Part IThe Principles
How Chiropractic Care Can Stop Pain and Help You Regain Your Health
Winifred is a feisty seventy-six-year-old lady with a mischievous smile. She came to my office because she was experiencing chronic back pain and a lack of energy. In the course of my examination, she revealed that she suffered from emphysema, which caused extreme shortness of breath and limited her physical activities. Sleep apnea also caused her to wake up three to five times a night. She was very direct and told me up front that she considered chiropractors "quacks" and the people who swore by them "fruitcakes." (Winifred has never been afraid of speaking her mind.) But she felt conventional medicine offered her only medication, which she had already found unhelpful, and she was afraid of its possible side effects.
I measured Winifred's range of motion, X-rayed her spine and neck, and determined that a course of chiropractic adjustments would help correct certain misalignments in her spine. I recommended a course of treatment consisting of three visits a week the first two weeks and two visits a week the next four weeks, and then we'd see how things were going. Winifred was skeptical-she's a real "show me" lady-but she agreed to give chiropractic a try.
After she noticed significant improvement within a few visits, she told me, "Dr. Lenarz, if I could find some reason other than the chiropractic treatment, I would gladly put the credit elsewhere." But she couldn't ignore the fact that her back pain was gone, her sleep was much improved, and even her emphysema eased significantly. She found she had more energy and stamina. At one visit she bragged that she had taken a ten-hour car trip with no pain or stiffness-and at her age, she said, that was remarkable.
Winifred is typical of many chiropractic patients: They come to the chiropractor as a second, third, or even last resort. Many have tried to handle their conditions with conventional medicine, only to be disappointed with the results. They walk into the chiropractor's office dubiously, not sure whether this new kind of treatment will help, but often desperate for any relief. Like Winifred, they've heard all kinds of bad things about chiropractors: that they're not "real" doctors; that they twist, push, and pull you and cause lots of pain; that the results are temporary at best; and that patients have to keep coming for the rest of their lives to get any real benefit.
With all that bad press, why on earth do people continue to go to chiropractors? And with the forces of conventional medicine arrayed against the practice of chiropractic for most of its hundred-year history, why is chiropractic still the second-largest health care system in America and the largest drug-free healing profession in the world? For one very simple and obvious reason: Chiropractic works. Every year millions of people use chiropractic to eliminate their pain, and in the process they discover a new approach to health and well-being.
In numerous studies chiropractic has proven to be one of the most effective treatments for back pain, neck pain, headaches, and other musculoskeletal ailments. But at its foundation chiropractic is not really about treatment of pain (although it is very effective at doing so). In chiropractic philosophy, pain relief is really just the side effect of a properly functioning spinal system. Other side effects of chiropractic care include relief from many other conditions and diseases-everything from chronic tonsillitis to high blood pressure to ear problems to digestive ailments and more. Chiropractic treatments help millions of people to live healthier, happier lives, because they restore the body to its proper and natural state.
If you, like Winifred, are skeptical, or if you simply want to know more about chiropractic, I hope this book will show you how you can benefit from incorporating chiropractic into your health care regimen. If you are already going to a chiropractor, you'll learn more about the principles underlying the results you have experienced. Chiropractic is so much more than simply a means of relieving pain; it is a way to a healthier life. Chiropractors believe that health is our natural state and that it can best be maintained through supporting the body in a natural, noninvasive way. Chiropractic philosophy is based on restoring the body's natural functioning and eliminating obstacles to health rather than treating symptoms or curing disease.
Strangely enough, it seems that science is finally catching up with what chiropractors have believed all along. The underlying theories of chiropractic as articulated by its founders over a hundred years ago are in line with some of the most cutting-edge research in the field of mind-body medicine. And even though the relationship between conventional medicine and chiropractic is uneasy at best, scientific evidence of the efficacy of chiropractic treatment is mounting every day.
What Is Chiropractic?
