Can Chiropractors Help with Range of Motion?

Aug 30, 2021Blog Post, Chiropractic

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In the history of international sporting events, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will forever be remembered for having been celebrated in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams of athletes and their support staff members had to accommodate to bubble-like conditions and restrictions such as social distancing not only during events but also in the Olympic Village, and this added up to an extraordinary atmosphere. When Tokyo 2020 organizers made lists of who would be allowed to travel to Japan and stay with the athletes in the Olympic Village, some support staff members were not included because of the overall intent to reduce the potential of contagion as much as possible; however, this did not apply to team chiropractors.

Many Olympic athletes these days would not think about traveling to competitions without the chiropractic practitioners they have forged close working relationships with. The inclusion of chiropractors in Olympic teams is relatively new. In 2010, the chiropractic discipline made its Olympic debut in Vancouver during the Winter Games. A couple of years later, quite a few Olympic teams traveled to London for the Summer Games of the XXX Olympiad along with chiropractors. The national teams that brought the largest number of chiropractors to London were:

  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

In the case of Team USA, 200 chiropractors traveled to London on a volunteer basis, which meant that they had to pay their own way, but by the time the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were celebrated, they were full-time team members whose presence was demanded by many Olympic athletes. The Olympic disciplines that tend to request chiropractic care the most are:

  • Boxing
  • Judo
  • Volleyball
  • Weightlifting

You may be wondering whether the athletic disciplines listed above have something in common, and the answer is yes: They all require a certain degree of physiological performance related to range of motion, and it makes perfect sense that Olympic boxers, judokas, weightlifters, and volleyball players resort to chiropractic therapy in order to ensure that their range of motion stays optimal during competition.

Understanding Range of Motion

When we talk about range of motion, we are referring to the distance and angles at which various joints are able to effectively travel. In other words, we are talking about the range of flexion and extension. Since the anatomy of joints is largely circular, range of motion is typically measured from zero to 360 degrees, although sports medicine professionals are known to include distance measurements of limbs in terms of competitive performance.

All joints and articulations have ideal ranges of motion. When a joint is limited in terms of range of motion, its functionality may be impaired or reduced, thus resulting in lower quality of life or even a risk of injury. Various factors can affect range of motion; we should not assume that our joints are problematic if they are not able to move at their full range. In many cases, painful conditions such as neuralgias can prevent normal range of motions. In other cases, the tissue that wraps around the joint may be inflamed or distended. Finally, the muscle tissues involved in the activation of the joints may have stiffened or weakened because of external factors or internal health conditions.

How Range of Motion Fits Within the Chiropractic World

Contrary to what many patients believe, chiropractors are not solely focused on pain relief or rehabilitation. Corrective chiropractic is a specialty that addresses health issues that can either be chronic or acute, but which can be alleviated through wellness plans that include the following steps:

  • Monitor spinal balance.
  • Apply spinal adjustment as needed.
  • Develop plans to regain strength.
  • Promote adequate blood flow.
  • Work towards establishing full range of motion.
  • Monitor condition and improvement.

Range of motion and flexibility are intertwined, but they are not the same physiological concepts. You probably know about people who happen to be very flexible despite being overweight and not necessarily athletic; this can often be explained by genetics. Range of motion is more uniform than flexibility, and it can be assessed through simple exercises such as bending down at the waist for the purpose of touching your toes or getting as close as possible. If you are not able to complete this exercise, you should feel as if you could get there if you were in better shape and more flexible; in this case, you have an awareness of what the range of motion should be.

Let’s say you are not able to touch your toes because you either feel too much pain or a thorough inability to do so. This is different than being out of shape; it is a matter of limited range of motion that can be caused by the aforementioned factors of stiff muscle tissue, neuralgia, inflammation, or a misaligned spine. This is when corrective chiropractic therapy can help you to not only restore range of motion but also work towards improving overall health.

Spinal Range of Motion

Adverse health conditions such as extreme lower back pain, unexplained headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome are related to a limited range of motion in your spine. Let’s take a closer look at carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition known to affect many white-collar workers whose jobs require them to sit and type for quite a few hours a day. The pain and numbness in the hands may not necessarily be related to repetitive motion; in many cases, poor ergonomics are to blame because they compromise spinal health.

Imagine a web programmer who must write, compile, and evaluate thousands of lines of code each day; if she feels more comfortable slouching towards the monitor so that the keyboard sits below her chin, this non-ergonomic position may result in cervical radiculopathy, which can, in turn, devolve into carpal tunnel syndrome. This coder may have proper elbow and wrist placement in addition to strong and nimble fingers, but her median arm nerve will still be affected by her poor sitting posture. Holding this unhealthy position without getting up from the chair to stretch and move around could one day cause cervical misalignment, thus descending into radiculopathy.

Vertebrae can be thrown out of alignment in various ways. As we discussed above, lack of ergonomics can easily do a number on your spine. Sports injuries are notorious for causing subluxation, and they do not necessarily need to be majorly traumatic to impact spinal range of motion. A volleyball player, for example, may not notice that her landings after jump serves are gradually causing her vertebrae to move out of optimal adjustment, and this may bring about bilateral shoulder pain. This is one of many reasons modern Olympic athletes are so fond of chiropractic sessions.

Is Corrective Chiropractic Care Right for You?

Limited or improper range of motion is one of those conditions you can determine is not directly related to being out of shape. Let’s say you try to squat down with your heels flat on the floor, but you are not able to complete the motion because your quadriceps cannot support you; in this case, your full range of motion can probably be restored with proper stretching as well as a fitness program.

If your inability to squat down is related to piercing pain from your lower back down to your sacrum, there may be issues related to subluxation. The feeling is completely different than knowing that you simply have not done squats in quite a while. The same goes for not being able to raise your arms above your head because your shoulders feel as if they are frozen in place. These are situations that call for a chiropractic evaluation; in some instances, corrective therapy along with targeted exercises can help you regain normal range of motion. There is no question that life is more enjoyable with a full range of motion.

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