One of the most common questions that patients ask us is, “How long will it take?”
Some people ask because their #1 concern is that the we are never going to let them go. Maybe they have heard the “once you go you always have to go” myth that some people say about chiropractors. If that’s you, I have good news. It’s not true. We aren’t going to hold you hostage. Our goal is always to get you better, and back to what you love doing as quickly as possible.
That’s not the reason that most people ask that question. The majority of people who ask, “How long will it take?” are asking because they are in pain or in some way hampered, and they would like to get back to normal as soon as possible. That makes perfect sense.
If patients had their way, they would get better instantly. I jokingly refer to that concept as patients wanting a “Jesus visit.” That’s when they go into their chiropractor’s office, get an adjustment, and are instantly better. Healed! It does happen, and when it does believe me when I say it that we are just as excited as you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work that way, but your body takes time to heal.
It’s also important to note that healing and feeling are not the same things. There are times when a medication or a treatment can help your body feel better quickly, but that doesn’t mean it has healed yet.
If your pain/problem comes back as soon as the medicine wears off, your body hasn’t yet fully healed. The same is true of treatment. If your pain/problem comes back a few days after your treatment, your body hasn’t yet fully healed. That doesn’t necessarily mean the medicine/treatment isn’t working. It could just be the difference between feeling and healing.
So that brings us back to our original question, “How long will it take?” Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact answer. It depends on the problem. It depends on the person. There are a lot of factors at work. We like to say a few visits, but we will always be as up front with you and honest as possible even though we can’t give you an exact answer.
It’s an oversimplification, but I used to tell my patients that 3 factors would determine how long it would take their body to heal.
First – how old are you? That’s an easy one. Younger people heal faster than older people. The older you get, the more you realize how true that is. If you have kids, or are around kids just watch them play. They fall down, get knocked down, run into things, but still manage to bounce back up without any problems.
Second – how bad is the problem? Not all health problems are the same degree of severity. Let’s use a sprained ankle as an example. On one end of the spectrum, you could have a minor sprain that heals up in 24 hrs. No big deal. On the other end, you could have a major sprain that requires many weeks of rest and therapy to heal. As a general rule, the more severe a health problem is the longer it takes to heal.
Third – how long have you had the problem? Just to clarify, that’s not necessarily the same thing as how long you have felt bad. It’s possible to have a health problem much longer than you have felt bad. Arthritis is a great example. Most people who have arthritis will have it for years before they ever have any pain, if they even have pain at all. As a general rule, the longer you have had a health problem the longer it will take to heal.
Now that I think about it, I should add a fourth and fifth factor.
Fourth – where is the problem? You may not know this, but different parts of the body heal at different rates. Muscles heal faster than ligaments. Ligaments heal faster than bone. Even the different joints of the body heal at different rates. An injury to your elbow is likely to heal much faster than an injury to a more complex joint like your shoulder.
Fifth – are you (the patient) willing to do your part? Healing not only takes time but it also takes participation. Sometimes rest is required. That means the patient has to be willing to slow down or stop. Sometimes nutritional changes are required. That means the patient needs to add something or remove something from their diet to help their body heal. Sometimes stretching or strengthening is required to help heal an injury. Ultimately, a patient who is willing to do their part to help their body heal will heal faster than a patient who doesn’t.
So when you ask your chiropractor the question, “How long will it take?” often times you won’t get a specific answer. Don’t worry…they aren’t avoiding the question just for the sake of avoiding the question. It’s a difficult question to answer because the answer is different for every person.
More often than not, we will take the information that you have given them, and use their clinical experience to give you a timeframe. It’s not set in stone, and we will tell you this. You may do better than expected and heal faster. You may do worse than expected and heal more slowly. Everyone is different.
What does all this mean for you? Well, it means a couple of things. First, it’s important that you understand that healing takes time. If you expect your body to heal instantly, you may quit doing the exact things you should be doing because you aren’t willing to give them the proper amount of time.
Second, it’s important that you have open communication between you and your healthcare providers. You should be able to ask questions and express concerns. They should be able to let you know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. When you and your healthcare providers work together as a team, you are more likely to get positive results faster.
Lastly, it’s important that you do your part. Patients who participate in their care heal MUCH faster than those who don’t. Stretch when it’s time to stretch. Go to your chiropractic appointment when it’s time to go to your appointment. Do your exercises when it’s time to do your exercises. Rest when it’s time to rest.
The bottom line is this…everyone is different. How long it takes your body to heal is going to be different than how long it takes my body to heal. If you want to heal as quickly as possible and get back to normal, you have to be patient and you have to participate in the process. You can do it!