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.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Do you get wis­er as you get old­er?


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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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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