Worse Before Better: The Healing Process

We have all been there when your pet is hurting and all you want is for them to feel better. You’re doing everything you can just to get them back to their regular happy, silly self and the last thing you want to hear is that sometimes the healing process includes feeling a little worse before they get better. We totally get it but sometimes it is true.

The animal body is a complex and dynamic system. While chiropractic care often offers fast results with improvements in just a couple treatments, there are times where healing may take longer and unfortunately they can feel a little worse before they start to feel better. Why is this?

Let’s explain:

Healing is not a linear process.

Anyone who has twisted their ankle or badly stubbed a toe has felt for themselves that healing is not a smooth path from A to B. There are days when it is healing that it feels almost back to normal and days it feels like there has been no progress at all and the discomfort drives you crazy. This is because the healing of any injury is a complex process of layers and layers including inflammation, tissue repair, and tissue remodeling where strength and function return and the joint or muscle can be used as normal. All of this requires a lot of communication throughout the body and inflammation in particular ebbs and flows throughout the healing process. Oftentimes, when the body is already irritated, an adjustment can cause a slight increase in inflammation because we are working with tissues that are in the midst of healing. Although we are helping to improve motion and alignment thereby improving healing in the long run, there can be a slight increase in pain initially from that increased inflammation.

Healing is affected by many external factors.

Each individual heals at a slightly different rate. While the process itself is much the same, there are many factors that influence how well or how quickly an individual heals. Age, past injuries, ongoing disease and conditions are just a few of the factors that can slow down healing or make for a rougher healing path for certain individuals. These are all considerations we take into account when we create a plan for your pet’s care.

Each joint contains proprioceptors that require resetting.

Bringing this back to the skeletal and nervous systems, every joint has proprioceptors. These receptors are what sends a signal to the brain about balance and spatial awareness, as well as the body’s position and action. Every adjustment we perform affects this part of the nervous system and can affect the animal’s balance or how they move and use their body. While the body resets and adapts to correct function following an adjustment, sometimes it can appear they are doing worse as the body is trying to sort everything out. This process is completely normal and is how the body corrects the inefficient or incorrect way it was receiving information from the injured tissues and joints.

Inflammation is a normal, though sometimes inconvenient part of the process.

Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process but it is also the uncomfortable part. If we simplify it, inflammation is the body’s response to initiate healing. When a tissue is injured, the body will send out first responders to start repair. Although these first responders (cytokines and inflammatory cells) are helpful, they can also cause pain. They play a very important role however and are a necessary part of the process.

For these reasons, it is important to look at factors other than pain to determine if your pet is on the healing path following their treatment.

Are they walking with more ease?
Can they jump on the couch again?
Do they let you pet their back?
Do they have more energy?
Are they more comfortable when resting?

The healing process has its ups and downs, and it’s not uncommon to have a bit of a “down” time after treatment when we are clearing the way for the body to heal and get back to functioning at its optimum.

Believe us, we want them to get better as quickly as possible too. Sometimes, we just need to be patient as the body goes through its own unique healing process and support it as much as possible. Seeing through the ups and downs along the way to ensure we are making correct progress and positive change is always the goal. We all want that painful pet to not only feel better, but to be as happy and healthy as possible for as long as possible.