Is it Safe to Exercise after Chiropractic Adjustments?
posted: Sep. 01, 2022.
Do I need to wait awhile to exercise after getting adjusted?
I spent five years as a strength and conditioning coach during the first part of my chiropractic career. Helping individuals meet their physical fitness goals in addition to helping them reduce their spinal pain and dysfunction really helped me see how critical physical activity is to the properly functioning spine.
A really common question we get after adjusting a patient, especially one who exercises regularly, is:
- Do I need to wait awhile before working out?
- Won't I get hurt if I work out to soon?
The assumption that injury risk from exercise might be greater after an adjustment is a reasonable one. The spine can feel more flexible, and sometimes even a little unstable after an adjustment, so exercising, particularly resistance exercise is risky, isn't it? Most of our patients don't want to reverse any of the progress we have made.
In order to address this concern, we have to answer two key questions:
- Does adjusting create instability in the spine?
- Does a chiropractic adjustment help or hurt your ability to move and lift with proper form?
Here, we aim to tackle these questions... with science.
First, let's define and describe what exercise is:
Exercise is essentially pre-determined movement patterns done for a set number of repetitions in order to improve some health metric.
Running for example is made up of hundreds to thousands of strides done over a set distance in order to put a load on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system in order to improve heart and circulatory health, and overall endurance capacity.
Weight lifting, particularly isolation type weight lifting such as biceps curls, place a load on small muscle groups in order to fatigue the muscle tissue and stimulate blood flow and muscle hypertrophy, or growth.
Combinations of these exercises help to mitigate a sedentary lifestyle, and train the body to adapt to a variety of conditions.
With all this, a healthy nervous system is critical. The brain and connecting spinal cord and nerves that branch from it are what make up your nervous system. It functions in two key ways:
The autonomic nervous system controls all of the functions that are involuntary. Sweating, increased breath rate, increased heart rate, increases in blood vessel size and capacity or vasodilation, and adrenaline surges are all commonly experienced parts of high intensity exercise, and are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is all about conscious control of movement. The basic movements that the human body can do are: Squat, lunge, push, pull, twist, bend, and gait, (or walking and running).
In order to make an informed recommendation as to whether to wait after adjusting to exercise, we have to look at what the research says on the subject, specifically on whether adjusting your spine helps improve exercise.
Research has found that chiropractic adjustments appear to improve overall nervous system function. Three recent papers seem to indicate that chiropractic adjusting has a profound effect on the function of the nervous system. These three studies investigate chiropractic's effect on Major depression, reaction time doing a motor task, and pain threshold.
A recent study on major depression reviewed available literature on depression and reports that Major depression is related in part to improper regulation of the balance of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two parts:
- sympathetic system, which controls fight or flight type functions,
and the parasympathetic system, which controls rest and relax type functions.
An imbalance between the two sides has been shown to contribute to major depressive disorder. Adjustments seem to be effective at improving this balance, and improving overall depression symptoms. Chiropractic adjustments were shown in part, to improve the balance between the two sides of the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
Another intriguing piece of research came out in 2019. Reaction time was measured in special forces operatives demonstrating no spinal pain, and then measured again after a chiropractic adjustment
A single session of Chiropractic manipulative therapy (CMT) was shown to have an immediate effect of reducing the time required for SOF personnel to do a complex whole-body motor response task.
That is – they were faster doing firearm and other motor drills after being adjusted.
Another study, this time investigating change in the pain experience, seems to indicate that chiropractic adjustments to the spine improve the function of the central nervous system.
The experimental group had subjects undergo pain rating testing using icy cold water before and after being adjusted. The pain rating of the experimental group was largely unchanged, whereas the control group, who received “sham” adjustments, noticed pain rating going down during the post procedure assessment.
This may make it seem like being adjusted makes you more sensitive to pain. On further investigation, the researchers discovered that adjusting seems to help “reset” the pain sensation pathways, which can provide critical protection against chronic pain syndromes.
These studies demonstrate from three very different perspectives that chiropractic adjusting has a profound effect on the function of the nervous system.
This overall improvement in nervous system function is what guides movement as a whole, particularly during exercise.
With this in mind, I tend to recommend exercising as normal, and not to change anything about the schedule, just because your spine was adjusted today.
This has some caveats. I'll recommend NOT working out if the following is true:
If your spine is demonstrating evidence of instability or loss of balance or control.
These types of conditions are generally related to sprain or strain injuries such as with trauma like a car accident. They can also be a result of habitual back cracking, or a genetic condition like Ehlers-Danlos.
This is something that a good chiropractor would notice when they treated you, and they'd make the recommendation to take it easy right there during your visit.
If you never work out, or took months-years off since the last time you exercised.
The crucial motor patterns needed for safe exercise are carefully developed habits. If you're out of practice, take it easy!
Overall, just because you got adjusted today, doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise. Take it easy if you're new or out of practice, or your spine is just not ready for it. Otherwise, get moving!
If you have any questions about working out after seeing your Bozeman Chiropractor, Give us a call! 406-551-2177