I know a lot of people are stressed out by the sound of cracking joints, but I promise you, your visit will not end with a backwards head, a la “The Exorcist.” Chiropractors emphasize manual therapy including joint adjustment and manipulation with particular focus on joint dysfunction or dislocation. Most people who seek chiropractic care do so for low back pain, but I’m here to tell you that it’s good for a whole lot more than that! Chiropractors can be found in over 100 countries in all regions of the world and are highly trained and skilled health professionals. Their educational requirements are similar to that of a doctor, dentist, physiotherapist, etc., so you can feel confident that they are a wonderful and valuable addition to your personal heath and wellness “team!”
As with many other health practitioners, your first appointment will cost you a bit more than your subsequent treatments. An initial assessment may run you $75-100 with follow-up appointments costing around $30-50. I have a pretty great health plan through my employer, so I am able to be reimbursed for chiropractic treatment, up to $500 a year. In most cases you will not require a doctor’s referral to visit a chiro, so that saves you some time and money as well; if you are seeking a very focused or sought-after specialist, this may differ. I typically require 2-3 treatments – or “adjustments” – to fully relieve an acute pain, but you sometimes may need more appointments than that for a significant problem, or fewer than that for a simple “tune up.”
What To Expect
Most chiropractors use a variety of techniques to mobilize both joints and soft tissues; they often use therapies also practiced by massage therapists and physiotherapists in addition to the standard “cracking” we typically imagine. For today, I’m speaking strictly about manual chiropractic adjustment – the joint cracking fun stuff. We’ll discuss some of the other options another day!
First: how do you know when you should see a chiropractor? Personally, I make an appointment when one of two things happens:
1) I have a headache. Usually one visit will help alleviate the pain.
2) Something feels “stuck.” By this, I mean that my range of motion is limited (eg: I can’t turn my head as far, I can’t squat as low) or I can’t move as I would normally (eg: I often say that my shoulders feel “stuck up,” as in, I can’t lower them to their proper position).
The first time you see a new chiropractor they will chat with you for awhile, asking you some questions about your pain, your usual activities, etc. Then they will probably assess your gait, movement, and range of motion by asking you to walk, stretch, and bend. Then comes the scariest part: the cracking. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and everything will be fine. Your chiropractor is a highly trained professional whose intention is to help you, not hurt you. You may feel a pop, a crack, or even a “ripping” sensation, and then you will probably feel a bit better immediately. Your chiropractor may manipulate (adjust, “crack”) any joints that are limiting you. For me, this usually includes my neck, mid back, and hips. However, smaller joints can be adjusted too, including your ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows, and jaw (yep, I have had ALL of these done at some point in time!).
After your appointment you may feel a bit “tenderized,” but you should feel like some range of motion has been restored and that some pain has been alleviated. The more serious the injury or problem being corrected, the more appointments you will probably need. Also, the closer your joints are to “healthy” (ie: moving and aligned properly, supported by healthy muscles), the longer your results will last. Most recently, I have had to see the chiropractor 6 times in 3 weeks to adjust my kneecap, which has been deviating from its proper tracking path. With each visit, the adjustments get a bit smaller and the results last a little longer.
Why It’s Worth A Try
For me, chiropractic care has been incredibly effective at keeping me active in the ways I choose to be. Physical activity is a good thing, but many of us (certainly me!) choose activities or intensities that are really hard on our bodies. My mix of running, weight training, and ballet has helped to make me fit, but has also damaged my body. My chiropractor is always able to help me feel better and allow me to return to activity as soon as possible, which is important to me.
How To Make It Less Scary
One last point: when it comes to chiropractors, don’t go just anywhere and try just anyone, especially if you have never been to a chiropractor before and aren’t sure what to expect (other than what you have read here!). Yes, chiropractors must be licensed and trained, but it is always comforting to see someone who has been personally recommended to you. Ask your friends or fellow runners who they see, and give that a try. If you can’t get any recommendations, many universities and colleges run sport medicine centres/clinics, and those are certainly a good place to start. You can also Google search to find practitioners in your area and read online reviews to get a sense of their reliability and bedside manner. Because this can be a “scary therapy” your first few times, make sure to find a chiropractor who you trust and who makes you feel at ease with the process.
Do YOU visit a chiropractor regularly? Or, is it still too scary to try? Let us know in the comments!