exercises, treatment, and prevention of back pain

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

I have spent the 19 years in practice trying my best to educate my patients, and the general public, about the many different physical problems that I see in my office. When doing this, I often use a chiropractic term called a “subluxation”. Although other health care practitioners may have a slightly different definition for the word, chiropractors have been using this word to describe a very specific problem for over 100 years. There are volumes of quality scientific information and studies demonstrating what a subluxation is and how chiropractors successfully treat it. In this article, I will attempt to answer the question “what does a chiropractor do?”


In order to keep this interesting, I will simplify the definition harshly. As we go through our daily lives, we expose ourselves to all kinds of stress. They may be physical (such as an accident) or emotional (such as job or family stress). Either way, they have a negative effect on your physical health, particularly in the muscles, nerves and joints of your spine. In my practice, I see people every day who are or have been under some form of stress. These people are often seeing a chiropractor to correct the lack of mobility or restricted areas in their spine. When these problem areas are present, they can cause irritation of the nerves as they exit the spine. These nerves control the neighbouring muscles, pain sensation, and other internal organs and glands. If left untreated, the muscles can go into spasm, mild to severe pain can occur, and other seemingly unrelated problems can occur at different areas where the nerve travels to. By doing a series of “chiropractic adjustments”, the movement or “alignment” (as my patients like to call it) of a problematic area can be restored. This allows the joints and nerves of the spine to function normally and the person feels much healthier because of it.


Once a person has achieved a healthy spine and the associated nerves are functioning normally, it is at this point that he or she must incorporate some form of consistent mild to moderate exercise into their life. This can be done with the guidance of a chiropractor as well.


By combining a healthy spine and nerves with consistent mild to moderate exercise, your body will be able to reach its maximum physical potential. This will allow one to accomplish more and do the things that are important to him or her in life. This should not be taken for granted. One only has to ask someone who no longer has the physical ability to do the things he or she wants to do to find out how depressing it can be.


Have a More Firm and Muscular “Butt”


There are many people who would like to have a more firm and muscular “butt”. Fitness magazines encourage you to have firm buttock muscles for aesthetic purposes; however, strong hip and upper leg muscles are a very good for providing structural support for your back and hips. These muscles are very important for walking, climbing steep hills, and lifting objects from the ground level. Whether you wish to improve the physical shape of your buttocks for social reasons or you would like to be able to lift better and safer, there are exercises that can help.


If done properly, the following exercise is very good for increasing the strength and shapeliness of the gluteal and quadricep muscles. The quadriceps makes up most of the muscles at the front of your thigh. These are the muscles you use to straighten your knee from a bent position. The “gluts” make up most of the muscles in your buttock and upper hip. They are responsible for taking your hips from a bent to a straight position, as in the standing up phase of doing a squat.


The “squat” exercise is widely used by weightlifters and most athletes. It is also very good for non-athletes if it is done properly. It can even be done at home.


*First of all, stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, toes out slightly, knees aligned over top of your feet. For more resistance, you can hold small weights in your hands at your sides (see picture #1).

*Keeping your pelvis in a neutral position, push your chest forward and make a small dish-shaped concave curve in your lower back.

*Maintaining this posture, look straight ahead and lower your body as if sitting back into a chair. Keep your heels on the floor and pressure on your feet evenly distributed through your entire foot. Lower until your knees almost reach ninety degrees (see picture #2). Don’t go below this level, as it is hard on your knees.

*Drive back up to the starting position (picture #1) using your gluteal and quadricep muscles. Keep your heels on the floor the entire time.

*Slowly but repetitively do this motion until your legs and hips become fatigued. If you are holding weights in your hands as well, use a weight that will still allow you to do 12-15 repetitions. Repeat this entire process two or three times.


Treat the “Cause” of Your Problem, Not the “Symptoms”

In a chiropractic clinic, we see people with all sorts of problems. A typical day includes seeing patients who have problems with one or more joints, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons and, bursae. The number of different ways people have discovered to injure themselves is quite mind-boggling.


However, the thing that still surprises me the most is that many of the new patients entering our office are only looking for relief of their pain or other symptoms. Especially if the pain is interfering with whatever it is they like to do the most (such as golfing). A majority of them have tried the typically prescribed drugs (medications such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, pain-killers and even valium) without any long-term relief. They have still not realized that if the treatment or medication they were given previously only addressed the “symptoms” of the problem (inflammation, pain, muscle spasm). It was no wonder that these symptoms simply returned once the treatment or medication was discontinued. Frustrated, these new patients enter my office hoping that I will have a simple solution that will allow them to return to their pain-free lifestyle as soon as possible. It is at this point that i have to make them realize that they have to treat the “cause” of your problem, not the “symptoms”.


Often to their disappointment, I have to inform them that rarely is there a “quick-fix” for any problem. If that doesn’t upset them, they usually are once I tell them that it is more important to identify and treat the actual cause of their problem than it is to temporarily relieve the pain or symptoms. That is the goal in our office. Instead of trying to find a new and quick way of eliminating their pain, we find out what needs to be treated in order to correct the actual problem. As well, we need to identify what needs to be changed in their lifestyle to prevent the problem from coming back. I will try to give you a couple of examples:


1) You have headaches. Tylenol relieves them but they keep coming back. Instead of wondering what pill to try next, consider the following:

-Have you tried to identify exactly what is causing the headaches or have just been trying to eliminate the pain?

