Treatment methods used by chiropractors [Part 2]

Date:  August 28, 2019


Young woman getting kinesio tape applied to shoulders

After suffering from back pain for weeks, your co-worker has referred you to their chiropractor. You’ve heard of chiropractic care, but you don’t really know what’s involved after the initial assessment. Desperate for relief, you make the call and schedule an appointment after work.

Fast forward to 5:30 p.m. You are now sitting in the waiting room, nervously anticipating the moment your name is called.

Sound familiar? If you’re new to chiropractic and are unsure about the types of treatments you will be offered during a chiropractic visit, we are here to provide some clarity.

In Part 1 of this series, we explained that chiropractors are spine, muscle, and nervous system experts who provide effective treatment to promote health, alleviate pain, and improve your quality of life.

Adjustments/manipulations, exercises/stretching, acupuncture, and nutritional counselling are just some of the ways chiropractors can treat your symptoms. But that’s not all they do!

Here are five additional techniques chiropractors use to treat spine, muscle, and nervous system conditions.

Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM)

Definition: Often referred to as the Graston Technique, this therapy involves using a small instrument made of stainless steel or other materials to stimulate affected tissue, remove scar tissue, and promote blood flow and healing.

What to expect: Your chiropractor will glide, push, or scrape a stainless steel instrument over the skin covering specific tendons, muscles, or ligaments, possibly with the use of muscle cream. There may be some redness of the skin for a short period after the treatment as blood flow to the area increases. Your chiropractor may encourage stretching of the affected body part while the instrument is being applied.

Is this right for me? There is evidence that Graston and other IASTM techniques are helpful for improving function and range of motion following sports injury, while also reducing pain. These techniques can shorten the rehabilitation period and make it quicker and easier to return to the sports and activities you love.

Kinesio Taping

Definition: Kinesio tape is an elastic therapeutic tape used for treating sports injuries and other disorders, by providing support to injured muscles and joints and improving blood flow.2 You may recall seeing this colourful tape on athletes during the Olympic games!

What to expect: Your chiropractor will apply pieces of Kinesio tape around an injured muscle or joint. Depending on the injury, there may be more or less tape applied to specific areas.

Is this right for me? Kinesio taping has been shown to increase muscle strength and range of motion, and potentially prevent further sports injuries.2 Talk to your chiropractor about whether taping is right for your specific injury.

Laser Therapy

Definition: Laser therapy, also known as phototherapy, uses different light wavelengths for therapeutic purposes, including cell healing and the reduction of pain and inflammation. Lasers are most commonly used to promote wound healing and help with pain management, but there are many other musculoskeletal conditions that they treat as well.

What to expect: When administering laser therapy, chiropractors will attach a laser to the specific pain point. Patients may feel a tingling or warming sensation, but in most cases, you won’t feel anything at all.

Is this right for me? Before administering laser therapy, your chiropractor will conduct a complete screening/physical examination. In some cases, patients will experience mild skin rashes or burns. Protective goggles are used by all parties in the room to prevent retina damage.

Shockwave Therapy

Definition: Shockwave therapy was originally used to break up kidney stones, but has more recently been used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Just as it sounds, shockwave therapy applies small changes in pressure to specific areas to relieve pain and restore mobility.5

What to expect: Your chiropractor will locate the pain point using manual palpation. They will then apply some gel to the affected area and press the shockwave applicator slightly against it. Once the start button is pressed, you will begin to feel its effects. Shockwave therapy can cause discomfort in some patients during its application – similar to the feeling of a charley horse. The good news? Treatments generally only last one to four minutes and any discomfort usually subsides shortly after the treatment is complete.

Is this right for me? There is evidence that shockwave therapy is helpful for conditions like trigger points, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and tendinopathies.6 It is a newer therapy with research continuously emerging. Talk to your chiropractor if you have any concerns.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Definition: Trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is the application of a low strength electrical current through electrode pads to relieve pain in a particular area.

What to expect: After identifying a painful spot, your chiropractor will apply two electrode pads to the cleaned and dried area of skin, and set the amount of current to a comfortable level through the control device. You may feel a tingling sensation or muscle contraction at the site of application.

Is this right for me? TENS has been shown to be effective for relieving acute and chronic pain for a wide variety of conditions.3 There are situations and areas in which application of electrical current is not recommended, such as for pregnant patients and patients with pacemakers, skin conditions, or active infections.4 It is important to disclose any conditions and maintain open communication with your chiropractor.

When you choose to visit a chiropractor, you are making the decision to put your musculoskeletal health in the hands of experts – professionals who undergo seven years of University-level education and are specifically trained to treat spine, muscle, and nervous system conditions.

If you’re in pain, contact a local chiropractor for relief today.

1 Kim, Jooyoung, et al. “Therapeutic Effectiveness of Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization for Soft Tissue Injury: Mechanisms and Practical Application.” Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, vol. 13, no. 1, 2017, pp. 12–22., doi:10.12965/jer.1732824.412.

2 Williams, Sean, et al. “Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries.” Sports Medicine, vol. 42, no. 2, 2012, pp. 153–164., doi:10.2165/11594960-000000000-00000.

3 Vance, C. G. T., et al. “Effects of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation on Pain, Pain Sensitivity, and Function in People With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Physical Therapy, vol. 92, no. 7, 2012, pp. 898–910., doi:10.2522/ptj.20110183.

4 “ELECTROPHYSICAL AGENTS – Contraindications And Precautions: An Evidence-Based Approach To Clinical Decision Making In Physical Therapy.” Physiotherapy Canada, vol. 62, no. 5, 2010, pp. 1–80., doi:10.3138/ptc.62.5.

5 “Mechanical Principles.” Shock Wave and High Pressure Phenomena Fundamentals of Shock Wave Propagation in Solids, pp. 7–35., doi:10.1007/978-3-540-74569-3_2.

6 Ko, Jih-Yang, and Feng-Sheng Wang. “Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy for Tendinopathy.” Shockwave Medicine Translational Research in Biomedicine, 2018, pp. 27–41., doi:10.1159/000485060.

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