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Chiropractic care is considered to be the largest branch of alternative medicine in the U.S. I have always found it fascinating that the idea of good nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining a strong and flexible spine and body, and good neurological function to be an “alternative.” When did we allow ourselves to be brainwashed into thinking that the liberal use of drugs, and surgery to overcome poor lifestyle habits should be mainstream, and everything else alternative medicine? Of course, emergency care, and life saving medicines are critical, but our mainstream system is not one of health care, but rather of crises care. Alternative medicine on the other hand is rooted deeply in true health care and well-being. As a practicing chiropractor for the last 30 years, I’ve seen so many iterations of chiropractic that I’ve lost count. There are chiropractors that wave crystals, chiropractors that claim they find and fix subluxations that rob you of your life force- chiropractic that is practiced like it was in 1895, and chiropractors who practice different techniques like diversified, Gonstead, Cox, direct non-force technique, BEST, and chiropractors that practice flexion distraction, motion palpation, Pettibon, SOT, AK, quantum neurology, there are sports chiropractors, orthopedic chiropractors and chiropractic neurologists.
As a board certified chiropractic neurologist, I believe in taking a modern and thorough approach to evaluating a patient. Chiropractors are receptor-based therapists. In fact, all therapies are receptor based. Receptors are structures in our bodies that detect pressure, light touch, length of muscles, load on a joint, load on a muscle, temperature, nociception, chemical changes, hormone changes, etc. so whether you are taking a drug or having a massage or getting an adjustment, the end result is that these receptors are being stimulated and all receptor activity ends up in the brain and causes changes in the brain through something called plasticity.
The History of Chiropractic
Chiropractic itself was born in 1895 when DD Palmer famously adjusted the spine of a deaf janitor Harvey Lillard who had his hearing restored after a chiropractic adjustment. People came from all around to have this man adjust their spines, and he was known to cure a variety of illnesses. Thus chiropractic was born. The science of the day was limited, but DD Palmer and his son BJ Palmer relentlessly studied, analyzed and researched what they were doing and the effects of the adjustment. They were some of the first practitioners of any kind to utilize x-rays to evaluate and measure what they were doing. Since then, chiropractors have adopted all sorts of answers around the first chiropractic adjustment restoring hearing, but a plausible explanation can be found in an understanding of neurology and modern neuron theory.
Chiropractic and the Brain
There is no nerve that travels from the thoracic spine (site of the first adjustment) to the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe in humans. So the explanation of an adjustment releasing a pinched nerve to restore hearing holds no water. In fact, trying to explain this phenomena in this way only causes more issues for chiropractic and chiropractors. A plausible explanation would have to include central mechanisms — things that alter brain function. The joints and muscles of the spine fire very powerfully to excite neurons in the cerebellum, which in turn excite neurons in the cerebral cortex in humans. For example, If a pool of neurons responsible for detecting sound in the temporal lobe were not firing as a consequence of other decreased inputs into that area, it is possible that the very powerful sensory input provided by the first chiropractic adjustment, brought those neuron pools in Harvey’s temporal lobe to come to threshold, and his hearing to be restored. Most of the miracles of chiropractic, are likely attributed to the adjustments powerful sensory input to the brain thereby restoring function in areas of the brain that may have had decreased input, and when this changes through an adjustment, or exercise or a head turn, or an eye movement this in turn will clearly change the brains output to a variety of systems; motor, sensory and autonomic. Thus we witness the “miracle” of chiropractic on a daily basis.
Chiropractic is a very powerful tool, and has been shown to help people suffering with low back pain, vertigo, neck pain, headaches, vestibular problems etc. The explanations for some of this healing has lagged behind our understanding, but in the last 20 years we have learned more about the brain than in the entire history of humanity and explanations are coming to light. If you’ve had a chiropractic adjustment, then you likely know of the power of a proper adjustment, but what works for one person may not work for another. I’ve had patients who swear by low force techniques and others who say they need a hard adjustment. This distinction is mostly about the metabolic capacity of the patient. If a patient had a weakened metabolic capacity, then the techniques that are stronger may make a patient feel worse because their brains literally couldn’t take the amount of input given by a high velocity low amplitude adjustment, but give that patient a low force adjustment, and they might be in heaven.
The idea that one chiropractic technique is better than the other is only true in so far as the patient you are treating. All the techniques work, just not for all patients all the time. We must learn to give the patient that what will work for them, and evaluate each patient for what they need individually.
…is a subspecialty in chiropractic just as it is in medicine. There are only around 800 board certified chiropractic neurologist in the U.S., so I am fairly used to people looking surprised when I tell them what I do. The main difference between a medical neurologist and a chiropractic neurologist is one of application. Medical neurologists are incredible diagnosticians, but their armamentarium is basically drugs and surgery. Fortunately, most neurological problems aren’t based in pathologies such as tumors, but rather loss of function between neural control centers. As functional neurologists, practicing receptor based care, then almost anything you can think of can become a therapy. It all depends on the locus of the neurological dysfunction causing the problem for you. So an adjustment of your fingers might be more appropriate than your neck, but I might spin you in a chair, or shine a light in your eyes, or have you move one side of your body in a particular way to see if we can activate and wake up areas of your nervous system that are poorly functioning and improve that.
In addition to adjustments, I have been blessed with training in Functional neurological orthopedic rehabilitation, and have many hundreds of hours of post graduate study in nutrition, neurochemistry, blood chemistry, Thyroid disorders, and Diabetes. In our chiropractic evaluations of you, we look not just at your structure, but the way you perform activities like walking, so that we can fix underlying functional faults to get you back on your feet enjoying your life as soon as possible.
Like anything in life, if you want to feel healthy, you keep doing that which makes you healthy. Regular chiropractic adjustments and workups should be a part of your health routine, along with the right diet and exercise for your body, and meditation for the body, mind, and spirit.