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Chiropractic for Seniors– What I’ve Learned

There are some things they just can’t teach you in school. You have to learn from experience.

The chi­ro­prac­tic edu­ca­tion I got (from New York Chi­ro­prac­tic Col­lege in the late 1970’s) was thor­ough as far as it went. They couldn’t have crammed much more into those four years.

Of course we learned the dis­tinc­tion between acute and chronic con­di­tions, stud­ied many aspects of the aging process, and mas­tered a vari­ety of man­ual ther­apy tech­niques so that we’d always have an appro­pri­ate option ready to use regard­less of the age or health sta­tus of a patient.

But in the years since, as I’ve aged and the aver­age age of my patients has increased, too, I’ve learned much more about the dif­fer­ent ways a doc­tor of chi­ro­prac­tic has to care for indi­vid­u­als as they progress through their fifties, six­ties, sev­en­ties, and beyond.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

Trau­matic injuries ver­sus long term wear and tear

An ath­letic guy in his thir­ties can read­ily tear one of his rota­tor cuff ten­dons throw­ing a base­ball or swing­ing a ten­nis racket. The con­di­tion is painful and impairs the abil­ity to move the shoul­der. Sur­gi­cal repair is an option, and the results are typ­i­cally favorable.

In con­trast, if you’re over sixty you could have a tear in a rota­tor cuff ten­don and not even real­ize it. You might have lit­tle or no pain and no notice­able func­tional impair­ment. Often­times the con­di­tion doesn’t even require treat­ment, and when it does, sur­gi­cal repair is rarely the first option.

Despite the fact that they’re given the same name, a rota­tor cuff tear (for exam­ple) is an almost com­pletely dif­fer­ent diag­nos­tic entity in an older per­son as com­pared to a younger person.

The human organ­ism is resource­ful. Even as long-term wear and tear begins to affect you, a com­plex web of adap­ta­tions often allows you to con­tinue func­tion­ing in those ways that are most mean­ing­ful to you.

Loss of elas­tic tis­sue function

Flex­i­bil­ity and elas­tic­ity are two dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties of your mus­cu­lar and skele­tal sys­tems. Flex­i­bil­ity is a mea­sure of how far you can move your joints and stretch your mus­cles. Elas­tic­ity refers to how read­ily the body snaps back to its start­ing posi­tion once it’s been stretched.

If your exer­cise pro­gram includes reg­u­lar activ­i­ties that expand your range of motion, you can main­tain flex­i­bil­ity through­out life. But no mat­ter what pro­gram of healthy liv­ing, nutri­tion, or exer­cise you adopt, it’s nearly impos­si­ble to pre­vent loss of tis­sue elas­tic­ity as you age.

Loss of tis­sue elas­tic­ity is the rea­son that older ath­letes, no mat­ter how strong their mus­cles are, can’t get as much power into their ten­nis fore­hand or golf swing. When a younger ath­lete winds up for a stroke, she’s stor­ing energy in her con­nec­tive tis­sues. As she fol­lows through with the swing, her con­nec­tive tis­sues spring back, releas­ing that stored energy and deliv­er­ing more power to the racket or club head.

The pas­sive energy-storage-and-rebound effect hap­pens to a much lesser degree in an older athlete.

Loss of elas­tic­ity is one of the rea­sons that older peo­ple have to move into and out of body posi­tions more grad­u­ally. For instance, when you bend for­ward, you stretch the inter­ver­te­bral discs of the low back. When a younger per­son straight­ens back up, those discs snap back into line. But the discs of an older per­son have lost their elas­tic­ity and can’t snap back – instead, they ooze back into place. That takes longer. If you move too quickly, a frag­ment of your disc can get pinched.

Longer heal­ing time

Heal­ing takes time. In an older per­son, it takes more time. That’s because the body sys­tems respon­si­ble for heal­ing – diges­tion, endocrine func­tion, enzyme activ­ity, among oth­ers – all become more slug­gish as we age.

To some degree, you can fight back with bet­ter nutri­tion, reg­u­lar bal­anced exer­cise, main­tain­ing healthy intesti­nal flora, mas­sage to improve cir­cu­la­tion, and other health measures.

Loss of brain quick­ness and its effect on movement

As you age, your nerve responses slow down. That puts you at a dis­ad­van­tage when it comes to quickly answer­ing ques­tion on Jeop­ardy. But it also makes your move­ment responses slower.

Slow­ing down of nerve response time is one of the main rea­sons seniors are at risk of los­ing their bal­ance and falling.

Chang­ing expectations

With younger patients, my goal (in gen­eral) is to find out what their prob­lem is and fix it. But for an older per­son, the pur­pose becomes more one of man­ag­ing a com­bi­na­tion of longer term prob­lems. For­tu­nately, peo­ple of every age can improve their health and fitness.

Sense of humor

A sense of humor gives a health boost to any­one, young or old. But for an older per­son, tak­ing an irrev­er­ent view of life isn’t optional, it’s essential.

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One Response to “Chiropractic for Seniors– What I’ve Learned”

  1. George Blomme says:

    Top notch newslet­ter and very impor­tant for we aging folks to know about and understand.

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