Health advice

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A chiropractor adjusting a woman's neck

Did you know that no two people seeking chiropractic care will receive exactly the same treatment? To find out how he makes his treatment decisions, the chiropractor’s wife decided to ask him some questions. You can read Shelley's interview with Russell Purchon, one of the most trusted chiropractors working in the North East today, here.

Luckily for me I’m married to a chiropractor, who has been adjusting my spine ever since he qualified in 2007. He keeps me standing tall and out of pain, for free! If you receive chiropractic care, then like me you may have noticed that your chiropractor doesn’t do exactly the same thing during every appointment. Recently I’ve started to wonder how Russell knows what to do. So I decided to ask him!

If you’re someone who has yet to receive a chiropractic adjustment, you may have no idea at all what chiropractors do. If so, click on the slideshow at the bottom of the page before reading on - it might help you understand what we’re talking about.

Russell, why don’t you treat everyone the same?

I do invest the same level of care in everyone I see, and I always treat what I find, but what I find varies from person to person. Aches and pains can have so many different causes. I always begin by checking the spine, and then I make the appropriate adjustments, but which part of the spine I adjust will depend on what I find that day.

But if two patients have pain in the same place, don’t you do the same thing?

Not necessarily. Someone might have inflammation and pain in one place which originates somewhere else. For example if your mid back is jammed up and it can’t rotate, your low back may do too much rotation which it’s not designed to do and it can become aggravated. Obviously if I just keep adjusting where the pain is, it isn’t going to help.

How do you read the body, so that you know where the problem lies?

I start by looking at the patient as they stand upright, and the way they are holding themselves tells me a lot. Obviously I ask how they’ve been, and then I look at the whole spine. I push on each joint in turn and a healthy one will have what we call a ‘springy end feel.’ I usually ask them to lie down and start at the feet.

Yes! You pull them, don’t you? Why do you do that?

I’m checking for leg length difference.

Even though they haven’t grown in the night?

I’m not just looking for anatomical leg length difference, I’m looking for functional leg length difference. If one side of the body is tighter, it pulls the leg up. If there’s an imbalance, I can influence that by adjusting the spine in the right place.

With me it’s usually my neck, my thoracic spine and my lumbar spine. Is that right?

I narrow it down much further than that. I know exactly which joint I’m adjusting, they all have numbers like T3 and C4. The thoracic spine alone has 24 joints, and I can target exactly which one to adjust. I don’t adjust the same one every time.

Really? But how do you know which bit to target?

I look at all sorts of different things and build a picture. I check muscle tone and I check joint movement, plus I know which nerves come from which part of the spine so that also helps me to work out where the problem lies. Sometimes there’s swelling too, or the skin might feel hot to the touch.

What if someone’s really sore? Would you adjust them just like you adjust me?

No, if someone’s in a lot of pain I’ll treat them with gentler methods until their problems ease.

How do you help those people to relax?

Over the years I’ve become quite good at sensing people’s pain thresholds and anxiety levels, and I’ll take it very slowly, working within the boundaries of what they can tolerate. But anyway, I always use the minimum force required - sometimes I don’t need to do much to get a result.

Does that change as they start to get better?

Yes, because as things ease up I can do more.

Isn’t there anyone at all who gets the same treatment every time they come in?

Only a minority, where they have a repetitive job which they can’t avoid. They’ll keep coming in with the same problem and I’ll help realign them, but most people’s treatments will evolve as they get better.

What about the fact that I’m really bendy? Does that make it harder for you?

No because I take that into account. Everyone’s got their own natural level of stiffness, so when I’m checking their joint movement I’m always comparing it to the other ones around it and looking for the odd one out.

What if someone’s really old? Are you more gentle with your elderly patients?

I don’t look at age, I look at frailty. A fell walker in his 70s might be more robust than a 55 year old, if that person has had a very sedentary life.

Is that why you’re always nagging me to get some exercise?


Point taken. Well thanks Russell, and thanks for all the adjustments over the years.

You’re welcome.