People seek help through chiropractic care for a variety of different reasons. These include (but are not limited to) Headaches, back pain, neck pain, hip pain, sciatica and a range of other conditions. Understandably, people want to get relief from their pain and feel better as soon as possible. However, there are a number of considerations that can be used as an indication for how long it will take to achieve this. These are not set in concrete, as any given person will have a different combination of these factors contributing to the overall outcome.
What’s the problem?:
This may sound odd at first, but pain actually isn’t “the problem”. Pain is a signal that is used by a person’s brain to tell them that something in their body is damaged or not working correctly. When you visit a chiropractor, their job is to assess your body from a functional perspective, and use that assessment to determine which part of the body is damaged or not functioning correctly, and this is actually “the problem”. This is really important, because different tissues heal and repair at different speeds, so having an idea of which tissue is involved is a good starting point. For example, a fractured bone should be strong enough to withstand normal forces within 3 months, while a torn muscle takes 6 months, and a torn tendon takes up to 12 months to heal completely. So identifying the injury correctly with a thorough chiropractic examination is an important first step.
When did the problem start?
Seeking treatment immediately following an injury is the best way to get an outcome sooner rather than later. It may be tempting to “see how you go”, but if an injury is allowed to progress for weeks or months before taking action, then there may be associated complications like muscle spasms and compensation patterns that will slow down the recovery process. Someone who has sustained a mild injury very recently will usually notice improvement within days of starting care, while someone who has put up with the problem for months or years may require at least 2-4 weeks of care before noticing a substantial improvement.
How bad is it?
While pain severity isn’t necessarily an accurate predictor of recovery time (remember pain is not the problem), the degree of damage done to the injured tissue can be more useful. Severe injuries which restrict your ability to move, walk, stand or sleep comfortably will often take a few treatment sessions before normal function can be restored. Sometimes, being in really severe pain may limit your ability to get into the positions necessary for specific chiropractic adjustments to be applied. Chiropractors have a range of techniques to allow for these situations, but a certain level of basic mobility may need to be achieved before noticeable improvement can occur.
For Better or Worse:
The progression of the condition is important to take into account. A problem that has gradually been getting better but hasn’t fully resolved can be easier to see results with, while a condition that has been getting steadily worse may need more work to slow the progression and then turn it around towards positive improvement.
How old is the person?
When dealing with people under the age of 40, it is generally expected that the body is in reasonable condition from a structural perspective, and will tend to heal and repair more rapidly. As we move from 40 to 50 to 60 and above, the likelihood of wear and tear on the joints and muscles, as well as other health problems tends to increase. Older patients tend to have had problems for longer as well as discussed above. In general, younger patients will improve more quickly.
How healthy is the person?
Obviously a person coming to the chiropractor for the first time will most often be coming in with a specific complaint that they want dealt with. This may or may not be related to their general or overall level of health. Does the person exercise regularly? Are they a smoker? Is the person in a healthy weight range? Does the person nourish their cells and tissues with healthy dietary choices to aid recovery? Is the person very stressed at work or at home? All of these factors and more will impact on how capable their body is of repairing damage in the shortest possible time.
How committed is the person to their treatment?
We’re all busy, I get it, but the laws of human physiology do not make exceptions because of that. When seeking professional advice to help you with a health condition, it is in your best interests to adhere to the recommendations given to you. In a chiropractic clinic, this will usually involve a recommended schedule of treatment sessions where adjustments are delivered to the problem areas of the spine, pelvis and other involved structures. It may also include home care recommendations like specific exercises or the application of heat or ice. If the chiropractor recommends two adjustment visits per week for 4 weeks with daily exercises in between, this is with the intention to make as much change as possible in the shortest time. Missing visits and forgetting to do the exercises is likely to prolong your recovery.
What else is going on?
Simple problems are often simple. However many people can have two or more problems going on at the same time. Are we dealing with long term spinal degeneration? Is there significant inflammation in the injured area? Does the person have really bad posture or a sedentary job? These and other complicating factors may slow down recovery time, or even make full resolution of the problem unlikely. Your chiropractor will usually discuss these with you when reviewing your exam and x ray findings with you.
As you can see, the question of “How long will it take?” is based on many different factors. Being realistic in the context of the nature of the actual problem, is an important first step. Your chiropractor will give careful consideration to each of these components, and recommend a course of active treatment in the chiropractic clinic, as well as at home, which will give you the best possible outcome in the shortest time. Always remember though, that these recommendations are based on repairing the damaged tissues and structures for the longer term. You may find that you get symptomatic relief, or start feeling better, much sooner than you expected. This DOES NOT mean that all of your problems have miraculously disappeared. If you follow through with all of your treatment recommendations, you will end up in a better and more structurally stable position, and minimise the risk of the problems returning.