Send patients home with self-management tools to improve outcomes and relationships, and make adjustments and rehab much easier
Many chiropractors are interested in giving patients self-care tools to continue their care after leaving the clinic. Over the years the most common is the tennis ball, which many athletic trainers also travel with, advising their clients to roll around on the floor on them to alleviate muscle aches and pains.
I started using them in my practice, and soon every patient left my office with a “tennis ball program.” It was a simple, cost-effective way to get patients to work on areas of myofascial restriction in the comfort of their own home. Compliance was good and it definitely worked — previously tight areas in patients’ erector or gluteal musculature would return looser, making patients happier and treatments easier.
But soon the limitations became apparent. The tennis ball was far from the optimum shape. It was a sphere, so you couldn’t apply it directly on the spine as the spinous processes had nowhere to go — it would just hurt, and it would compress and lose shape under load.
Then the truth dawned — a tennis ball is made for tennis!
A self-care tool for the human body
A number of self-care tools have been specifically designed for the human body. Here are features to look for:
- Heatability improves blood and lymph tissue perfusion to aid the release of built-up waste and activate the patient’s parasympathetic system;
- Cold to reduce inflammation, speed-up recovery and general pain relief;
- Tools with finger-shaped nibs provide for deeper tissue penetration, and the correct elliptical shape to give better body support;
- And on some tools recessed spinal grooves run around the center so spinous processes can be accommodated, allowing direct spinal release work.
Giving patients the power
Like many chiropractors, physical trainers are often physically overburdened with treating patients and don’t have time for extensive PT. Speaking with the head trainer for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club we found a similar situation, and he soon began utilizing self-care tools that became a take-home hit with professional players. Instead of the trainer doing the work, they gave the players the product, who were then empowered to treat a significant portion of their issues themselves. Soon enough the entire team was using the products, and the word spread to other sports teams.
“A couple of our players are using the products and really like them,” came a call from the trainer of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. “We’d love to try them with our team.”
Training the trainers
Being invited to train the trainers of professional sports teams is a really great experience as the trainers are excited by the idea that players can release their own tight areas, thus reducing the trainer’s physical workload. As manual therapists the trainers are also keenly interested in feeling the effects on their own body aches and pains.
The trainers were impressed with the depth of tissue release and the simplicity of the entire process — a patient could literally just relax for three minutes on a specific spot and let the weight of their body do the work. So simple.
In addition, the trainers really liked the small size and portability of the product (they had been used to lugging big foam rollers through airports), which made it perfect for players to use anywhere and anytime on the road. The trainers bought in.
The self-care products were made part of each player’s personal kit. A second order of the products were requested by the team, with the trainer noting, “the wives took the first batch when the players brought them home.”
Now teams from the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL use the self-care tools.
Can chiropractic patients train themselves?
Chiropractors know the value of giving patients tools they can use between sessions to keep tight muscles and joints open. While books and seminars have been produced regarding patient use of the self-care tools, practitioners themselves have been the real driving force, with the products sold around the world.
A physiotherapist in Hong Kong came up with a great technique for releasing psoas musculature. A yoga teacher from Burlington came up with a simple technique to release calf muscles. A protocol was developed for treating low-back pain with the patient lying on their front with the self-care tool under their pubic symphysis to create posterior opening of the L5-S1 joint.
Information such as this is now collected in self-care phone apps so patients can lie back and, using their phone screen, click on the body part that hurts, and simply follow the videos. Patients can now train themselves, with technology making it possible so that no doctor need ever spend time training a patient to use self-care tools.
Putting it in practice
Self-care tools are a key offering for chiropractic clinics to develop patients who return to the clinic looser to make treatments easier. Self-care tools also let patients know you care for their well-being outside the office, which translates to longer-standing relationships and wellness care.
MICHAEL A. COHEN, DAc, DC, has been a practicing chiropractor and acupuncturist for 29 years. He believes we have underestimated patients’ self-healing abilities, and he encourages patients to responsibly explore their capabilities in this area. He developed the Acuball self-healing tool (acuball.com) for muscle and joint pain relief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.