Back pain is a common issue we face. If you’ve ever experienced back pain so severe that you’ve had to see a doctor, you are far from alone. An estimated 85% of people will have to consult their doctor for back pain at some point in their lives. Nowadays many of us work in offices where we have to sit at our desks for hours and hours. This, combined with poor posture and lack of exercise, can lead to discomfort and pain.
Other causes of back pain include:
- Muscle and ligament strain from sudden movements or repeated heavy lifting
- Bulging or herniated disks: disks serve as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine and protect the nerves.
- Skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis
Standard treatment involves a combination of rest, physiotherapy, and pain-relieving medication. However, with the backdrop of the opioid crisis, many people are looking for safe, non-opioid alternatives. One of the most popular alternatives is chiropractic care, which is increasingly gaining recognition from medical doctors. About 22 million Americans consult chiropractors every year, and 35% of them are seeking back pain relief. Other common complaints include neck, arm, or leg pain.
What Does Chiropractic Care Mean?
A chiropractor is a health care professional who handles the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular disorders. You can identify a chiropractor by the initials “DC” which stands for Doctor of Chiropractic. Although chiropractors don’t hold medical degrees and are therefore not medical doctors, their education typically involves an undergraduate degree focused on sciences followed by an extensive four-year training at a chiropractic college where they attend classes and gain hands-on experience.
All chiropractors in the U.S. are required to get a degree from a Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) accredited college in order to obtain a license to practice. Since there are over one hundred chiropractic methods, some chiropractors decide to specialize in one or several, which required an additional residency of 2 to 3 years – this is what they refer to when they say they use “integrated” or “diversified” techniques in their treatments.
Modern chiropractic treatment is premised on the idea that back pain is caused by a misalignment of the spine, and spinal manipulation is a chiropractor’s signature move. You may have seen videos of chiropractors moving someone’s arms or neck, and you hear that cracking sound. That’s doesn’t come from bones cracking. It’s caused by gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen being released from the joint capsule, similarly to when you crack your knuckles.
Chiropractic adjustment, which in the case of back pain will involve spinal manipulation, means physically pushing, pulling and repositioning the head, shoulders, neck, hips and back to reduce subluxation, improve range of motion and nerve function, which, in turn, relieves pain. Although you may experience some mild stiffness and soreness a few hours after a treatment session, manipulation is typically painless.
Spinal Manipulation and Adjustment Methods
- Motion Palpation – Motion palpation is used as a diagnostic tool. You chiropractor will place their hands on specific areas along the spine and guide you through a series of movements so that they can feel where the spinal column is out of alignment.
- Toggle Drop – The toggle drop technique involves quick and precise thrusts. They’ll cross their hands and press down firmly in a controlled motion.
- Lumbar Roll – Frequently used for patients with lower back pain, the lumbar roll involves lying on your side while your chiropractor applies rapid thrusts to problematic areas.
- Release Work – This technique uses gentle pressure along the spine to separate the vertebrae so that the spinal column can flow freely.
- Table Adjustments – A method of spinal manipulation that uses a drop piece in the table. When the chiropractor applies a rapid thrust, the drop piece lowers, allowing the force to dissipate.
- Instrument Adjustments – A spring-loaded activator instrument is used to adjust the spine while you lay face down on the table. This instrument provides a very gentle type of manipulation that frees the vertebrae.
- Pelvic Blocking – Cushioned wedges are placed under each side of the pelvis, while gentle movements encourage separation between the disc and the nerve.
These are just a few of the techniques used during chiropractic care. If you decide to make an appointment, don’t hesitate to ask your chiropractor what methods they’re planning to use and what they involve. Many people who have never been to a chiropractor before are very apprehensive because they imagine the treatment is painful. Your chiropractor is used to this, so they’ll be happy to explain and set your worries at ease.
What to Expect at the Chiropractor
You can expect your initial visit to last somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. Your chiropractor will take your medical history. They will ask you about past injuries or illnesses, your current health concerns, any medication you might be taking, including supplements, lifestyle habits, diet, how much exercise you get, and whether you are under an unusual amount of stress.
They’ll also perform a physical exam and use diagnostic tools such as lab tests and x-rays to see if chiropractic care is an appropriate method of treatment for your back pain. You should be honest with them. Chiropractic treatment is very effective for subacute back pain (that lasts for less than three months), neck pain and flare-ups of chronic pain. However, it is not suitable for all forms of back pain. If you have bone fractures, bone tumors, bone and joint infections, severe arthritis or osteoporosis, or severely pinched nerves, spinal manipulation may worsen your condition. If the risk is too high, your chiropractor will refer you to another specialist.
Treatment can begin from the first or second session, depending on the medical history and diagnostic test. It typically lasts several weeks. In the beginning, you will be asked to come 2 or 3 times per week for short sessions (around 20 minutes), and when your symptoms begin to improve, it will be reduced to once per week.
Your chiropractor will also teach you how to perform exercises that are meant to strengthen your trunk muscles and promote balance. Since this is a holistic form of treatment, they’ll also ask you about your dietary habits to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need for a quick recovery. They’ll guide you towards foods with anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce your sensitivity to pain.