How Often Should I go To The Chiropractor?
We get questions all of the time. One of the most common questions is, “How many times to I need to go to the chiropractor?” This is a great question and it is vital to understand there is not just one answer to it. I really need to be careful about how I answer the question because I do not want to alienate or throw any other chiropractors under the bus.
In general, chiropractic is a poorly standardized profession. That is the reason each chiropractor can give a different answer. For example, if you have an ear infection in Dallas, TX and you go to the doctor, you are going to get pretty standard care. You sort of know what you are going to get before you go. It is the same standard care in Dallas as you would expect in Seattle, Chicago, New York, Orlando, or San Diego.
Chiropractic is nothing like that. There is little to zero standardization so one must REALLY be diligent in doing their homework before going to a chiropractor. Some types of chiropractors are very strict about keeping long term treatment plans and strict about keeping patients on that schedule. Some are more cavalier and feel the pain is the patient’s pain. They give their recommendations and if the patient takes responsibility for doing what it takes to remove that pain, then it will all take care of itself.
Some chiropractors make recommendations based on the idea of ‘subluxation theory’ and that a person should go to the chiropractor many many times throughout their lives because it promotes better optimal, overall health. Some are more focused on complaints and episodes of pain and their recommendations seem to be shorter in nature since the pain is typically knocked out quickly.
So what’s my answer?
How often someone should go is really an individual answer. Everyone heals at a different rate. Everyone’s injury is different from one person to the next. A sweeping, generalized recommendation is not necessarily a responsible thing to offer. However, there are some generalized ideas on this.
Short term pain is pain that has lasted less than 3 months or so. Short term or acute/subacute, pain is less concerning and easier to treat. Naturally, in short-term pain, one should not have to go repeatedly for weeks and weeks. Typically, I recommend short-term patients come to our clinic three times per week for a couple of weeks and the complaint will likely be resolved by that time.
On the other hand, chronic pain is more problematic. Chronic pain is defined as having pain at least every other day for 6 months. Patients do not normally realize that we do not have a very large window of time before pain turns chronic on us. Once it turns chronic, it becomes more difficult to address and resolve. Typically in chronic pain, part of the pain begins to exist and live in the brain as much as it exists in the area of the original injury.
This is easy to demonstrate by discussing phantom limb pain. Why does pain still exist in a limb that has been amputated and no longer exists? That’s because even though the leg is gone, that pain still lives in the brain. The brain uses pain as a protection mechanism and it stores the pain in the brain to help it make future decisions about your abilities and how you will accomplish certain feats. Chronic pain has to be addressed from a cognitive direction equally as the physical treatment as we go through treatment.
Therefore, chronic pain recommendations are different. We double recommendations for chronic pain patients. We will typically recommend three times per week for a month, then down to two times per week for a month, and then one time per week for a month. We have seen pain go from something that prevents activity and life all the way down to a 1 or 2 on a scale of 10. We have seen them come off of their pain medication with the help of their medical doctor. We have seen them get back to being active with their families again.
After years and years of pain, when it is done correctly and comprehensively, it can be astounding.
Then we have patients that do great from day to day but they have noticed over the years that they just feel better in general and do better when they come in every now and then. I tell patients that some have set that at every 3 weeks for themselves. Some are perfect with once a month. Still, others are good with seeing us every 2 months. The best news about this is that recent research shows that people that attended appointments on a preventative schedule rather than a complaint-based schedule attended one more visit through the year but spent about 2 weeks less in pain. That is some pretty cool news!
I am not one to make recommendations such as 'three visits per week for 6 weeks and then 3 times per week for 8 weeks, and on and on'….. or 50-70 visits in a year’s time. That has never been my style or my way of practicing. Nothing makes me more correct than those that require that much treatment. It is simply my preference. Though I would add that research and current guidelines agree with my style and preference.
There are some patients that frequent adjustments actually do more harm than good. Really flexible, hypermobile people are a great example. If you do not know if you are hypermobile, Google the Beighton Scale and check yourself. In some patients, seeing them too frequently throughout the year can actually be the cause of hypermobility.
Most of this, it is just providing generalized recommendations. Overall, the better someone feels, the less I want to see them. But you must approach going to a chiropractor like you would when you go to the gym. You know before you ever walk into the door the first time that there will have to be a certain amount of time and financial commitment to improving your health or you will see little to no results at all. Going to the chiropractor is no different. While some can just come in for a visit or two and they feel great, a large number will take a little time and commitment and consistency to see the results we all want to see.
It’s not necessarily a pain-free life everyone is after. We all have aches and pains. What we are after is life and if the pain is preventing life from happening, then it is time to have something done. A good, smart, and solid evidence-based, patient-centered chiropractor is just the person to make it happen.
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109
Jeff S Williams, DC, FIANM, DABFP