Chiropractic care can be very beneficial to a patient’s overall health plan, and while regularly scheduled manipulations and adjustments are a key component of the care, the patient also needs to maintain their alignment in between visits to their practitioner. Without maintenance, the patient might unintentionally undo the work and progress that the chiropractor put in. Exercises and stretching are also necessary practices to assist a patient in their daily well-being. A chiropractor will recommend particular exercises, stretches, and even diet-changing ideas based on the individual patient’s situation, and they will likely provide take-home reference sheets or instructions. The purpose of these exercises is to help “reinforce the adjustment” and “retrain various muscle groups” to lessen the likelihood of re-injury. In addition to these prescribed special movements, chiropractors will recommend regular exercise to their patients, such as running, swimming, or even walking. Any exercise is better than none, and certain movements target and help strengthen areas that have been injured or are prone to injury. Sticking to an exercise plan “encourages muscles and joints to stretch and engage through their full range of motion”. It is important to not continuously engage in activities that increase pain. The patient needs to listen to their body and take breaks as needed. There is no advantage to causing further injury, which would just set the patient back to the beginning or even before they began to receive treatment.1
Posture and Alignment
Certain habitual and repetitive actions can continue the same pain scenario and misalignment. In other words, it does not make sense to sit on the same couch in the same slouch! Repetitive stress injuries can come from any source, even the daily use of a keyboard and mouse while browsing the internet. Often, this type of repetitive stress is combined with improper ergonomics while sitting at a desk for hours. Many people slouch, lean forward, and have not positioned their monitor, keyboard, and mouse in the best positions for proper ergonomics. The longer and more often the patient assumes this and other ergonomically unsound positions, the higher the chance of injury becomes. Besides considering ergonomics (i.e., a proper desk chair, seat, mattress, pillow, etc.), it is important to sit with proper posture.2 Stopping or limiting the injurious behaviors may greatly reduce the amount of chiropractic visits needed to maintain alignment.
Stretching and Moving
In addition to exercises, chiropractors will likely recommend stretching techniques that a patient can do as “homework”. This might include just getting up from the computer or other prolonged sitting positions to stretch for a few minutes every hour. Extended periods of being in a mostly unmoving, sitting position is not beneficial for the body without regular breaks.3 Like with the exercises, patients will be encouraged to avoid pulling or pushing on the neck. When working on range of motion, patients need to make sure that they do not “pop” the neck or back or pull on their head. Patients should make sure that they rest for several minutes after their adjustment, and take their stretching exercises slowly. Sometimes, chiropractors recommend that the patient does not perform any of their prescribed stretches on the same day that the patient receives their adjustment. While this is not always the case, patients should keep this in mind and ask their chiropractor about forgoing certain exercises after their chiropractic visit. When patients are exercising, they should “pay attention to signs of fatigue” and take breaks as needed. When moving or stretching, the lower back needs to be supported, and the head should not be tilted too far back or forward. Any activities that require lifting the hands above the head should include frequent rest periods.4
Finally, it is important to remember that stress and tension contribute to poor posture, neck pain, back pain, reduced range of motion, and a compromised metabolism and immune system. Tense and tight muscles can pull a spine out of alignment. It is also during the rest period that the body builds its strength by healing the minor changes that come with exercise. Too much exercise is not helpful if there are not periods of rest during which the body can develop its strength and resistance. By using stress reduction techniques, or even engaging in meditation or yoga, a patient may find that the benefits of their chiropractic visits last much longer. The goal for the patient is to reach a point where they have healed their major injuries and misalignments and are able to reduce the frequency of their chiropractic visits. Even when one is not injured, chiropractic care helps maintain overall health and wellness, and it is only really successful when the patient is compliant with performing stretches and exercises at home, in between visits.
Find out more about chiropractic and ergonomics.