Over the years, I have been asked many questions about chiropractic and have heard patients describe their complaints and symptoms in interesting ways. While some of these inquiries or descriptors are quite unique and create an "inner" smile as I hear them, many of them are very common and recur frequently. However, they often contain wording that is misleading or create mental images that are not very accurate. I will attempt to clarify a number of them below.
#1 - I threw my back "out" or I'm "out of alignment". These are two of the most frequent statements I hear when someone is in pain or their spine just doesn't feel right. However, the spinal joints are not actually "out" which would strictly mean they're dislocated, with associated ligament and other soft tissue damage. If that were the case, the pain and/or movement difficulty would likely be exponentially more and you wouldn't be in my office but at the hospital. The mechanism to cause such an injury would be severe, such as a motor vehicle accident or fall, which is not the situation with most cases of spinal pain. Instead, it is more likely that other tissue changes have occurred, such as stiff muscles, inter-vertebral disc pressure imbalances, or an inflamed joint, that are causing you symptoms and/or to move differently. Our bodies often then compensate to unload painful structures making you feel "crooked". This is important to understand so treatment expectations are realistic as it's not just a matter of putting a joint back "in". Trust me, I wish it were that easy!
#2 - "Once I start seeing a chiropractor do I have to keep going back?" This is a frequent belief that people have and one that often prevents some from consulting with a chiropractor in the first place, as they're not prepared to begin their lifelong chiropractic routine. There is no truth to this however. After the initial assessment a diagnosis will be made and then a treatment plan should be determined in collaboration with the patient. Typically, if someone will respond well to treatment they respond early on, without absolutely needing months and/or years of treatment on a very frequent basis. Some patients do elect for "maintenance" or "supportive" care however, once the initial pain level has largely improved, as they note they feel better with treatment. Often, the many activities we do on a daily basis are contributing factors to becoming "tight" in either our neck or back, and play a role in recurring episodes of pain and stiffness. Having that tension addressed periodically, with once per month being a frequent schedule, is reasonable and aimed at preventing a flare-up.
#3 - "I'm in so much pain I think I need an x-ray". I can understand why someone might come to the conclusion that the amount of pain they're experiencing reflects the degree of injury that may have occurred, but that is most often not the case. Often, there is no traumatic mechanism to suggest a fracture, no indication of infection, no symptoms associated with a more serious illness, such as cancer, and no other indications. Therefore, there is nothing obvious to rule out, which an x-ray would serve to do. Pain is a complex neuro-physiological process that is not solely dependent on tissue damage. It is not uncommon to see a client in extreme pain get rapidly better, exceeding the healing rate of any known condition, which supports the notion that there's more to the pain story than just an injured body part.
This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional medical advice.