve visits to treat, but I love the one-visit wonders!
After treating children with chiropractic adjustments, their parents report, “They are calmer,” “They are sleeping better,” and “They are able to focus more.”
I prefer these types of “side effects” to the side effects people experience with allopathic medicine, which often has incredibly long lists of possible negative side effects, including “Can cause death.” When you take any medicine, there is always some negative effect; sometimes that negative effect ends up outweighing the benefit.
Determining Whether Chiropractic Manipulation Is Right for You
I hope the information in this blog has helped persuade you to see a chiropractor to determine if an adjustment is an appropriate treatment for your pain.
If you are going to receive a manipulation, simply ask w many manipulations your chiropractor performs on a weekly basis and how long they have been in practice. Ask how successful they are at treating pain like yours. Also ask if they do hip manipulation and myofascial release to the back muscles and hip flexors because that often relieves low back pain as well. The answers to these questions will help you figure out how skilled and practiced the chiropractor is at treating your condition. You can also seek treatments for your pain from other healthcare providers, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, physical therapists, doctors of osteopathy, and other body-moving practitioners. It often takes a village of healers to help you combat your pain.
However, if your condition is worsening or if it is not responding after a couple months of care, I recommend that you seek the opinion of a surgeon.
I usually see a patient or two a year who I have to refer to a surgeon. If I make a referral to a surgeon, it is because manual therapies are not enough, and I feel the patient is a great candidate for surgery. Most patients I have referred to a surgeon did need surgery, and luckily, the procedure was successful.
I had a case where a tumor in the low back mimicked a disc herniation. After three treatments, it was obvious his condition was deteriorating because the relief from the treatments lasted less than an hour and the length of relief was not improving with each treatment (as expected with a disc herniation). I warned him of serious signs to watch out for, and when one of them occurred, he went to the medical doctor as I had instructed. An emergency MRI was done, which found the tumor. He had surgery shortly afterward. Sadly, the surgery damaged nerves to his legs, but it took pressure off the nerves that supplied organs and internal muscles, which was the primary goal of the surgery.
I am grateful to have the option to refer patients to surgeons. My only issue with surgery is when it is done for conditions that will likely improve with manual therapy. I don’t believe surgery is worth the risk unless the condition is time sensitive (like nerves being damaged). You are more likely to get 100 percent better with manual therapy than with surgery, but the manual therapy route takes longer. Surgery takes the pressure off of nerves immediately and is sometimes required when the condition can’t wait to be treated.
This is another reason why it is important to have a team of healthcare professionals who can help you determine the best treatment for your ailment. A surgeon is likely to think you need surgery. A chiropractor is likely to think you need adjustments. An acupuncturist is likely to think you need acupuncture. Ultimately, your health team should work together to do what is best for your condition.
Check out my Combat Dis-Ease series to learn more about how chiropractic can help more than just neck and low back pain.
Bryans et al., “Evidence-based Guidelines for the Chiropractic Treatment of Adults with Headache.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics; Astin and Ernst, “The Effectiveness of Spinal Manipulation,” Cephalalgia.
If you have any further questions, call our practice today!