How often should I see a chiropractor?

I recently answered a question for the Top Doc website.

The question in this case was specifically How often should I see a chiropractor for hip pain? See all answers here. As I pondered the question, I found that there is a lot that goes into this question generally. So I thought I’d share it here.

There is no simple answer for how often you need to see your chiropractor. A lot depends on your specific issue and your response to treatment. One thing I have noticed in my practice, however, is that the patients who come in more frequently, improve more quickly than those who come less often. I will usually recommend a more frequent visit schedule in the beginning stages of treatment, 3 times per week for instance, and then reduce the frequency as the patient improves (2 times per week, 1 time per week, every other week, and so on). Whatever the recommendation, it is always beneficial to be treated more in the beginning, because symptoms return more quickly in the initial stages of treatment.

For example: let’s say you come to see me for hip pain. I assess you and find that what you are experiencing as hip pain is actually referred pain from your SI (sacroiliac) joint, a common condition. This joint is in your low back, between the sacrum (the large triangular bone at the base of the spine) and the ilium (the part of the bony pelvis commonly called the hip). I provide treatment (chiropractic adjustments and possibly some soft tissue work) and your pain is relieved.

You leave my office feeling better, but 2 to 24 hours later, that same pain returns and may even feel a little worse now. You get frustrated, but decide to return for more treatment in one week. You suffer through another agonizing week in pain and then return. I treat the same area and again you feel better. You walk out without pain, but in a day or two it comes back. You get upset and say to yourself, “This chiropractic stuff doesn’t work! It only lasts a short time and then the pain comes right back!” But the issue is that you haven’t given it enough time or enough treatment. You can’t tell that the symptoms are staying away longer after each treatment, because you have only been treated 2 times in 2 weeks.

Now let’s look at another example: The scenario is the same, except that this time you believe me when I say that you should come in 3 times a week for 2 weeks. Again, after the first visit you leave feeling better, but the pain returns in 2 – 24 hours. However, this time you return within 48 hours for your follow-up treatment. This time, after the second treatment, you leave with no pain and stay that way for 2 days. You notice some pain return the afternoon before your third treatment, but it isn’t too bad and after your treatment you feel great again.

Your fourth visit is after a weekend and you are feeling some pain that morning, but again, the treatment takes care of it. Your other two visits that week you are pain free and I recommend 2 visits a week for the following 2 weeks. This time, after 2 weeks, you are totally out of pain. You may think you are done, but stick with it. The pain may return if you discontinue your care at this time. Absence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean that your problem is fully resolved.

In both of these scenarios the problem was the same, the treatment was the same, and the response to the treatment was the same. The only thing that was different was the frequency. Your body is constantly adjusting and adapting to your environment (inside and out). It needs time to fully “adapt” or respond to the treatment you receive. It took some time for your problem to start and for pain to build up to the point that you felt you needed to get some help for it. It would not be realistic to assume that the problem would fully resolve with one or two treatments.

Now, I do sometimes have patients who respond much better to treatment than average. They might, for example, have no pain after the first treatment and none returns later. After the first week I may suggest 2 visits for the following week, then one visit the week after, and then try going two weeks for the next. We’re all different and our treatment plans should be adaptable too.

Discuss your situation with your chiropractor. Ask them what their treatment plan is for you. If you’re unsure, ask them why they feel that is the best course of care for you. Then, trust them to do their job and help your body to not only feel better, but to heal and function better too.


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