You’ve probably seen this type of patient in your practice.
They come to see you with an initial complaint of back pain. After three or four visits, they say their back feels much better and they appreciate your help. You explain the benefit of ongoing maintenance adjustments to keep their spinal column properly aligned, and they promise to come back for regular adjustments.
Unfortunately, that is the last time you see them until their back pain flares up again. Obviously, this is a frustrating situation for both you and them. What can you do to help these patients maintain their adjustments so that they can understand the benefits that chiropractic affords them?
Some patients may actually do better if they are given independent positive reinforcement tasks to do to help them hold their adjustment. It provides them both a sense of ongoing accomplishment and a way to track their own progress. For such patients, a routine of daily stretches can be a great motivator to not only relieve their pain, but let them understand the importance of ongoing chiropractic care.
Once they see their progress from daily stretches, they may be much more amenable to coming in for regular adjustments. Below are five basic stretches, (based on yoga poses) you can recommend for patients to incorporate into their daily routines. These stretches can be done as a sequence or alone, depending on their needs.
From a standing position, with your feet at hip-width apart, lift your arms over your head as you inhale. Pull your spine upward as much as possible and lift your chin. As you lift your arms, lift one leg and slide your foot up along your other leg to form a triangle. Do NOT hold your foot against your other knee, but either above or below it. If you need help balancing, steady yourself on a stable waist-high surface using the arm opposite the leg your have lifted. In other words, if you have lifted your right leg, use your left arm to steady yourself. After several seconds in this pose, lower your leg and switch to the other one.
2. Forward Fold
This stretch is particularly good if you have tight hamstrings and Achilles tendons. For this, you can start in a standing position, with feet hip-width apart. On an inhale, lift your arms overhead, and then fold down at the waist until your fingertips brush the ground. If you feel more than a gentle pull at your hamstrings and Achilles tendons, bend your knees just a bit. You can also grab opposite elbows for a further stretch.
3. Downward Dog
This pose is probably the most well-known. You can easily move into this from the forward fold by placing your hands on the ground in front of you so that your body forms a triangle shape. Try to move your hands far enough forward to get a nice stretch down your back, hamstrings, and Achilles tendon. You can either hold this stretch for several breaths or gently shift your weight from one foot to the other.
This stretch is one of the best to use for lower back pain. Start out on all fours with your shoulders aligned over your wrists and your hips over your knees, with your fingers spread wide. On your inhale, lift your head and tailbone, while dropping your stomach toward the floor (the “cow” position). On your exhale, pull your stomach all the way up, round your spine, and tuck in your chin to resemble a scared cat.
5. Child’s Pose
This is often a resting pose in yoga, but also can be a good stretch for the spine. It is a good stretch to use after cat-cow. From being on all fours, shift your weight backward as you fold forward over your knees so that your back is rounded. You can either place your arms at your side or in front of you. For more of a stretch, slowly inch your arms forward if you have them in front of you.
This sequence of stretches can be repeated several times as your patients become more adept. They may also find that the use of yoga blocks or towels can help them get the proper stretch that is needed, particularly if they are just starting out. The key, of course, is ongoing positive encouragement to get them to keep at it. Over time, as they realize that they are less prone to flare ups of back pain, they will realize the benefits of regular chiropractic care.