A woman receiving a chiropractic procedure using the activator method.

Gentle Chiropractic Care

While chiropractic care is now mainstream, when I was a kid in the 80s, it was unfamiliar to many people. However, my mom swore by it. The story goes that when I was a baby I experienced chronic ear infections, and one was so bad that my screams were unrelenting in spite of medication.

Desperate, my mom took me to her chiropractor, who gave my tiny self an adjustment that led to fluid releasing from my ear. The pressure alleviated, I stopped crying. At that, my mom went from a believer to a devotee.

Pain relief with chiropractic care

In middle school, she took me to the chiropractor on a fairly regular basis. At that time, the rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD] I would be diagnosed with at age 22 was not on anyone’s radar. From the time I was around eight, doctors told me my frequent wrist and ankle pain was due to sprains and tendonitis.

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As I entered my teen years, my knees were often painful. When my mom took me to her chiropractor, I found that having my body in alignment reduced my discomfort significantly. I then began going whenever the pain in my knees ratcheted up, which was every few weeks. Each visit gave me temporary relief.

Traditional chiropractic care

In the decades since, I’ve gone to chiropractors sporadically. Even though I’ve found it helpful, I’ve always hated the moment before a chiropractor makes an adjustment.

Tensing up before an adjustment

In traditional chiropractic care, the practitioner positions one’s body in a specific way, and then exerts force to cause joints to “pop.” I’ve heard this referred to as “crunching and cracking,” and that’s what it feels like. Even though I have a positive association with the outcome, my body tenses up right before the force is exerted, and a part of me is always hoping that the chiropractor doesn’t mess up.

Also, tense muscles are an ongoing issue for me and, they not only hurt but, they also increase pain in the joints they pull on. Pain is such a feature in my life that the last thing I want to do is risk increasing it by a poorly executed adjustment, and even the pre-adjustment muscle tensing can feel like tempting fate.

The Activator Method of chiropractic care

Enter the Activator Method of chiropractic care. A couple of years ago, a massage therapist I trust recommended I visit a chiropractor who uses a non-traditional, far gentler method of aligning the body. I decided to try it out, and I have never looked back.

Rather than using his hands to exert pressure on my body, the chiropractor uses a tool called an activator. It is a spring-loaded, hand-held tool. The chiropractor places it against the body in strategic locations, clicks the mechanism, and it exerts a quick, low-pressure thrust that has been compared to having one’s reflexes tested during a physical exam.

It is so minimal that, compared to the “crunch and crack” of traditional chiropractic care, one might wonder how it could possibly be effective.

Is the Activator Method effective?

The theory behind it is that this small jolt of pressure is enough to cause a chain reaction within the body. My chiropractor demonstrates this with one of those desk toys that has a row of metal balls hanging from wires, where when you pull a sphere from one end and release it, it transmits the force to the ball on the other end and back again, over and over.

How does this help with alignment?

He says the spine and other body parts work similarly, and that adjusting one causes a ripple effect in others. When the spine is in alignment, the body distributes its weight evenly. However when out of alignment, certain parts of the body are carrying more than their share of the body’s weight, leading to muscles tightening in their effort to compensate, and tugging on joints in the process.

Seeing a chiropractor for RA joint pain

I have found the Activator Method to be incredibly effective. I began going to this chiropractor due to an RA/RD flare that was worst in my hip and sacroiliac joints. I’d been in intense pain for days. Within 12 hours after my adjustment, the pain decreased by about eighty percent.

It’s amazing what a difference that small little nudge from the activator makes. If I’m feeling pretty good and just going for a follow-up appointment, the pressure from the activator feels inconsequential. However, if I’m going because I’m in pain, the exact same pressure feels so intense, it momentarily takes my breath away.

Sometimes the chiropractor places the activator in the location of my pain, and other times he clicks on places I never would have known were linked to the source of my discomfort. Yet, the intensity of the low-pressure click lets me know the two spots are linked and gives me faith in his understanding of how my anatomy works.

Chiropractic care as part of my RA toolbox

Since adding the Activator Method of chiropractic care to my RA/RD toolbox, I’ve felt a little more in control of this unpredictable disease. While adjustments don’t eliminate my joint pain nor prevent future flares, so far every time I go for pain in my knees, hips, SI joints, back, neck, or shoulders, I do have a decrease in pain. Being able to schedule some relief for this challenging disease is a blessing.

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