Did you hurt your back shoveling after the latest blast of winter snow? Or perhaps overdo it in fulfilling that New Year’s resolution to return to the gym? It might be time to visit a chiropractor.
The four-letter word ‘pain’ is the main reason people come here,” says Dr. John Warner, a chiropractor who runs the Colorado Health and Wellness Center in Colorado Springs with his wife and fellow chiropractor, Gail. However, he adds, “They also come just because they want their health to improve.”
Chiropractic, as defined by the American Chiropractic Association, is “a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic services are used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.”
The typical patient, Warner says, is one who doesn’t want to rely on a cabinet full of pain meds. “We try to get the patients better without drugs or surgery. That has been the basic premise of chiropractic for 125 years.”
Although that premise hasn’t changed—and hands-on adjustments to affected joints and tissues remain central to chiropractic care—the field has seen many changes, Warner says. That includes new technology and tools; his clinic, for example, offers Acoustic Wave Therapy, which utilizes high-intensity sound waves to increase local blood circulation and relax muscle and connective tissue, among other things. The clinic also offers spinal decompression therapy, which gently stretches the spine in treating herniated discs and goes beyond older traction methods. “The technology is getting better all the time,” Warner says, “and the results are fantastic.”
Dr. Jeff Matthews, of Matthews Chiropractic, also takes advantage of new technology. For example, although adjustments are still done by hand, he also uses the Impulse iQ adjusting instrument, which is controlled by microcomputer circuitry and produces a controlled force to treat areas of the body; patients typically feel a light tapping sensation.
“It’s very research-driven,” Mathews says of the Impulse iQ, just one of the adjusting instruments available to chiropractors. “It uses speed as its force driver.” (The gentle thrust is faster than the body’s tendency to tighten up and resist the adjustment, advertising for the Impulse iQ states.)
Therapeutic techniques continue to evolve. Mathews employs his own “eclectic mixture” of approaches, including the Fascial Distortion Model, which focuses on the body’s connective tissues. He also offers trigger-point dry needling; it involves inserting solid filament needles through the skin and into areas of knotted or hard muscle. Although dry needling uses similar tools to acupuncture, the two differ in their practice and their goals, and dry needling is rooted in Western medicine, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Meanwhile, chiropractors are branching into specialized areas of expertise, such as chiropractic functional neurology, orthopedics, and radiology, which require a huge postgraduate commitment for additional education, Warner says.
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about chiropractors is that they’re “just” back pain doctors, he says. “That is a complete fallacy. We do good at back pain, and studies show we should be the first doctor of choice for back pain. However, we do so much more than that.”
For example, athletes—from professional athletes to weekend warriors—turn to chiropractors to relieve pain and improve performance, Warner says. Patients at his practice have ranged from high school football players to NFL offensive linemen, professional wrestlers, Major League Baseball players, and more. Mathews treats a lot of running injuries.
“We treat any moving part that hurts or isn’t moving as well as it should,” Mathews’ website states, listing not just neck and lower back pain, but headaches, jaw pain, foot and ankle pain, overuse injuries, and more.
Another notable change: attitudes toward chiropractic care. “It’s becoming more and more accepted,” says Warner, a 1982 graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa. “I now have medical doctors, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists who all take me out to lunch. Thirty-seven years ago, that was unheard of. The medical doctors all seem to want to know what the magic sauce is that we provide our patients.”
His practice brings many disciplines together. In addition to four chiropractors, there is a chiropractic radiologist, two medical doctors, two physical therapists, a physical therapy assistant, two metabolic weight loss coaches, and a trainer. “We do a lot under one roof,” Warner says.
Does It Work?
A growing list of research studies and reviews show services provided by chiropractors are safe as well as clinically and cost effective, according to the American Chiropractic Association, which lists several studies on its website, www.acatoday.org.
For example, the ACA notes the following:
In 2017, the American College of Physicians released an update to its low back pain treatment guideline that recommends first using nondrug treatments, such as spinal, for acute and chronic low back pain.
An analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2017 supports the use of spinal manipulative therapy as a first-line treatment for acute low back pain.
“Caring for man and man’s best friend” is the tagline at Mathews Chiropractic. Dr. Jeff Mathews treats not only people, but animals—specifically dogs and horses. (In the case of horses and other equines, Mathews travels to see them; don’t expect them to be hanging out in the office.)
In Colorado, chiropractors must undergo additional education to work on animals. In addition, Mathews took the extra step of getting certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Because animals can’t talk about their pain, Mathews relies on function to analyze the problem. With horses, a sudden resistance to being ridden, a change in gait, and reduced performance are among signs of trouble. With canines, a change in a dog’s behavior is typically what drives an owner to seek help.
“They’ll say that the dog can’t get up, won’t get up on the bed, won’t get up on the couch, can’t get into the car, can’t do stairs, can’t eat standing up…There’s some sort of altered behavior.”