Chiropractic care has ancient origins in Greece, Egypt, and China, having been practiced in its modern form for nearly a century. This therapy encompasses a wide variety of treatments, from specialized spinal manipulation to nutrition therapy and wellness care to treat various conditions. Below, we outline some of the most common chiropractic treatments. Speak with your practitioner to learn more about his or her specific offerings and how they may benefit you.
Chiropractic adjustments are by far the most common chiropractic procedure, which nearly all practitioners perform. During this treatment, you will sit or lie on a special adjustment table according to your chiropractor's instructions. Your chiropractor may prepare you for treatment by explaining what to expect at a chiropractic exam and relaxing your joints with massage, heat, or other methods. Next, he or she will apply gentle pressure, either manually or with a special device, to precise points along your spine and in your joints. Your chiropractor may use a computer or other tools to assist in this process.
Most patients do not experience discomfort during the process of adjustment, and many enjoy immediate relief of certain symptoms.
During an adjustment, you may or may not experience "cracking" sounds as your tissue shifts and gas in the joint cavity releases. This usually depends on the amount of force used, your particular diagnosis, and your chiropractor's chosen technique. Most patients do not experience discomfort during the process of adjustment, and many enjoy immediate relief of certain symptoms. Your chiropractor may apply ice or additional treatments after adjustment to help your joints recover and optimize your outcomes. Some patients experience sore muscles for about 24 hours after an adjustment, but this usually diminishes quickly.
The goal of chiropractic adjustment is to realign the body so that the joints can function more optimally. Chiropractic adjustment is typically an ongoing process that requires a program of weekly or monthly treatments for a certain period of time or until you achieve your desired results. Once you have finished your treatment program, your chiropractor may recommend occasional maintenance adjustments to help preserve your results and combat misalignment that can result from daily activity.
Soft Tissue Therapy
Many chiropractors provide soft tissue therapy either on its own or in preparation for adjustment. During this treatment, you will rest in a comfortable position on a massage or adjustment table. Next, your practitioner will apply a special warming lotion, cream, moisturizer, or gel to prepare your skin. Your chiropractor will then massage your tissue, adjusting your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other deeper tissue to loosen them. He or she may do so by hand, or with specially made steel, aluminum, or polymer tools. Your chiropractor may massage back and forth or in specific patterns across your back and up and down your limbs, depending on the area of your injury or discomfort.
Soft tissue therapy can help stimulate tissue regeneration by breaking down damaged, tightened scar tissue and encouraging new, healthier, more nutrient-rich tissue to replace it. It can also relax your muscles, alleviate uncomfortable symptoms, and expand your range of motion. Soft tissue therapy typically takes less than ten minutes to complete. Your skin may ache slightly or tingle after your treatment. You may also experience redness or bruising after soft tissue therapy, so you may need to apply ice. These side effects typically dissipate quickly, leaving you with loosened tissue and a calmer feeling.
Your chiropractor may use heat therapy to help relax and loosen your tissues to temporarily relieve tension and prepare your tissues for more intensive manipulation or modification. Before or after an adjustment, soft tissue massage, hydrotherapy session, or another treatment, your chiropractor may place a hot water bottle, heating pad, or wrap over your treatment area for between 5 and 20 minutes. Your practitioner may also use more advanced diathermy treatment. This involves transmitting electromagnetic waves through your tissue through electrodes placed on the surface of your skin to precisely and evenly warm it.
Heat therapy can enhance your joint health by enlarging your blood vessels and allowing your joints to loosen.
Heat therapy can enhance your joint health by enlarging your blood vessels and allowing your joints to loosen. Improving circulation in the treatment area can also speed healing and make your joints more pliable so they can be more easily adjusted. Heat therapy should provide a pleasantly warm sensation in your skin and underlying tissue. While your skin may be slightly red after treatment, heat therapy should not burn it. Heat therapy is most often used in conjunction with other chiropractic treatments. In addition to providing it in his or her office, your chiropractor may recommend administering heat therapy to relax your joints at home and keep them loosened in between appointments.
