It was never the prettiest way to describe a health procedure: “I went to the chiropractor and had my back cracked.” Eventually, “manipulate” became the industry’s word of choice. And, sure, it sounds better. But not much better. Today, though, changes in treatment are forcing us to find more nuanced ways to describe the way chiropractors deal with our aches and pains.
Victor Leach, chiropractic physician at Bio-Mechanics of Las Vegas (2520 St. Rose Parkway, 579-9876), says two approaches dominate the field: spine manipulation only, and a mixed approach in which chiropractors use various techniques in addition to traditional manipulation. “Mixers,” as Leach calls them, often work in conjunction with physical therapists.
Will Allen, a physical therapist and co-owner of Eclipse Fitness (9070 W. Cheyenne Ave., 834-4766), confirms that chiropractic treatment and physical therapy are beginning to converge. “You’re starting to see chiropractors do a lot more physical therapy related treatments, and seeing physical therapists do more manipulative treatments.” The convergence of the two fields has been accelerated in Nevada because it is one of the few states that doesn’t require a medical doctor’s referral for physical therapy.
Patients are taught specific exercises designed to strengthen areas weak from stress or injury and to retrain the muscles. “We teach exercises that will help patients in their daily lives with their conditions,” Leach says. “It’s an overall body approach. Let’s find out what’s not working and give you the tools that you need to make it work.” Mixing treatment with exercise, he says, can turn short-term pain management into long-term relief.
Many emerging techniques are gaining popularity, including the Graston Technique, Kinesio Taping and Total Motion Release (see sidebar). One of the most popular is the Active Release Technique (ART), a soft-tissue therapy that helps to restore the body’s natural movement by forcing muscle tissue to move in its original functional pattern. Over a lifetime of injuries large and small, scar tissue can form between layers of muscle, creating friction that results in discomfort and loss of full function. ART breaks down that scar tissue to help muscles glide over each other and restores natural movement.
“The treatment technique is such that you’re trying to restore the normal movement of muscles to move across the joints more effectively,” Allen says.
Created in 1985, ART is now used by 2,000 practitioners nationwide, from chiropractors to physical therapists to athletic trainers. ART has been known to restore function lost to sciatic nerve damage, carpal tunnel syndrome, acute shoulder conditions, plantar fasciitis, hip pain and even migraines.
Leach saw the results of ART firsthand when a patient suffering from severe migraines came to see him. Over a period of nine months, she had attempted to find a relief through traditional means, seeing specialists who injected botox into her neck and prescribed migraine medication, but none of it worked. Two weeks and four treatments later, her headaches were gone.
“Application of Active Release Techniques and treatment of the muscles of the upper part of the skull released the tension of the nerve and helped resolved the symptoms of her headache,” Leach says.
Diagnosis and resolution of health problems still call for a visit to a medical doctor, of course, but with their expanded toolbox and emphasis on treating the cause instead of the symptoms, chiropractors and physical therapists have more ways than ever to ease chronic pain.
“Modern medicine has turned into ‘What script can I write you to make that pain go away?’” Leach says. “We don’t cure people, but we do actually help improve the condition and get you back to where you used to be.”
Alternative techniques used to make pain go away
Very similar to Active Release Technique, Graston differentiates itself by the use of stainless steel instruments to diagnose fibrotic areas. The same tools are then used to help relieve those adhesions. “This is done by gliding the tools across the areas that have been identified as fibrotic,” Allen says. “This disrupts the collagen cross-fibers that are typically caused by injury or repeated trauma that brought about tightness in those regions.”
Also known as sports taping, Kinesio Taping was exposed to a huge audience after its use by beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh and Misty May at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The tape has a slight elasticity that can be used in three ways: It can inhibit the muscle if you want to stop its use to prevent further injury, it can help the muscle naturally work better, or it can reduce inflammation. Kinesio Tape has even been shown to reduce the recovery time of bruises and pulled hamstrings from weeks to days. “The idea of the tape is just to enhance what the muscles were designed to do,” Leach says.
Total Motion Release
Designed to be performed at home by patients, TMR uses five different exercises to improve the way we move. Each exercise was specifically chosen to target one of the major areas of the body. The philosophy behind TMR is that the body is uniform but that we tend to favor one side over the other. Over time, these alignments lead to pain, discomfort and even loss of function. “It has a very simplistic approach,” Allen says. “TMR tries to treat the body as a whole by restoring the normal mechanics of it.” Practitioners are instructed to perform the exercises only on the “good side” of the body, which in theory, helps to realign the bad side. You can learn more about this therapy at TotalMotionRelease.com.