If you ask most people what a chiropractor does, their answer will be, "He cracks your back." If you ask what's called a "narrow scope" chiropractor the same question, you'll hear, "A chiropractor reduces subluxations that impede the normal functioning of the spine. Once these subluxations are reduced, normal function can be restored." (You'll learn about subluxations in Chapter 5.) If you ask a "broad scope" chiropractor, you might hear, "We use a variety of techniques that allow the body's natural state of health to express itself fully." And if you ask many conventional medical doctors, you'll hear, "A chiropractor does very little at all, and nothing of any lasting value."
Obviously, I don't subscribe to the last statement, but none of the other statements is a full picture of chiropractic, either. Chiropractic is a science, an art, and a philosophy. It is a science that deals primarily with the spine and central nervous system. Like conventional medicine, it is based upon scientific principles of (1) diagnosis through testing and empirical observation and (2) treatment based upon the practitioner's rigorous training and clinical experience. Unlike conventional medicine, which relies primarily on drugs and/or surgery to heal disease, chiropractic uses manual manipulation, or adjustments, of the spine to correct large or small misalignments that have affected the proper flow of communication between the brain, the nervous system, and the rest of the body. Once the spine is realigned to its proper position, the nerves can do their job without impediment, and the patient experiences greater health.
Like conventional medicine, chiropractic is not just a science; it is also an art. Only in the case of chiropractic, it is the art of all things natural. The function of chiropractic is not to heal disease or even to relieve pain, although both of those effects may occur in the course of chiropractic treatment. Ultimately, the goal of the chiropractic art is to restore the body to its natural state, which is one of radiant health. In the pursuit of this art, chiropractors work with the body's own energy, guiding bones and tissues that have been damaged through trauma or misuse back to their correct positions. When the bones and soft tissues are returned to their proper states, the vital pathway between the brain and the body is restored. Then the chemical, neurological, and mechanical processes of the body function as they are supposed to.
But perhaps most important, chiropractic is a powerful, rich, and meticulous philosophy about the causes of life, health, and disease. Chiropractic believes that inside each of us is an innate wisdom that wants to express itself as perfect health and well-being. Chiropractic's primary focus is simply to remove any physiological blocks to the proper expression of the body's innate wisdom; once those blocks are removed, health is the natural result.
I believe chiropractic philosophy has the potential to cause a worldwide revolution in healing, one that can bring a deeper understanding and create a safer and saner health care industry. But perhaps most important, chiropractic can make a difference in your life. It can help you grasp the true nature of health and disease. I know that for my patients and myself, chiropractic helps us to realize that health is a simple, attainable goal. With that knowledge, we can take control of our own health care choices on a completely new level.
A Brief History of an Ancient Practice
Manipulation and/or adjustment of the spine have existed since the beginning of human civilization. An ancient Chinese text indicates that manipulation techniques were being used in that country as early as 2700 b.c.e. In Egypt, a fragment of papyrus dating from 1600 b.c.e. describes a treatment for a dislocated jaw: "Put your two thumbs upon the end of the two rami of the mandible [jawbone] inside his mouth and your fingers under his chin, and you should cause them to fall back so that they rest in their places." Societies all over the ancient world-Babylon, Syria, India, Tibet, Japan; Native American tribes such as the Sioux, Winnebago, and Creek; South American groups of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, Tarascan, and Zoltec Indians, and the Incas-practiced manipulation as a means of relieving pain and restoring the body to normal function.
Conventional Western medicine, however, traces its roots back to ancient Greece. Over twenty-four hundred years ago, around 400 b.c.e., in the school of the great physician Hippocrates (the legendary father of what we call today "conventional" medicine), students were taught that disease was not a result of supernatural forces or the displeasure of the gods, as had once been believed. Instead, the Hippocratic philosophy was based on the premise that a human body was subject to the same forces and laws as nature itself. Therefore, it was possible for humankind to have a role in the curing of disease and the maintenance of health.
