Tom Kelly: Chiropractic improved my lockdown-induced back pain – but how?

Like many of us working remotely during the pandemic, a less-than-ideal home-office set-up has literally proved a pain in the neck – and back – for Irish News columnist Tom Kelly. Here he shares his experience of the chiropractic treatment he has undergone

Chiropractor Dr Neil Murphy – 'I remember the almost instant relief and clarity that followed the first treatment'

AS A columnist and commentator, I have been working from home due to the lockdown. It’s been challenging both mentally and physically. Being a diabetic doesn’t help. Routine was seriously disrupted. I had to make a real effort with my diet and exercise.

Home working is no fun even with unlimited access to Netflix, the fridge, coffee and the biscuit tin. After six months, I began to experience frustratingly annoying neck and back strain. I am not a martyr to pain, but I have an aversion to doctors. So, I turned to Dr Google for a diagnosis and then for a solution.

But with the number of painkillers increasing daily and the pain worsening, I finally sought professional advice from a chiropractor.

I knew little about the treatments and was initially sceptical. I soon discovered my problems were deeper seated than something recent.

Many years ago, a drunk driver hit me while driving on the wrong side of the dual carriageway. Thanks to analysis at the chiropractor clinic, I discovered my neck, spine and pelvis were not aligned as they should be. Lockdown was exacerbating matters through poor posture and long periods of working at the kitchen table. My sleep was restless too.

Although I was not completely sure about what was happening or why, over six weeks of treatments things began to improve including my sleep. The hardest part of the treatment was listening to the cracking sound of air escaping from the joints. I comforted myself with the old saying, “A creaking door hangs the longest”.

With the treatment nearly over, I asked a few questions of my chiropractor, Dr Neil Murphy.

TK: Why did you become a chiropractor?

NM: I fell from a skateboard, hitting my head. I had whiplash to the neck which left me unconscious. The accident caused chronic headaches and my lower back started to become painful. I literally tried every therapy. My father, who also suffered from arthritic lower back pain, suggested trying a chiropractor. I remember the almost instant relief and clarity that followed the first treatment. The course of chiropractic adjustments that followed had such a profound effect on my life and I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.

TK: At its most basic, what is it all about?

NM: Chiropractic treatment is based on the scientific fact that the human body is a self-regulating, self-healing organism. These important functions are controlled by the brain, spinal cord and all the nerves of the body. Because the brain and nervous system control every cell, in all areas of the body interference to the nervous system from a misaligned spinal bone, bulging disc, muscle spasm or inflammation may cause pain or dysfunction.

TK: How does one know if they need an osteopath, physio or chiropractor?

NM: Chiropractic and osteopathy have a lot of similarities in that they both work with the spine and nervous system to promote optimal overall health. Physiotherapists work more on the muscles. I worked for seven years in Dublin city centre in a large multidisciplinary clinic with physios and we would constantly refer patients to one another.

TK: Are you regulated?

NM: In common with other primary healthcare professions in the UK such as medical practitioners and dentists, the chiropractic profession is regulated by law. This means that the title of ‘Chiropractor’ is protected under this legislation. Therefore, it is illegal to practice without being registered with the General Chiropractic Council.

TK: You talk about subluxations – but what are these?

NM: A vertebral misalignment or subluxation is a spinal bone that is not moving through its full range of motion. Spinal misalignments may cause nerve irritation or local muscle spasm and pain. We have 24 highly mobile spinal bones or vertebrae as well as two major pelvic joints.

Chiropractors use a range of techniques to detect these such as digital postural analysis, active and passive range of motion testing, manual motion palpation and neurological and orthopaedic testing. If there is a clinical need and further imaging is necessary, we will take X-Rays.

TK: Is it safe to visit a chiropractic clinic during the pandemic?

NM: Yes. Just like your GP or dentist, we are considered an essential health service and therefore we must adhere to strict governmental procedures such as the continuous wearing of face coverings and PPE.

TK: Have you witnessed an increase in back and neck pain with people homeworking?

NM: With many people now either off work, home schooling children or working from home the number of daily steps that they achieve has also unfortunately reduced. The body was designed to move, not sit in a static position for hours on a laptop or computer screen. Therefore, the more we sit, especially viewing any type of screen, the higher the potential for back or neck issues to arise or become aggravated.

TK: What advice would you give to people working from home?

NM: The best advice is to take regular breaks to stand up or go for a walk. Even a 10-minute regular break walking around the house will be beneficial. In terms of the working position ensure you are working on a desk and chair that are ergonomic for you. Screens should be at eye level or slightly higher. A screen that is beneath eye level will place pressure on the back of your neck and between the shoulder blades. A chair that is too high or a desk that is too low will cause excess compression to build slowly throughout the day through the lower back and hips.

I would urge anybody in neck or back pain to get it checked, especially if the pain has been there for a long time or is getting progressively worse. Do not suffer in silence.

TK: Are there any other benefits from chiropractic treatments?

NM: Some patients report other systems in the body functioning better. The most common things we hear from patients include a reduction of headaches and migraines, improved sleep, energy, and digestive system.

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