Chiropractic: What you need to know

Apr 1, 2017

From Olympic athletes to everyday patients alike, many people are turning to chiropractors to relieve pain and increase joint mobility. With roughly 80 percent of Americans experiencing lower back pain in their lives, it’s no wonder chiropractic has become a popular choice.

To find out more about the practice and how it works, “Take Care” was joined by Dr. Kevin Rindal, chiropractor to the 2016 USA Olympic Swim Team, including gold medal Olympian, Michael Phelps. Rindal specializes in chiropractic spinal and extremity manipulation, soft tissue rehabilitation, and sports injury rehabilitation. He is also the founder and CEO of InHealth, a sports injury and performance facility in Seattle, Washington.

When Daniel David Palmer founded chiropractic in 1895, he sought to optimize how the body functioned. And in an age with little scientific research, Palmer had to base his work around assumptions. But he was right about a lot, apparently, as chiropractic has become increasingly popular.

Since those days, it is now widely accepted that chiropractic is helpful in addressing issues like lower back pain, neck pain, and headaches, to name a few. But also, Rindal adds, chiropractic can improve overall movement, which he has seen time and time again with the athletes he treats.

Credit Chiropractic Louisville / Flickr

For Olympic swimmers, their reach in the last few seconds can be the difference between gold and silver. To guarantee the essential muscles and joints are performing optimally, chiropractors perform spinal and extremity manipulation, as well as soft tissue treatment, to loosen muscles and fascia (connective tissue), and improve the biomechanics of the body’s movement. Like fine-tuning a racecar before the race, Rindal says, chiropractic gets the body primed for mobility.

But athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from chiropractic. Many of those who seek chiropractic treatment are everyday people who are experiencing pain or discomfort. In these cases, Rindal says, it’s very important for the chiropractor to carefully assess the patient. He performs a full exam of the individual’s overall health, and then he goes on to the biomechanical assessment, which includes bends and squats, to evaluate how the joints are working. He also looks at resisted muscle testing in the patients to see if their muscles are activating like they should, as well as an additional orthopedic assessment, comprised of different movements, to find out if a disc or a compressed nerve is the source of pain.

But typically, says Rindal, the back pain often seen is simply caused by poor movement that stresses the lower back. According to him, sitting at a desk can play a big part in this. The hips, middle back, and upper back are, according to him, meant to be mobile parts of the body. The lower back, on the other hand, should be relatively stable. But for those who do a lot of sitting, the hips and upper to middle back tighten, usually due to slouching. As a result, the lower back’s stability is compromised to compensate for the stiffness surrounding it. For this reason, Rindal will look at the regions around the pain to see how those areas are moving, because the area of pain is often a result of adjusting to the real issue.

So, once all of these tests have been run and the cause of pain has been determined, Rindal performs chiropractic manipulation (if it’s warranted), as well as soft tissue treatment. And after that, he develops a rehabilitation program for the patient to follow going forward. And by incorporating all these steps and concepts, Rindal says, he observes greater success in helping his patients than he would through manipulation alone.

And when it comes to the different methods of treating joints and muscles, Rindal says it always comes down to the individual. When people think of chiropractic, they likely imagine high-velocity, low-amplitude adjustments (HVLA) – the adjustments which can cause popping sounds (gas releasing in the joints). These manipulations are typical for middle back and pelvis pain. But for more sensitive areas like the neck, lower force techniques which use a small amount of pressure are often preferred to aid in mobilization.

Whether you require HVLA manipulations, or you just need a solid neck massage, chiropractic has proven to be an effective means of addressing back pain, but is there a risk factor? According to Rindal there is, but it’s low. There have been extreme cases where a session went wrong, but only one in 1.4 million cervical manipulations to the spine have resulted in negative outcomes. Rindal notes that this is why the examination process is so vital. If evaluated properly, chiropractors can identify the red flags which would indicate that someone shouldn’t have their neck worked on.

And aside from relieving pain, sometimes chiropractic manipulations can benefit other parts of the body as well. Although there isn’t extensive research to back it up, Rindal explained that sometimes spinal manipulations can improve other functions such as breathing and digestion, even if that wasn’t the intention of the practice. Based on the anatomical design of our skeleton, the spine is connected to virtually our entire body, so treating one area can actually help others. Rindal’s primary objective is solely to look for restricted mobility and then optimize it, but if that results in additional symptom relief, that’s just an added bonus.

If you’re experiencing back pain, as always, talk to your doctor to find out if seeing a chiropractor is a good option for you.