Your chiropractor may also use cryotherapy, or cold treatments, to enhance your care. During this treatment, your practitioner will apply ice or a cold compress to your affected area for between 5 and 20 minutes, similarly to heat therapy. Cryotherapy shrinks your blood vessels to desensitize treatment areas, relax your muscles, and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Many chiropractors combine heat and cold therapy, alternating the two for excellent results. As with heat therapy, your practitioner may suggest at-home cold therapy treatment. Cryotherapy is particularly helpful directly after experiencing an injury, since it can reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort. As with heat therapy, your cold therapy application should not be so extreme as to damage your skin, but should feel comfortably cool and numbing.
Since chiropractic treatment is a holistic therapy, many practitioners also provide nutrition therapy. This involves assessing patients' diets, making suggestions to improve them, and prescribing appropriate vitamins and supplements. Many natural substances, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can improve joint health, while others, such as turmeric or ginger, can reduce inflammation. Enhancing your nutrition can help you achieve optimal results from other chiropractic treatments and better your overall wellbeing.
Improving your joint health is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort, so your chiropractor may recommend an exercise regimen to accompany your in-office treatments. To maintain your flexibility, range of motion, posture, and general wellbeing between appointments, your chiropractor may suggest a regimen of exercises. Aerobic exercise can stimulate better digestion and encourage circulation. In addition, building and toning your muscles can help them remain in alignment. Your chiropractor may also suggest targeted stretches to promote healing and rehabilitation. These could include balance exercises, flexion conditioning to improve your mobility, and extension activities to lengthen and loosen your joints. Overall, exercise programs can help you maintain the results of your chiropractic treatment and help you alleviate uncomfortable symptoms at home.
Lifestyle Modification Counseling
Many aspects of your daily life can affect your joint health and posture. Your chiropractor can provide lifestyle modification counseling to help you improve your:
- Weight: Heavier patients may suffer from a greater risk of strain, misalignment or other chiropractic disorders.
- Overall stress: Anxiety or tension can tighten your muscles and impact your general health. Your practitioner can cooperate with you to improve your emotional and physical wellbeing, which contributes to your general health.
- Work and home environment: Investing in ergonomic furniture and changing the way you sit, stand, and recline could enhance your chiropractic treatment.
- Habits: Smoking or drinking excessively can negatively impact your joint and general health.
- Medication usage: Many patients seek chiropractic care for their conditions because they would like to reduce their prescription drug usage. Your practitioner can help you alleviate your symptoms and assist you in the process of becoming less reliant on medications.
Your chiropractor may liaise with your nutritionist, general practitioner, orthopedic surgeon, or any other relevant medical professionals to create a comprehensive lifestyle modification plan that suits your needs and wishes.
As a precursor or alternative to other chiropractic treatments, your practitioner may provide ultrasound therapy. During this treatment, he or she will dress you in a medical gown, apply medicated gel, and pass a small handheld ultrasound device over your tissue. This appliance will transmit ultrasonic waves through your joints, providing heat to relax them, diminish swelling, stimulate blood flow, and promote healing. Each ultrasound therapy session can last between 10 and 45 minutes, depending on the size of the treatment area and your preferences. As the ultrasonic waves move through your tissues, you may feel a slightly warm or vibrating sensation, but this treatment does not hurt. Many patients enjoy ultrasound therapy, since it is often calming and relaxing. Once your chiropractor has finished your ultrasound therapy, he or she will remove the gel from your skin and have you change back into your regular clothing. At this point, your practitioner may move on to heat and cold therapy, massage, or chiropractic adjustment, since your joints will be primed for modification.
Some chiropractors provide hydrotherapy, which involves using water to manipulate your joints. Hydrotherapy can combine the following treatment techniques:
- Chiropractic adjustment: Precise, pulsating jets of water can take the place of your practitioner's hands or devices in repositioning your body.
- Soft tissue therapy: Swirling waves of water can put pressure on your tissue to loosen it, much like the massage techniques of soft tissue therapy.
- Heat and cold therapy: Your chiropractor may have you rest your treatment area in warm or cool water to experience the benefits of hot and cold therapy. As with these treatments, heat can help loosen your joints and improve blood circulation, while cold can numb affected areas.
- Traction therapy: Some hydrotherapy systems combine water with traction tools such as rollers for more effective massage.
