Great question! First, you must understand something about pain – it is not a reliable reporter of normal function. Remember, pain is a symptom provided by our nervous system to tell us that something needs attention. Our bodies begin to heal after chemicals are released into the blood stream to mobilize cellular material to make repairs. Much of this activity occurs without us even knowing it. That is why we sometimes don’t even realize we have a problem, until after a heart attack occurs. Pain appears AFTER sufficient damage has occured to tax our repair system to the point that it is ready to shut down function in order to get the job done. Once repair is underway, pain will subside even before your tissues are fully healed. So, even though your back may no longer feel pain after just one adjustment, it does not mean that you are fully healed.
Chiropractors attempt to influence this repair process by what I call “the artful application of re-irritation.” This is a delicate dance between stimulating tissues enough to mobilize repair, but not so much that it creates new tissue damage and brings on more pain. So, our goal is not simply to treat the symptom of pain, but to help the body heal by restoring normal joint function. In order for a spinal joint to move freely and fully, it must not be bound by shortened, inelastic repair fibers (stiffness). So, we monitor your progress by improvement in joint flexibility, range of motion and ease of adjustment.
To fully restore joint function, we must remove joint stiffness, just as you would when attempting to do the splits to the floor. . . you won’t make it on the first attempt, but if you continue daily stretches, you will eventually REMODEL your connective tissues and become elastic enough to reach the floor. Remodeling takes time and repetative intervention. Similarly, you may not fully restore a joint’s range of motion with just one treatment. I encourage patients to “listen” to their body by increasing their awareness of joint stiffness and receive treatments, until full range of motion is restored.
The number of treatments needed to restore joint function depends upon many factors. Age of the patient, severity of the injury, duration of injury and behaviours that create re-injury. Many of my patients feel symptom free after one to three treatments within one week, but that lack of pain does not confer normal function. You will be able to sense greater adjustment effort on my part to release a fixated joint initially, but on subsequent treatments that effort diminishes, until your joint cavitates (pops) with a light stretch. Once you reach that point, your joint is functioning normally, but repairs remain ongoing.