If you’ve every seen a chiropractor for an extended period of time, then you have likely had some exposure some, how shall we say, different exercises.

You know, the classic exercises that chiropractors LOVE, like: cat-camel (which is sometimes called the cat-cow), bird-dog, dead-bug, glute bridge, neutral pelvis, etc. This very specific style of exercise tends to mostly focus on a few key things (besides awesome names!!): core strength, core stability, and muscle firing patterns, among many other things.

One of the many daily questions I receive in the clinic goes as follows: So, what are these rehabilitation exercises all about, anyway? Are they going to make my core stronger? Should I be doing them? If so, how often and how many?

Not so fast, little buddy.

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In general, the exercises that most chiropractors will prescribe are very basic. When you have access to a Sports Chiropractor, he or she will likely have a different, more thorough approach to this phase of care. But, in general, most chiropractors “prescribe” the same exercises.

Let’s highlight a few key points here that are worth talking about: the phase of your current care and the details of the exercises probably matter most. 

Phase of care: this is very important to consider for several reasons. From a medical standpoint, the phase of your care generally relates to your injury status and probable time to recovery. Think: acute ankle sprain or chronic lower back pain. 

This is one of those topics that you could ask 10 different chiropractors about you would probably get at least 10 different answers. There are some chiropractic approaches that really emphasize the mobilization phase and stabilization phase. Some chiropractors emphasize spinal curvatures, and will base their phases on the degree (or lack thereof) of your cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. A pain-relief and injury clinic will likely look at you as either acute, sub-acute, and chronic. Hell, some chiropractors (let’s be honest) base their care on what your insurance will cover!!

My approach is simple, especially when it comes to exercise prescription: first I want to put out any fires (ie. decrease pain), then I want to make sure the fires don’t come back (ie. provide at-home care).

This means that, after we cut down the initial bout of pain, I really want my patients to focus on their at-home exercises instead of using other ways to manage their pain, such as pain medication. Exercise has been shown to be at least as effective as pain medication at decreasing pain in chronic lower back pain, and it will likely lead to an improved quality of life.

Details of exercises: Here it is, the lynchpin of exercise prescription.

No one would argue with you that details are important, especially when it comes to exercise. So, it stands to reason that the depth and breadth of the at-home exercise prescriptions are very important.

Generally, proper details require that the person giving the exercises not only have the knowledge, but also experience in doing them. Think about it- would you want someone giving you instructions on how to train a dog if they had never actually trained their own? What about driving a car? Or maintaining your garden? You get the idea…  

Simply put, the person giving you exercises should know what each exercise is supposed to feel like, in conjunction with what muscles are being used and what the proper muscle firing patterns should look like.

That’s just the beginning.

When providing someone with at-home exercises, there should be specific details provided, including but not limited to: sets, reps, tempo, strategies, external cueing, and load.

All of this equates to hands-on time from your chiropractor. If you are not getting that, you are definitely NOT receiving proper details and instructions.

Bottom-Line: All of this is said to essentially throw caution to the wind. If you have been given exercises by your chiropractor, great! But, unless they have taken the time and energy to ensure that you are doing the exercises correctly, you should proceed with caution. With so many different points to consider with each given exercise, it is essential that you know the specific nuances of your exercises. Especially if you feel like you might be doing them wrong…