At the school of Hippocrates, the beliefs of conventional medicine and the principles that today underlie chiropractic were one and the same. As described in the Hippocratic text On the Nature of Man, a healthy body is one that is "in balance," and illness is the result of an imbalance in one of the body's systems. The job of the Hippocratic physician was to help the body preserve its balance through healthy living, or to restore the balance once it was disturbed through accident or illness. But how? Mostly by relying on the healing power of nature. Instead of focusing on the disease itself, physicians were directed to get the patient healthy primarily through exercise, diet, manipulation, and rest, and then the disease would be eliminated. Another text, On Ancient Medicine, states, "Our natures are the physicians of our diseases." Physicians were directed, first, to "do no harm" (a phrase still found in the Hippocratic oath every doctor takes), and second, to ease symptoms to allow the body to heal itself. Because the human body was greatly revered, cutting into it was considered close to sacrilegious. Therefore, physicians had to rely upon observation and natural means to effect a cure.
One of these natural means was manipulation. In the sixty or so works and fragments that constitute our entire knowledge of what was taught at the Hippocratic school, several of them-including On Fractures, On Setting Joints by Leverage, and On the Articulations-describe contemporary knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and its treatment. "Get knowledge of the spine," says one text, "for this is the requisite for many diseases." These texts explain the difference between complete dislocations (luxations) and partial dislocations (subluxations) of bone. There is also a description of manipulation of a hump on a patient's spine: The patient was to lie facedown on a surface covered with soft material, and the physician then would apply force to the hump using his hand, his foot, or even a board. This would push the bone back into its natural position.
Physicians in ancient Greece, and later in the Roman Empire, drew upon the knowledge and texts of the Hippocratic school to treat disease and preserve health. (Remember, both these societies idolized the athlete as the height of the expression of humankind, so the maintenance of health with diet, exercise, and clean living was promoted-or at least given a lot of lip service.) But with the fall of the Roman Empire and the resulting loss of much of the knowledge of ancient times, medicine retreated to its roots in superstition and ignorance. Western medicine was kept alive by Islamic physicians and dedicated monks in far-flung monasteries, who preserved texts and doggedly continued to observe and treat illness as best they could. But for hundreds of years-even as late as the eighteenth century-the primary treatments prescribed by physicians for illness included purging (with laxatives or emetics), bloodletting (draining the body of excess or "bad" blood), and cupping, where glasses were heated and placed on the body to scald the affected areas and pull the diseased "humors" out of the body.
People who didn't live close to monasteries (or couldn't afford doctors) still got sick, however, and often they turned to folk medicine practitioners for help. Many of these practitioners prescribed a wide variety of efficacious herbal-based remedies to treat illnesses. Another category of "lay doctor" was the bonesetter. Bonesetters didn't just fix broken legs or arms, however; they also were experts in manipulating the spine and other joints. Like most professions, bonesetting was passed from father to son (or daughter-women could be bonesetters, too; one of the most famous bonesetters in eighteenth-century England was Sally Mapp, who did well enough at the profession to be consulted by the gentry for her skills). Even as late as the twentieth century, bonesetters were still practicing their art in small rural villages in Europe.
By the nineteenth century, however, Western medicine had begun more closely to resemble the profession we know today. Physicians would use their own experience and prior training in medicine to diagnose illness based on their observation of the patient's symptoms. They then would prescribe a combination of drugs, surgery, and (occasionally) lifestyle changes that would alleviate the patient's symptoms and perhaps even cure the underlying condition. But medicine, while becoming more refined as a practice, was still a fairly risky endeavor for the patient. The number of drugs available was small (opiates, such as laudanum, and purgatives being the main categories), and their effects often harsh and imprecise. Surgery was an even more dangerous option, with few remedies for the infection that often set in afterward. For the general population, a visit to the doctor was the last resort rather than the first response to an illness, usually undertaken only after trying every possible folk remedy or patent medicine available. This is not to say that advances in medicine didn't benefit the population as a whole; medical understanding of the nature, causes, and treatment of infectious diseases was an enormous boon to humankind. However, there were still many physical problems nineteenth-century medicine was unable to treat effectively.
Excerpted from The Chiropractic Way by Michael Lenarz, D.C. with Victoria St. George. Copyright © 2003 by Michael Lenarz, D.C. with Victoria St. George. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.