There are many types of hydrotherapy systems your chiropractor might use in his or her practice. To provide treatment, your practitioner may have you sit, lie, stretch, exercise, or undergo massage and adjustment in a sauna, bath, or hot tub. He or she could also use moist wraps to complement other therapies. Some chiropractors may invest in advanced hydrotherapy massage tables, in which you rest in water while the machine treats your tissue with pressurized hot or cold water.
Most patients find hydrotherapy enjoyable and relaxing. Most sessions last less than an hour. It should not damage or chafe your skin-if you find your treatment in any way uncomfortable, alert your practitioner so he or she can make any necessary modifications. In addition to providing hydrotherapy in the office, your practitioner may recommend using wraps or baths at home to preserve your results and restore your joints.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Many chiropractors also treat patients using electrical muscle stimulation, a therapy that involves applying electrodes to specific areas of the body and passing low level currents through them. This causes them to flex and contract, exercising them so that they release tension and become stronger. Electrical muscle stimulation also stimulates the production of hormones, which help diminish discomfort and reduce swelling. During this treatment, most patients feel just a slight tingling sensation and then some measure of immediate symptom relief.
Once he or she attaches the electrodes to your skin, your chiropractor will begin the electrical muscle stimulation, gradually increasing the energy level according to your comfort and treatment plan. Electrical muscle stimulation usually takes about ten minutes to complete, after which your practitioner may apply cold therapy. Chiropractors often use electrical muscle stimulation to help patients with sports injuries, headaches, or back, neck, and shoulder pain.
"TENS" stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. This therapy is extremely similar to electrical muscle stimulation, but you as the patient control the electrode placement and the level of the current. You can undergo TENS treatment either in your chiropractor's practice or in the comfort of your own home.
TENS therapy should not cause pain and should provide some form of immediate relief.
In either case, your practitioner will provide you with the TENS equipment (usually a small box with connected electrodes) and provide general guidelines about where to place the electrodes and how to adjust the current. A lighter current creates a milder tingling sensation, while a strong current exercises your muscles more rigorously with its vibrations. TENS therapy should not cause pain and should provide some form of immediate relief. Causing your muscles to repeatedly contract with TENS can assist with muscle spasms and aches by scrambling your nerve impulses and diminishing inflammation.
You may utilize TENS therapy for sessions between 10 and 40 minutes in length, depending on your chiropractor's suggestions. TENS should not be used during driving or sleep, while exposed to water, or while simultaneously using heat or cold therapy. You should ensure that your skin is clean where the electrodes are placed and report any rashes or skin damage to your chiropractor.
Chiropractors may use traction therapy to stretch your muscles, release tension, reduce inflammation, and improve your postural alignment. This treatment involves using various techniques to decompress and expand your tissues. There are three primary forms of traction therapy:
- Some practitioners use what is called "anti-gravity" traction therapy, positioning patients on an inversion table so they are partially upside down. During this type of traction therapy, patients' own weight pulls and elongates their spines and other tissues.
- Mechanical traction involves the use of rollers or other handheld tools to accurately manipulate and open up the tissues. Your chiropractor may use special devices for different areas of tissue. For example, in a mechanical traction therapy called spinal decompression, chiropractors use motorized or manual appliances to stretch the spinal tissues. Some practitioners also invest in manual traction tables, automated pieces of chiropractic equipment that massage and elongate tissue as you sit or recline on them.
- As a distinctive form of soft tissue therapy or massage, your chiropractor may focus on manual traction. This means that your practitioner will use his or her bare hands to lengthen your tissues and release tension with repeated motions. Some practitioners may also use weights or a pulley system to enhance manual traction therapy.
Your chiropractor can more thoroughly explain the types of traction therapy he or she offers at your initial consultation.
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Many chiropractors are also concerned with wellness care. This means that they provide holistic treatments to enhance your overall health. In addition to treating your tissues with chiropractic therapies, your practitioner may liaise with other health professionals to ensure that your care is as effective as possible. Nutritional therapy, exercise programs, and lifestyle modification counseling also fall under the heading of wellness care. Chiropractors who emphasize wellness care may also work with patients that do not have any clear musculoskeletal, spinal, or health issues, but simply want to enjoy more ideal alignment, comfort, flexibility, and quality of life.
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