Give Your Chiropractor a Hand!…or an ankle, or a knee, or an elbow…

[originally published in KCN, December 2001]

It may come as a surprise to some, but we chiropractors aren’t just for spines —  some of us are pretty adept at treating other joints of the body as well.

In chiropractic college, we were taught how to adjust every joint of the human frame — every joint.  I remember sitting in an auditorium at the chiropractic college I was about to attend, some ten years ago, watching a clinical demonstration . The chiropractor on stage was treating a patient, and we, as potential students got to observe.  Towards the end of her demonstration, she announced that chiropractors were trained to adjust every joint in the body.  She then asked if there were any requests for her to show us an adjustment of a particular joint.  I sat there in disbelief.  “Every joint?” I wondered.  I racked my brain for a joint in the body that I was sure would stump her.  I raised my hand.  “What about the joints inside the ears, between the small ear bones?” I asked with a sense of smugness.  Fellow chiropractor-to-be audience members glanced at me with a “I think you got her”-look.  Well, within moments we were all greeted with a Auditory Ossicle “J” Maneuver.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, I learned a lesson that day — every joint.

Because of the relationship that the nervous system shares with the moving vertebral joints of the spinal column, chiropractic’s main focus and dedication will always be to the spine.  However, there are times when looking to other joints in the human body can become necessary — especially if these joints are interfering with the effectiveness of our spinal treatments.

Some of the more common non-spinal joint problems we look at involve the joints of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, jaw, ankle, foot, knee, hip, and ribcage.

Whether we’re looking at the spine or any other joint, proper motion is essential for its overall health.  Joints that “lock up” or “jam” from slips, falls, repetitive motions, sporting injuries, or other causes, lose their normal range of motion and position and will often times become inflamed and invite scar tissue and joint decay.  The surrounding  muscles and ligaments may become slightly torn resulting in pain and weakness.  Or the muscles will be laden with knots and tightness.  Sometimes the joint symptoms will be quite obvious, and other times they may be very silent but provoke pain elsewhere.

A good example of this can often be found in the foot and ankle.   The foot and ankle contain more than 25% of the body’s bones (28 bones each side).  Suffice it to say proper functioning of the joints between these bones is very important, as it is the foot’s job to absorb most of the shock we receive when walking or running.   But an old ankle sprain, a fallen arch, or tight and uncomfortable shoes can significantly alter the mechanics and proper motion of these joints — snuffing the foot’s ability to do its job.  The result:  shock is transmitted up what we doctors call the “kinematic chain.”  In other words, joints above the foot and ankle (knee, hip, and low back) are now called in to perform a shock absorbing job that they never applied for.  They may do well for awhile.  But their working overtime will eventually lead to an onset of pain and symptoms.  You can treat the back, for example, and that will definitely give the patient relief — but for a more complete and thorough resolution of the problem, the offending source needs to be dealt with.

If the offending non-spinal joint is causing pain and other symptoms, traditional treatments of these problems usually involve the use of splints or braces to reduce movement, pain medications, muscle relaxers, steroid injections, and even surgery.  While some of these methods may be needed, including a chiropractic evaluation and treatment to the problematic joint and corresponding spinal area will often speed healing and recovery times.  Sometimes it’s the missing “ingredient” for chronic conditions that just don’t seem to be responding well to care.

But what about the the non-spinal joint that is not causing noticeable pain and symptoms?  Frustratingly, while it may be the source of problems elsewhere in the body, it may never be discovered on your own, or through traditional means.  This is where the “whole body approach” that chiropractic takes can be very helpful.  And frankly, only a chiropractor can tell you if chiropractic can help your particular condition.   With our specialized examination techniques we are able to ferret out joints that are dysfunctioning.  By rendering chiropractic adjustments to the spine and other necessary joints, proper motion can be restored and healing can begin to take place.

Understand, however, that while we chiropractors receive training in extremity adjusting during  chiropractic college, not all of us practice it on a regular basis.  Patients in search of a D.C. to “pop” their elbow, would be better served by someone who has received additional postgraduate training in this area.  Talking with the prospective chiropractor will help, as will looking for signs of any postgraduate degrees or certifications in this area.  The C.C.E.P. (Certified Chiropractic Extremities Practitioner) designation after the chiropractor’s name is one of many indications you may find that the chiropractor specializes in adjusting extremities.

So don’t limit your thinking when it comes to chiropractic.  Chiropractic is about restoring and maintaining proper function and health to the spine — yes — but also the other joints of the body.  And while joint dysfunction isn’t always involved when it comes to extremity problems, it certainly is involved a lot of the times.  If nothing more, it can be a key component in the overall treatment plan to getting the patient better — even if we adjust your ears.

______________
sources used for this article:
Extremities and the chiropractic lifestyle.  (brochure).  Back Talk Systems.  1995.
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