Dental Attitude for Your Spine
Perhaps the biggest criticism by patients and insurance payors about chiropractic care is the principle of lifetime spinal care.
Most patients who don’t understand the logic behind chronic back pain and the need for maintenance care, so many balk about doing daily spine exercises and periodic regular spinal adjustments when they’re out of pain.
I tease them by asking, “Do you wait until you have a toothache before brushing your teeth or seeing a dentist?”
Researchers have determined patients who had maintenance spinal manipulation every two weeks had greater improvement than patients receiving sham adjustments or one-month-only group’s pain and disability scores had returned “near to their pretreatment level.” (Senna MK, Machaly SA, Spine, Jan. 17, 2011)
Measurements of spine flexion and lateral bending also revealed sustained improvement in subjects receiving maintenance SMT, while improvement in the no-maintenance group during the initial phase or care decreased to near the pretreatment level by the end of the second phase.
The bottom line is simply: maintenance care in terms of regular spinal manipulative treatments and daily spine exercise is the best solution to manage a back attack.
Sadly, most people have been taught to seek care only when they are in pain. There is also the problem of OTC NSAIDs ads touting their instant relief, and some people prefer taking opioids to get high, too. Who needs “El Chapo” when they have “Dr. Chapo” to give them narcotics for pain?
Indeed, teaching health habits to circumvent problems is a tiresome effort due to the quick-fix mindset fostered by the medical and pharmaceutical professions. I teach patients “real health care” is having healthy habits, but today for most people health care is taking more meds as people are taught by TV ads.
Who needs to have healthy habits when there is a “pill for every ill” as MDs profess, which is so much easier to swallow than a disciplined lifestyle.
I use a comparison of chiropractic care to dental care. People understand the need for lifetime dental hygiene and most regularly brush, floss, and see their dentists because no one wants a toothache.
Although I preach this analogy constantly helped by the brochure I’ve included below, still most people dropped off the wagon when their pain subsides. When they return in relapse I again teach these “prodigal patients” the need for maintenance care. Sometimes it takes a relapse or two before they understand “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Develop a Dental Attitude for Your Spine
After four decades helping people with back attacks and as a back pain sufferer myself with three major spine injuries, I’ve come to a few conclusions about proper spine care.
As a chiropractor, I often feel frustrated like a dentist whose patients have no idea about dental hygiene, toothpaste or prevention. Just imagine if you had never brushed your teeth by the time you were an adult how bad your teeth and gums would be.
Well, that’s the kind of spines I see daily in people who’ve never been to a chiropractor, never been adjusted, and never been taught how to take care of their spines.
Is it any wonder back pain is the leading cause of disability and the leading cause of opioid painkillers when people are clueless how to care for their spine?
So let me give you a few tips about spine care.
First of all, accept the fact your “back attack” will probably be a life-long problem to address, just as you accept dental care is a life-long process.
Don’t think a spinal adjustment is equivalent to pulling a thorn out of your paw—it is not a one-time treatment, but a slow process of stabilizing your spinal misalignments to achieve spinal stability.
According to guidelines, your pain should diminish in 2 to 4 weeks, not 2 to 4 days. To stabilize an old weakened or injured spine will take 1 to 4 months including daily spinal exercises.
Research now suggests maintenance spine care consists of daily home flexibility exercises with twice a month chiropractic adjustments. Plus, I like to add therapeutic massage therapy to this mix.
But don’t think your care ends when your pain stops. That would be equivalent to a patient who stops brushing his teeth because they don’t hurt.
The keys to spinal health are 1) alignment of the spinal vertebrae, 2) core strength of the spine, 3) flexibility of the spinal joints, and 4) the decompression of the spinal discs.
The goal of these 4 principles is to restore spinal function so the spine can bear weight and move properly. Considering there are 24 vertebrae with 364 joints (including ribs, pelvis, neck, skull), the joints allow for movement. Joints are designed to move, but when they don’t, you’ll have pain, stiffness and pinched nerves.
Spine physiologists refer to it simply as restoring “joint play.” Chiropractors look for these areas where the joints have lost proper alignment and motion, a condition we term the “vertebral subluxation”, and we adjust the misaligned joints to restore joint play. Just remember: when you’re joints are playful, your spine will feel fine.
The problem is to keep them playful. Unfortunately, most spinal problems begin in youth when kids fall off bikes, play sports, and sit too long in front of screens. These early misalignments and prolonged sitting compress the spine leading to joint fixation and disc compression.
Most likely these spinal weaknesses will be with you the rest of your life, so the best approach is to correct them with regular adjustments, then maintain them with daily home exercises and spine awareness tips, such as learning good lifting, bending, and sleeping habits.
Just as you will practice good dental habits as long as you have your teeth, I recommend you practice good spinal habits as long as you have a spine!
And just as you teach your children proper dental care, I urge you to teach them proper spine care too.