Why Do People Choose Chiropractic?
I was reading an interesting study yesterday about the why people consult a chiropractor for care. A summary of this study can be read here. The gist of it is that in Australia, 60 out of 100 people consult with a chiropractor for musculoskeletal injuries. Another 39 out of 100 people consult with them for “maintenance,” “wellness,” or periodic “checkups.” This means that essentially 40% of people are seeking out a chiropractor, not to fix their “boo-boo” but rather to help them with their lifestyle and in some way enhance their health. What was even better about this study was that the chiropractors were prescribing “evidenced-based” treatment options.
This got me to thinking, why is it that professional, semi-professional athletes seek out chiropractors or other therapies when they don’t even have an injury? Recently, I volunteered at the 2013 Canadian University Ultimate Championships here in Ottawa. What struck me was the number of ankle “boo-boos” that showed up at the treatment tent but more importantly, the number of times that some of these national-level university athletes would ask “so how do I stop myself from injuring my ankle again?” That question provides insight into the major incentive for seeking out a chiropractor. It is for this reason that chiropractors have been long proponents of what we refer to as “maintenance care” or “wellness care.”
For the purpose of this blog post, let’s use the case of a recovering ankle sprain in a young athlete. The first job for a chiropractor is to aid the athlete in controlling swelling and reducing pain. In a typical grade 1 or 2 sprain of an ankle, a typical timeframe in an otherwise healthy athlete would be 2-6 weeks before the pain goes away. For some of our patients, this treatment of the acute injury is all that they want. The difficulty in this situation is that their ankle often still lacks stability and may have difficulty in certain ranges of motion. Hence, these patients will often come back with yet another sprain down the road and will complain of chronically “weak” ankles.
Rehabilitation of an ankle often involves improving movement of the ankle through it’s normal ranges, but also requires strengthening supporting muscles and training a person’s balance control in the hopes that when they return to the field, that they don’t re-injure the same ankle. This phase is highly variable because it depends on what they will do with the ankle, how strong it was in the first case and what abnormal biomechanical patterns have to be corrected. Correction in this phase may involve looking at the patients hips, pelvis, knees, spine and foot. The trick with this phase is that it is usually less intensive than the acute phase but may last longer if the person has long-standing abnormal patterns.
In the case of an ankle sprain, a periodic check-up to see how the athlete is holding up and to make small corrections to help prevent them from injuring themselves again can be helpful. What is important about this phase is that it is a choice that needs to be made by the patient. Not everyone chooses it (apparently only 39% do in Australia) but not everyone eats well or visits their dentist either. The idea here is that by correcting small movement disorders, muscle imbalances, joint restrictions, and other minor musculoskeletal abnormalities before they become painful or symptomatic in any way, they shouldn’t become a bigger problem. Much like going to see your dentist or family physician for a regular checkup to ensure you don’t have anything creeping up on you. In terms of how often one needs to attend to achieve optimal results, it always depends highly on what sort of shape you show up in and how much strain your are putting on your body but ideally it is much less frequent. Indeed, some athletes actually seek out a chiropractor for “optimal” performance. The Canadian Olympic team (and many other national olympic teams), the NHL, the NFL and many other sports organizations have chiropractors that work on staff to help their athletes. In many cases, the chiropractor is helping to not only fix the athletes boo-boos but also helping to ensure they are functioning at the peak of their abilities.
Okay so this works for a relatively simple joint like an ankle. Now translate this to your entire spine, pelvis, shoulder, neck, hips, knees and the rest of your body. How much biomechanical imbalance led to the injury in the first place? How severe was the damage? How many times has the same complaint recurred? Is this injury pattern mechanical, structural, or neurologic in nature? These are some (but not all) of the questions your chiropractor considers. The answer to these questions should help guide you as to the most appropriate course of corrective action. Once correction has occurred, many individuals (not just athletes) choose to see a chiropractor for a more optimal lifestyle approach!