Do your patients brush their teeth, floss, and visit their dentist once or twice each year? You’d sure hope so! Oral hygiene has become part and parcel of modern life, and we’re all the better for it. Where tooth decay and gum disease were once common problems, most Americans now keep their teeth healthy and clean. And while some people still don’t take care of their teeth, you’ll rarely hear anyone defend infrequent brushing, flossing, and dental appointments.
Unfortunately, few people think the same way about their spines — at least for now. Not surprisingly, 31 million Americans experience low back pain at any given time, and according to the American Chiropractic Association, approximately 80 percent of the population will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Many chiropractors are trying to change the status quo, however with a concept called spinal hygiene.
Similar to oral hygiene, good spinal hygiene requires regular “maintenance” — exercises, stretching, and relaxations that offers relief from the rigors of daily life. Some of these exercises may be intuitive to patients, such as flexion and extension of the neck and spine, but good habits require consistent reinforcement, especially when they deviate from patients’ usual routines. Prolonged sitting, sleeping face-down, and poor posture are common in most populations. These issues present perfect opportunities for patient education.
Like oral hygiene, spinal hygiene also requires regular visits with a specialist — in this case, a chiropractor. Even if your patients are diligent with their spine-healthy habits, optimal health requires that they see you for assessments and adjustments. Just as regular dental checkups can curtail minor toothaches and decay; chiropractic visits can address small subluxations before they cause debilitating back pain. In the long run, these regular visits may even save patients from the significant medical expenses they would incur from surgeries, orthotics, and prescription medications.
Chiropractors understand that as the housing of the nervous system, the spine can influence all manner of musculoskeletal and systemic conditions. Oral hygiene is likewise important in avoiding infections, heart disease, and respiratory problems. While the general population understands the widespread benefits of a clean mouth, they haven’t caught on to the far-reaching effects of a healthy spine. From better sleep to improved athletic performance to a reduction in headaches, a few minutes each day spent on spinal hygiene can have a significant impact on patients’ quality of life.
Because spinal hygiene has more to do with education than sales, it’s an excellent approach to earning your patients’ trust. Instead of selling adjustments or assessments outright, you’re giving people the information they need to take control of their own health. The more knowledge and acceptance you generate among your patients, the more likely they are to prioritize their spinal hygiene — and the more they’ll trust your professional opinion.
Ultimately, spinal hygiene may be the chiropractic industry’s best response to the rise of managed care. Because current managed care models limit reimbursements, many patients only seek chiropractic care once they’re already in pain. Dentistry used to be the same way, with most patients only checking in for toothaches, cavities, and root canals.
Fortunately these changes are possible with or without the help of insurance industry reform. By focusing on spinal hygiene within your community, you can encourage current and future patients to be more proactive with their health through exercise, better posture, and regular visits. Plenty of people still pay out-of-pocket for dental checkups, after all, realizing the long-term benefits and peace of mind they stand to gain. The same can become a reality for long-term spinal hygiene.
Spinal hygiene also presents myriad opportunities to sell products and partner with like-minded companies. From nutritional supplements to exercise equipment to mattresses, pillows and orthotics, there are plenty of products your patients can use to reduce pain and improve the health of their spines. Once you’ve earned acceptance and trust from your patients regarding spinal hygiene, selling those products can become an integral part of your practice.