How Long Does it Take to Heal?

One of most important questions a patient will  have regarding their care is “how long will it take me to heal”. Obviously there can be no one-size-fits-all answer to that question because every diagnosis has its own prognosis. Someone with an acute case of low back pain is probably going to respond faster and need less care than someone who has a chronic condition that has persisted for years. Every patient’s capacity to heal is different but there are ways to make the process work better and faster. The short answer (and not always as satisfying) is that your care will take as long as it needs (and no longer). Today I’d like to discuss a few things about typical care plan lengths, maintenance care, and getting the most out of your treatments in the office.

Care plan lengths, the treatments used, complications, and outcomes vary person to person and diagnosis to diagnosis. Every condition is different. Some people with an acute neck issue can successfully finish a treatment plan and heal within a few visits and some people will need longer periods of intervention. What are the underlying differences between the person who needs more and the one that needs less? Typically, it come down to a number of things including occupation, lifestyle, genetics, compliance (did you do your exercises and use your lumbar roll?), and overall response to treatment. In my experience, those that are careful to follow temporary reductions in certain activities and stay consistent with their treatments respond the best. Chiropractic care typically works very well, but if we find that our results aren’t as good as we hoped, we will change the nature of the treatments to get a more desirable effect. The days of endless treatments without anything to show for it are gone. Insurance companies, doctors, and most of all patients don’t have any desire to keep doing (and paying for!) the same things over and over again without any clear benefit. The S.A.I.D. principle for sports training has carry over to chiropractic and rehabilitation. It stand for a specific adaptation to an imposed demand. In short, it means that the chiropractic adjustments, rehabilitation exercises, massage therapy and other treatments will have specific adaptations (i.e. your body will begin to heal and function better) to the demands (treatment) that are imposed on it. It is an important concept to healing but one component not entirely evident is that there is a factor of time. As stated before, a number of different things will effect that element of time. In our office, we have the philosophy that we try to do no more than what is absolutely necessary so that we don’t waste your precious time and money. That said, it is important to remember  that we must spend enough time to get the desired healing and health effects out of the treatment. Just like we wouldn’t expect to go to the gym once and get physique like Arnold Schwarzenegger, we wouldn’t expect to get one or 2 treatments and have lasting changes to your health. In our office, we do our best to give you an accurate timeline for the treatment of your condition and we periodically reevaluate it in order to ensure that your treatment is working. As you improve, we will begin to cut your visit frequency down and focus on your training for home care.

Occasionally I will be asked by a patient if they “will have to come see me forever”. As much as I dislike being asked that, I have to acknowledge that it is a fair question. I feel that in some cases, the communication from the healthcare industry regarding lifetime or maintenance treatment has not been good. Some people start to develop a reliance on their doctors to keep them “bandaged up” and moving along. Patients today want to heal as quickly as possible. Today’s modern chiropractor has a keen focus on teaching self care including behavioral changes (ergonomics, sport/activity specific training, and healthy habits) along with self care in order to reduce the reliance on their doctor. There is much that a patient can do on their own but the one thing that patients cannot and should not do is adjust themselves for specific joint fixations. We’re not talking about feeling “pops” and “clicks” while stretching or exercising but rather forcibly stretching a joint to get that loud “pop” or “crack”. Such maneuvers run the risk of injuries that are not worth potential relief. Typically after a treatment plan in our office is completed, a recommendation for semi-regular check ups is made. The reason for this is because after we are healed we are still putting various stresses into our bodies. Loading our snow tires, working in the yard, playing sports, sitting all day, and shoveling snow are some of the daily stressors that we encounter. This activities could cause small injuries (sometimes painless) and a semi regular checkups can get to these problems before they become big issues. Maintenance care for these potential issues varies between patients and the patient is usually capable of setting their own schedule for when they need check ups – after all, it’s your body and nobody knows it better than you. You’re doctor will work with you as well to find a schedule that works for you. On average, a healthy and relatively pain free patient will come in for a check up between every 6-12 weeks depending on their personal needs. Sometimes they won’t come back for a  months or even a few years – those people typically have followed our instructions well and have a high level of self-care and maintenance. We aim to produce as many of those outcomes as we can. It is our goal that are out in the world, enjoying yourself while being active, and we want you functioning as best as possible. Endless treatment plans with no goals or end in sight is not part of our treatment model.

The Bird Dog exercise is a great exercise for core strength and trunk stability

Getting the most out of your treatments requires a little work on the patients part. As mentioned earlier, it is much easier to get the best adaptation and healing response if the patient follows a few specific instructions:

  1. Do a few things that we ask you to do. These activities include using lumbar rolls or support cushions (when necessary) and performing your exercises.
  2. Avoid a few things that we ask you not to do. This may be sitting posture, certain types of lifting or exercise, or some other temporary behavioral modification.
  3. Keep your appointments. It’s hard to get the most out of the S.A.I.D. principle without having consistent care. This isn’t forever but it does take time and consistency.
  4. Do your exercises! The S.A.I.D. principle works even faster, better, and has more longevity when the patient learns how to participate in the recovery of their condition through movement and exercise. It’s one of the most important parts of your chiropractic treatment.

If you can follow those few instructions the likelihood of having a great outcome (i.e. you heal faster and stay healthy longer) increases dramatically.  Your doctor of chiropractic is trained to help you through the healing process taking personal care and time to treat you and train you to a new healthier self – a self who is more capable of controlling pain and having greater functional capacity to do the things that you love. We hope that you are able to do those things currently, and if not, don’t hesitate to contact us at 907-222-2100 to call a schedule an appointment to have a consultation with one of our doctors.


Take care and have a great day!


Dr. Kelly

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