On Healing And Recovery

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At the beginning of January I spoke with my chiropractor Jason. Our conversation touches on healing and recovery. I also ask him why folks in obvious discomfort and pain do not seek support.

I firmly believe the human body is both amazing and perfect. Our body knows how to heal itself and to stay in balance with our environment. And not just our physical body. The same goes for our mind, heart and spirit. I know that sometimes in my journey I get out of alignment. This is when I seek support.

Last year training for my first triathlon, the Seafair Triathlon, I managed to injure myself swimming, bicycling and running. I ate a whole food plant based diet high in nutrient density and anti-inflammatories; along with fueling and hydrating during training. I did yoga daily (vinyasa, hatha and yin). I slept 8 to 10 hours every night. I started meditating. And yet my body was having discomfort all over.

I met Jason at a health fair where I work and got into a discussion with him. This led to me visiting his office many times over the last 6 months.

I sent Jason some written questions before our conversation and he typed up a response. He gets a bit more technical here than in our talk but it is a nice complement.

My written questions:

  1. I came to see you because of discomfort I had from triathlon training and sitting in an office all day: neck pain from sitting at desk typing on a computer, lower back pain from cycling, hip and knee pain from running, and shoulder and rotator cuff pain from swimming. You supported me in recovering from all of them. But I also learned that recovery is not just reactive to injury but is also proactive. For example I learned movement exercises I can do to support me staying in a healthy injury-free physical state. How important do you think it is for someone to see a chiropractor even if they currently have no discomfort?
  2. I had some stereotypical ideas of what a chiropractor does, mostly popping people’s backs and necks. I was surprised to discover this is a very small part of a typical session, like 1 percent. There is a lot of deep tissue and range of motion work, work done with distracting one muscle to work on another, and the movement and posture exercises. And of course there are all kinds of cool toys one can use to help too. How do you see your role in terms of the techniques and tools you use?
  3. I have had friends who have an injury or discomfort and I will ask them what they are doing? Some mention having visited their family doctor but most are either hesitant to see a chiropractor or to see any professional to support their recovery. I see a parallel with not exercising and having poor nutrition. Why is it that as human beings we take such poor care of ourselves? How can we change this without being prescriptive or judgmental?

Jason’s written response:

This is a really good question and the answer is long an complicated. First of all I think it is important to identify that there are many types of chiropractors and different  towards assessment and treatment. Many chiropractors focus on the spine and only the spine. Their whole approach towards care is identifying areas of the spine that are not moving correctly and manipulating or adjusting these joints with restricted movement in order to restore alignment, range of motion and neurological function. this type of care is important and can be very effective when indicated. Chiropractors with this approach toward care educate the nervous system that lives in and interacts intimately with the spine. For the most part I agree with the philosophy and more importantly the science that supports this approach toward assessment and treatment.

The other end of the chiropractic spectrum are practitioners that are basically a hybrid between a chiropractor and a physical therapist. On type of using their knowledge of the spine, they are also educated on biomechanics of the whole body and they pay close attention to different muscles, fascial chains connecting muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, the lymphatic system, peripheral nerves and the neurological relationships between these things. As you can imagine, when the scope of practice expands to include all of this the practitioner is able to be a lot more effective in treating a lot  more conditions and also more effective in a preventative capacity.

The later type of chiropractor, lets call them a Sports Chiropractor, works with active tissues, tissues with contractile properties that are connected to the nervous system and are responsible for determining your active and dynamic posture, as well as all of your movement patterns. When we approach treatment by effecting these tissues whether it be with manual therapy, soft tissue manipulation, joint mobilization, or exercise therapy, we are able to make changes to individual and full body joint mechanics and movement patterns.

The body is alive and programmable. The body adapts to imposed demand and we can essentially use imposed demand as therapy, coaxing the body into growing where it needs to grow and programming it to move, stand, or sit in optimal and healthy ways in order to be more efficient and powerful during functional activities as well as with normal everyday demands like prolonged sitting and standing.

So to get to answering your question. Most people have some kind of dysfunctional movement pattern, sitting or standing posture, strength-tension relationship in their muscles, neurological imbalance, or segmental spinal dysfunction. Any and all of these things can lead to early onset arthritis through repetitive joint stresses or an eventual ligament, tendon, intervertebral disk or muscle tea, tendinopathies and a variety of other inflammatory conditions caused by repetitive stress such as myositis or fasciitis.

Many of my patients will come in for a certain injury and we uncover other dysfunctional areas that they were not aware of or were just ignoring as the symptoms were not that bad. When we begin to address these things they feel so much better. They sleep better, they breathe better, the nagging low level pains go away, their freedom of movement improves and their performance improves. This encourages them to work out more often and harder, it encourages them to change lifestyle habits that are negatively impacting them and ultimately they are more healthy and happy.

So yes I think it is important to get help with your body. It doesn’t have to be a chiropractor. There are a lot of good practitioners out there, but I would emphasize the importance of getting help by someone who incorporates both soft tissue manipulation and exercise together in a treatment session. One without the other is still good, but together they work so well.

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