How do you know when you should go to the chiropractor?

At the time of their discharge, patients often ask me when should they come back to see me. That’s right. I said “discharge” – often an unusual concept in the chiropractic profession. Discharge in this case simply means we have solved the problem and/or complaint the patient presented with (e.g. back or neck pain), and now they are released from active care.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If the patient chooses to return to my office for a recurrence of their problem or a new problem, they are more than welcome. But, it is at their discretion. We provide all the care and only the care known to be effective. Read my previous blog post for more information.

So, how do you know when you should go (or come back) to the chiropractor?

This is what I tell my patients.

First of all, life happens. You should not necessarily run to the chiropractor for every little ache and pain that will probably go away on its own in 1-2 days. Especially if you know something you did likely strained your back or neck. Rest it. Ice it. Wait a couple days. Our bodies are designed to heal themselves, and often just need a little time.

However, if your back or neck pain continues for more than 1-2 days, that can be an indicator that you need to see the chiropractor. And keep in mind the flip-side is that waiting longer than a couple of days will often allow the pain pattern to embed. This means it will likely take longer for you to respond to chiropractic care if you wait too long seek it in the first place.

Rule #1 — If your pain doesn’t go away on its own in a couple of days, you should probably go now (to the chiropractor).

Secondly, it depends on the severity of your pain. Mild to moderate pain (less than a 5 on a 0-10 pain scale) will often be self-limiting. Granted, you should pay attention to the pain because your body is trying to tell you something. My advice generally is to scale it back a bit — moderate your activity. It makes no sense to mask pain with medication so you can continue to further injure yourself. Be smart.

If your pain is moderate to severe (more than a 5 on a 0-10 pain scale) it means you should probably seek chiropractic care. Pain is your body’s megaphone to get your attention. More intense pain usually indicates something more serious, and the longer you wait the worse it can get. Also, waiting too long to seek care for more severe pain can limit your treatment options forcing you into invasive procedures and extensive testing.

Rule #2 — If you would rate your pain 5 or more on a pain scale, you should go now (to the chiropractor).

And one more thing…

If your pain lasts more than a few days, you didn’t just “pull a muscle.” Muscle pains resolve rather quickly. While back pain often is triggered by muscle strain, the pain lingers because a whole host of other things are involved. Nerves. Joints. Discs. Ligaments. Tendons. Lingering pain is always more than “just a muscle.”

Google makes it very tempting to self-diagnose, but my advice would be to follow the two simple rules I tell my patients when making your decision when to see the chiropractor.

1. If your pain doesn’t go away on its own in a couple of days, get it checked.

2. If your pain is more than a 5 on a pain scale, get it checked.

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