Little niggles and pains pop up day to day for a lot of people, maybe it’s a twinge in the back, or an ache in the knee. Maybe it lasts for a few seconds or minutes, but eventually goes away. Most people might just brush this off and ignore it. But suddenly, it starts to happen more frequently, and it’s lasting longer each time… should you continue to ignore it?


We often see patients at the height of their pain, when it’s too much to handle and they finally decide to do something about it. But what if they came to see us before it reaches that point? This insight will explain the difference between reactive and proactive chiropractic care, and how getting on top of pain and dysfunction early can have major benefits for your health and wellbeing!


What is reactive and proactive care?


The traditional model of care for pain is to wait until it becomes a major issue, when symptoms flare, and it starts to affect your day-to-day life – then you see a practitioner. This is a reactive approach. This is a common approach to dealing with pain and injuries, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. However, there are potentially avoidable downsides of this approach, such as increased episodes of pain and dysfunction for some people.


In more recent years, there is a growing amount of research that highlights how conditions like low back pain affect people differently over their lifetimes. Some people may experience short intense episodes of pain and dysfunction but recover quickly. Whereas others may experience more frequent episodes of pain and dysfunction that continue over years (1). These people require a different approach to their care. A more modern model of care is the proactive approach, with a focus on preventing pain and dysfunction, by managing it earlier and over a longer period of time.


The difference


To highlight the difference between these two approaches, here are examples of two different patients:



Jack had some recent low back discomfort and tightness. He had a similar issue before, but this feels a bit different, but he decide not to worry about it. A week later it starts getting worse, with increasing pain that radiates into their glutes. It also stopped him from going to the gym and he struggled to pick up their kids.


Simone also had some low back discomfort and tightness. She recognised it’s a bit different to symptoms they’ve had before, so she decided to go see her chiropractor to get it checked out. The chiropractor provides advice on what to do to avoid it getting worse and uses treatment to reduce the low back discomfort and get her moving again.



As we can see in the graph, Simone presents to the chiropractor early, which allows us to intervene, to reduce the intensity and prevent further exacerbation of pain. Simone may still experience some pain, but it should be significantly reduced, and will set her on a better trajectory. Whereas Jack left things too late and his pain intensity has sky rocketed!


What’s involved in proactive chiropractic care?


When a patient comes to see us for proactive care, our focus is on improving their function, in addition to improving any pain. Function is an umbrella term for lots of physical qualities like strength, mobility, posture, coordination, and endurance.

Proactive care at DMC Health involves 3 key components:


Education: We’ll help you understand how to better manage pain and symptoms when they occur and teach you strategies to prevent flare ups in the future.


Hands on treatments: We use a multimodal approach including spinal adjustments, massage and dry needling to improve joint mobility and reduce feelings of stiffness or tightness.


Exercise and rehabilitation: We’ll provide you with stretches and exercises tailored to you, to improve strength, mobility, and endurance.


Get in touch with the team at DMC Health today to find out you can become more proactive with your health.


About the authors


David-ChiroDavid McNaughton is a clinician, researcher and lecturer. He is the director and principal chiropractor at DMC Health & Wellness. He has an extensive background in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. In addition to his clinical studies, David holds a Master’s of Research and PhD in Psychology. He regularly publishes his research in peer reviewed medical and psychology journals. David has taught both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Chiropractic and Psychology.




Isaac Searant completed a Bachelor of Chiropractic Science, Master of Chiropractic and Master of Research at Macquarie University. His research aims to understand the clinical decisions health practitioners make about diagnostic imaging. His clinical interests include spinal pain (neck and back) and sporting injuries. Regardless of the condition, his goal as a chiropractor is to work collaboratively with patients.




  1. Downie AS, Hancock MJ, Rzewuska M, Williams CM, Lin CW, Maher CG. Trajectories of acute low back pain: a latent class growth analysis. Pain. 2016 Jan 1;157(1):225-34.

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