Definition and Overview
A chiropractic follow-up is an appointment with a chiropractor scheduled after a previous visit. Its purpose depends mostly on how the previous visit went.
If a follow-up is scheduled after an initial consultation and after the results of diagnostic tests are released, the purpose is to explain the results of the tests as well as the patient’s possible treatment options. The appointment ends with the doctor providing his treatment recommendations based on his findings or diagnosis.
However, if a follow-up is scheduled after treatment, its purpose is to assess the results of the treatment and check if more treatment is needed.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A chiropractic follow-up is recommended for all patients who either need treatment or has undergone treatment. In some cases, follow-up does not just refer to a single visit, but to a series of visits done on a regular basis at certain intervals. These visits aim to continue improving the patient’s condition and are necessary for serious chiropractic conditions that require long-term therapy and regular adjustments. While some people may require just a few visits, some may need several months of continuous care. On average, patients are scheduled for 6 to 12 follow-up regular visits.
More specifically, chiropractic treatment can benefit patients who suffer from the following conditions:
- Low back pain
- Chronic back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Degenerative disc disease
- Slipped disc
- Degenerative joint disease, more commonly known as osteoarthritis
- Golfer’s elbow
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Piriformis syndrome
- Any athletic injury
These patients may be about to begin or in the middle of chiropractic treatment, which may involve:
- Spinal manipulation
- Soft tissue therapy
- Muscle stretching
- Joints mobilization
At the end of a chiropractic follow-up, the patient should obtain:
- A diagnosis
- Information about his existing treatment options
- A prognosis or the outlook of his condition
- An improvement in his symptoms
- A regular care plan, which includes the chiropractor’s recommended schedule of follow-up visits
- Continued advice on lifestyle, exercise and proper ergonomics
At the end of a long-term chiropractic follow-up care plan, the patient may expect to experience an improvement in his pain and other symptoms, mobility and range of motion.
How Does the Procedure Works
A chiropractic follow-up scheduled after an initial consultation will be performed once the results of diagnostic tests are ready. On the other hand, a follow-up after treatment has been provided can be scheduled a few days after the procedure, and may either be scheduled regularly or only when the patient needs it. Regular follow-ups are usually scheduled once a week, once a month, or once every couple of months, depending on what the patient’s condition calls for. However, patients who are undergoing therapy may be advised to return two to three days after the first session until the treatment is completed.
Although patients are provided with a follow-up care schedule, they are welcome to visit their chiropractor anytime if they feel the need to. Most follow-up visits take just around 15 to 30 minutes, but may take longer if chiropractic adjustments and new diagnostic tests are necessary.
The exact manner in which follow-ups are performed is based on the patient’s current condition and symptoms. If the patient does not have any new symptoms or does not feel his old symptoms, the chiropractor may just ask a few questions before sending him home. However, if some of the old symptoms seem to be coming back, the visit may involve a chiropractic adjustment. If new symptoms are detected, the chiropractor may want to look into them and may thus request for some imaging scans, such as x-rays, musculoskeletal sonography, or MRI scans.
Chiropractic adjustments, which are considered as the central part of chiropractic care, refer to therapeutic movements that the chiropractor performs by hand. The purpose of these adjustments is to free the joints in the parts of the body where the patient is starting to feel the symptoms. To do so, the chiropractor will perform a short thrust to the joint using controlled force and gentle pressure. It is normal for this to cause a slightly loud crack caused by the bubbles of gas that pop out when the pressure in the joints is released. The procedure does not require patients to remove their clothing, but they are advised to wear loose and comfortable clothes during their follow-up sessions.
Adjustments are also often followed by other non-manual therapies, such as heat and ice packs, electrical stimulation, orthotic devices, rehabilitative exercise, diet and lifestyle counseling and nutritional supplementation. All of these will be discussed during each follow-up visit.
Investigative imaging scans, on the other hand, are usually performed by different practitioners on a different day. The chiropractor may help the patient obtain an appointment with the right facility.
Possible Risks and Complications
A chiropractic follow-up visit is a safe, routine appointment that poses little to no risk to the patient. Chiropractic itself has a high safety rating compared to other branches of medicine because it does not involve invasive surgery or medications. Thus, there is no risk of negative side effects, infection and bleeding.
Chiropractic treatments only cause very minimal discomfort as chiropractors are trained to use only the right level of force and pressure. Despite the audible cracking sound they make, chiropractic adjustments are guaranteed safe. However, although the procedure itself is painless, it may cause some discomfort if the patient already has an existing pain condition. If, for some reason, a patient cannot tolerate the adjustments, milder techniques will be used.
Most chiropractic conditions have a tendency to recur, so it is important to show up for follow-up appointments and seek adjustments when needed. Doing so will help prevent injury and keep the pain and other symptoms from coming back.
- Johnson C, Rubinstein SM, Côté P, et al. Chiropractic Care and Public Health: Answering Difficult Questions About Safety, Care Through the Lifespan, and Community Action. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 2012 (35);7:493-513.