-Is your poor posture putting physical stress on your neck joints and muscles, causing headaches?

-How long do you spend sitting in front of a computer or television each day? Is your television or computer monitor positioned so that you do not have to move your head left or right, up or down?

-Are you taking any other medications that may cause headaches as a side effect? Ask your pharmacist.

-Have you experienced any trauma (car accident or fall) to your neck that may now be causing irritation of the nerves in your neck? This will result in spasm of the neck muscles and lead to tension headaches.

-Do you do any stretching or strengthening exercises for your neck? If your answer is no, you should almost expect the joints and muscles to eventually become stiff and tight, eventually causing headaches.

-How much emotional stress are you experiencing at home or work? Higher levels of this will definitely cause headaches.


2) You have chronic bouts of low back pain. The painkiller and muscle relaxer medications you were prescribed help only as long as you continue to take them. As well, they cause stomach upset and constipation. Does this sound like you? What are your answers to the following questions?

-Have you figured out what exactly is wrong with your back instead of just trying to eliminate the symptoms?

-Do you have poor muscle flexibility and/or joint mobility in your back, hips, or legs that will make you prone to low back injuries?

-Are you putting extra pressure on your low back every day by being overweight? Are you exercising enough each day to burn more calories than you eat in order to lose that extra weight?

-How much regular stretching and strengthening do you do for your back muscles?

-Do you have problems with the arches in your feet that may have secondary effects on your low back?


If you have headaches or chronic low back pain, it is likely you may be slightly disappointed with your own answers to the above questions. If that is your case, see a chiropractor so he or she can identify your actual problem and become your own personal coach on how to prevent it from returning. Solutions to many of these questions have been discussed in other articles located on this website. Feel free to browse them.


Back Pain Facts


Although doctors of chiropractic treat more than just back pain, a large percentage of chiropractic patients visit their doctor looking for relief from this pervasive condition. In fact, 70 to 85 percent of all people have back pain at some time in their life. I was browsing the American Chiropractic Association website and read a few back pain facts that I found interesting. I will share them with you below. I was unable to find similar statistics for Canada, but it is likely that the Canadian numbers would be similar.

A few interesting back pain facts:

-Low back pain is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits in the United States.

-Back pain is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old.

-Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer.

-Approximately one quarter of U.S. adults reported having low back pain lasting at least one whole day in the past three months, and 7.6 percent reported at least one episode of severe acute low back pain within a one-year period.

-Low back pain is also very costly: approximately 5 percent of people with back pain disability account for 75 percent of the costs associated with low back pain.

-One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.

Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. work force is compensated for back injuries each year.

-Americans spend at least $50 Billion per year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.


If a person has back pain, what should they do?

If your back pain is not resolving quickly, visit your doctor of chiropractic. Your pain will often result from mechanical problems that your doctor of chiropractic can address. Many chiropractic patients with relatively long-lasting or recurring back pain feel improvement shortly after starting chiropractic treatment. The relief is often greater after a month of chiropractic treatment than after seeing a family physician. The chiropractic approach is to find the cause of the pain and treat it directly. This may involve realigning the spine or extremities by chiropractic adjustments, physiotherapy for the muscles and ligaments, rehabilitative exercises, or a combination of these. Sometimes the doctor of chiropractic will suggest exercises or activities to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem. This may provide a long term solution to the condition through prevention.


If you have any further questions about back pain, please feel free to contact my office directly.


Low Back Exercises

Very few people that enter my office with acute or chronic low back pain can honestly say that they do low back  exercises or stretches on regular and preventative basis. This is one of the many reasons why they are in the predicament they are in. Therefore, I thought it would be worthwhile to teach you a few simple low back exercises so that you can get started before you begin to suffer with symptoms.

simple low back exercises1

Starting Position: Lie on your back on a table or firm surface. Both knees bent, feet flat on the table.

Action: Cross your arms over your chest. Turn your head (trunk) to the right as you turn both knees to the left. Allow your knees to relax and go down without forcing. Hold for fifteen seconds. Bring knees back up, head to center. Reverse directions. Do each side five times.

 simple low back exercises2

Starting Position: Kneel down on the floor and assume the “all-four’s” position. Keep your head straight so that the gaze of your eyes is toward the floor.

Action: Slowly allow your trunk to sag as far as you can so that your back is arched. Do not pull it down, but let it relax as you lift up your face towards the ceiling. Then round your back up at the waist as far as you can by contracting your lower abdominal muscles as you lower the top of your head toward the floor. All motion should be initiated from your low back. Hold each of these positions for five to ten seconds and repeat five times.

 simple low back exercises3

Starting Position: Kneel on a mat with your knees and ankles. Allow your buttocks to rest on your heels.

Action: Take your upper body over so you are in a crouched position with your arms stretched out in front of you. Relax in this position and then slowly move forward with your elbows straight into a press-up position. Hold for fifteen seconds and repeat five times.


If you do at least these three exercises as described above each and every day, your low back joints will remain mobile and the muscles will stay flexible. If these exercises are combined with regular chiropractic care, the results are even more significant. If you feel any pain during these exercises, stop immediately and see your chiropractor!