In modern chiropractic treatment, hands-on, manual manipulations still rule the day. However, new technologies are constantly emerging and being embraced both in the clinical setting and within the chiropractic education and training sector.
A primary area of cutting-edge tech that’s transforming chiropractic education is laser, ultrasound, nerve system diagnostics and simulation equipment.
It’s worth noting that simulation as an educational tool has been around for decades. It has been readily adopted and has become an integral aspect in the training of the kinds of professions where jobs involve the health and safety of the lives of other people.
For example, among the best example of a well-developed simulation-training standard is in the aviation industry. Beginning in the 1980s, it became a universal practice for flight schools to train pilots inside cockpit simulators. It requires 1,500 hours of flight time to gain a private pilot’s license. The average pilot-in-training today logs about 75 hours of that time inside the fully immersive environment of a simulator.
Simulation Comes to Chiropractic Training
Thus, while simulation technology for educational training has been around for decades, it is only recently that advances in hardware and software have made it possible to create highly realistic “virtual environments” for other professions.
Leading the way today in simulation-enabled training is the field of chiropractic medicine. A closer look shows how other kinds of simulation tools are an excellent match for the rigorous demands of earning a license to become a chiropractor.
Consider that in the U.S. and Canada, chiropractors complete a minimum of three years of university-level education, usually in pre-med but others get their B.S. degree in biology or science. Then it takes four years to five years of chiropractic college to get licensed to practice chiropractic medicine.
It’s a field that requires a lot more than book learning. Chiropractic students must complete hundreds of hours of hands-on training using real human subjects under the close supervision of highly qualified faculty. They may also work with dissecting cadavers to get a thorough understanding of human anatomy.
Working with real people or cadavers poses obvious limitations, risks and problems. If a portion of that vital training can be assisted by simulation hours of training, it moves forward the quality and efficiency of producing new chiropractic professionals who can establish practices that provide comfort and relief to people in pain.
Chiropractic simulation labs are now becoming an increasing facet of preparing candidates to master the art and science of chiropractic medicine. Two examples where extensive use of simulation equipment is used in training are the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto and the Cleveland University-Kansas City College of Chiropractic (CUKC) in Overland Park, Kansas.
Both facilities employ Force Sensing Table Technology (FSTT), a Cox 8 force-sensing table and an array of training aids that help students fine-tune the outcomes of their motor skill training. Studies show that just two hours of working with the FSTT dramatically improve their abilities and skill-sets.
A Force Sensing Table is a device that basically duplicates the shape and size of the average human torso. Embedded within the device are sensitive treatment tables that enable students to fine-tune the pressure they use as they apply adjustments to spinal columns and other anatomical features.
Instructors first walk their students through the procedure in painstaking detail, starting with how to stand before a treatment subject. The instructor demonstrates the treatment process and then walks the student through the same procedure. The latter provides invaluable guided hands-on practice — and because a simulator is being used, the practice procedure can be repeated as many times as necessary. This mitigates the need to use real test subjects while providing the same level of feedback.
The value of immediate objective feedback cannot be overstated. The students get a vivid, real-time idea about the amplitude and velocity of a manual thrust procedure. The results of their hand motions are digitally displayed in a force-time profile readout. It takes away the guesswork because all effects are quantified and can be compared to the force-time result of experienced professionals.
Another important area where advancing technologies that are changing chiropractic medicine the diagnostics process. Before a doctor can treat a patient, he or she needs to accurately access the nature or cause of the problem. For years, about the only technology employed by chiropractors has been an X-Ray. This could give the practitioner an “inside look” at where alignment problems were occurring in the spine. That combined with s careful interview of the patient is what led to an accurate diagnosis.
But new tools are emerging and being seen in chiropractic offices in many locations
One of them is surface electromyography (EMG). This is a technique for evaluating the electrical activity produced with the muscles of the skeleton. An electromyograph is used to create an electromyogram. This readout can show where abnormalities exist. It can show the amount of fatigue in a muscle. This provides a chiropractor with an important clue as to how a joint or skeletal feature is producing problems with pain, weakness or other disorders.
Another important function of the EMG is nerve conduction testing, a measure of nerve function within the muscles. It can indicate where the pain is being produced in the limbs. It can also show weakness caused by spinal nerve compression.
Once an EMG diagnostics readout is obtained, treatments called Needle Electromyography can be administered. This procedure has been limited to neurologists in the past, but now some states allow its use in a chiropractic setting.
An example of a chiropractor using EMG diagnostics today is Dr. Patrick Dougherty of the Chiropractic LifeCenter in Spokane, Washington. He called chiropractors “nervous system doctors.” He added: “If your nervous system does not work right, you don’t work right!”
In his practice, Dr. Dougherty employs Myovision and Insight Millennium equipment to conduct surface electromyography tests. The EMG allows a chiropractor to show their patients exactly where they have a nerve disturbance on a computer readout. It also shows muscle imbalance and even where muscle weakness exists.
This is why schools of chiropractic training are now including instruction and time in working with surface electromyography.
Other New Training Devices Used in Chiropractic Training
Lasers are among the latest additions to chiropractic treatment. Cold lasers deploy specific light wavelengths to induce healing. The practitioner holds a flashlight-sized laser on the injured area for about a minute. It emits safe and painless light that penetrates deep into soft layers of tissue. The result is relief from pain and reduced inflammation. That leads to healing.
We are all familiar with the use of ultrasound to image a fetus developing inside a mother’s womb. In Chiropractic use, ultrasound uses sound waves to transfer heat to soft tissues. A small device is placed on an affected area where the ultrasound’s heat can bolster circulation, alleviate stiffness and pain and foster healing.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
In this treatment mode, electrodes placed on the skin to initiate electric muscle stimulation. It transmits an electric current to injured areas to reduce pain and promote healing. At higher frequencies, the electric current actually exercises muscles and wears them out to stop muscle spasms.
Traction has long been used for people with arthritis or degenerative disease. It works by taking the tension off of spinal discs or joints. It then delicately stretches the spine of patients who are harnessed to the table for the procedure. Traction releases pressure from compressed nerves and discs. This is what caused numbness, tingling and weakness. When paired with manual manipulations, traction is a powerful way to space out the spine and put it in alignment.
Intersegmental Traction Table
The intersegmental traction table is a step beyond a massage table. Designed to move the spine, patients recline on the table while a roller moves up and down creating motion between the vertebrae. This loosens them and relaxes those muscles that feed joints with synovial fluid. The allows greater movement without pain.
New Tools, New Training
The advent of these new kinds of technologies has dramatically changed the curriculum of accredited chiropractic colleges and training institutions. Candidates for modern chiropractic practice today are increasingly entering a field where technology is becoming more important in a profession that has long considered its basic hands-on and nontechnical approach an advantage and alternative to mainstream medical practice.
It’s all a question of proper balance, say observers of the industry. Manual manipulation still and should still be the dominant mode of treatment. So far, technological tools for chiropractic practice remain non-invasive, drug-free and hold a supportive role in the traditional, effective treatment.