Healthcare’s Black Sheep
Chiropractic is different.
Visit one of us, and I’m sure you’ll have no problem drawing this conclusion on your own. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we’re different. After all, for many that consult our offices, that’s exactly what they are looking for — something different, something other than medicine.
At first glance, the differences may not be so obvious. But with time, patients soon begin to realize that chiropractic is based off of an entirely different philosophy — a philosophy that recognizes that our bodies are more than the sum total of our parts. We are more than a collection of chemicals obeying the general laws of chemistry, physics, and mechanics. For we have within us a special “something” — a special something that animates, coordinates, motivates, and sustains us, causing us to respond and to learn. “It’s what separates living tissue,” as one brochure so aptly described, “ from ice cream cones, automobiles, and granite statues.” We refer to this “something” as an inborn, or innate, intelligence. It is this intelligence that knows to beat our hearts, digest our food, heal our cuts and scraps, ward off infections, and adapt to our environment.
Health is not found in a pill or by removing selective organs; yet, this is the basic premise that our society has been working off of for the past century. To paraphrase B.J. Palmer, the developer of chiropractic and son of the founder, our society has more faith in a knife or a spoonful of medicine than in the power that animates the living world. This “power” is greater than ourselves. Chiropractic recognizes that true healing can only come from the Power that made the body. Since we chiropractors are not gods, we don’t claim to “heal” anything. All we can do is come alongside the patient and assist their body’s own given intelligent ability to heal.
We do this primarily by making sure the nervous (not the circulatory) system is flowing without interference. Because we know that our nervous systems control and coordinate every organ and system of our bodies, it just makes sense that everything will work better when it is flowing at its full potential. When there is an interference or disruption in the nervous system’s ability to work at full power, the stage is often set for problems and ill health to arise. We chiropractors tend to find that interferences in the nervous system’s ability to function at its fullest potential can be traced back to the bones, vertebrae, of the back and neck. When these bones of the spine lose their normal motion or position, they can rub, choke, or irritate the delicate spinal nerves that exit out at each level. Like a dental cavity, obvious symptoms like pain, may or may not be present — at least not initially. Regardless, this problematic vertebra (known as a “subluxation” in chiro-jargon), will slowly sap the nerve’s ability to function at its fullest potential, and thus the body’s inborn healing ability is thwarted. Chiropractic seeks to remove these subluxations via a carefully controlled, skillfully delivered chiropractic adjustment. Because when it’s all said and done, you’re simply better off without them.
Our philosophy does not focus on the suppression of symptoms, for symptoms often tell a story and allow us to seek out the cause. Rather than emphasizing fighting disease and seeing disease as inevitable, chiropractic works to see health as normal, emphasizing the maintenance of health and prevention disease. And you thought we treated backs.
While chiropractic and allopathic medicine are relatively new to the scene, the opposite viewpoints of the principles in which they operate have been around for well over 2,500 years — creating a sort of “paradigm war.” It really is a shift in perspective in how you view health and the foundation you choose to stand on to carry it out.
A good example from the “medical” paradigm comes from Robert Koch, a German physician whose 1876 research, which led to a 1905 Nobel Prize for Medicine, helped form the “Germ Theory of Disease” on which medicine is now primarily based: “It is the virulence of the germ which determines whether or not you get sick.”
Contrast this with the “chiropractic” paradigm from Claude Bernard, a French physiologist of the 1800’s who was awarded the Grand Prize in Physiology three times by the Academie des Sciences: “It is the strength or weakness of your own resistance which determines whether or not you get sick.”
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows? Truth be told, it probably is a little of both. But one thing is for sure, the battle of the paradigms has been a long one. In an article on this subject, Ted Koren, D.C. references medical historian Dr. Harris Coulter’s four-volume Divided Legacy. In his books Coulter describes this struggle between the two internally logical, yet contrasting, systems of healing philosophy and states that the pendulum of acceptance and power has swung between them throughout time. Since the turn of the 20th century, the philosophy represented by medicine has dominated our society. Dr. Coulter, however, sees this pendulum starting to swing the other way as more and more people are recognizing medicine’s limitations and extremes and are seeking out the differing approaches found in alternative healing practices.
Make no mistake, medicine is not blind to this trend. Their medical journals are tracking it, and they are doing what they can to get in on it. If they fail to cling onto the momentum that the “Great Pendulum” is creating away from the way that they have been practicing, it’s liable to knock them over. This is why more and more relationships between M.D.’s and alternative health practitioners, particularly chiropractors, are being formed. Medical doctors are beginning to take up courses in complimentary healing approaches such as acupuncture and herbology — just because they know that this is what their patients want. The same goes with our medically-oriented insurance companies. The benefits that we now see available covering alternative health practitioners, were never available before. And let’s not forget the millions of books that have been sold by medical doctors such as Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil that essentially talk about the principles we chiropractors have been touting since 1895 — yet for some reason coming from them it’s new and “cutting edge.”
So yeah, chiropractic is different. And I think that once patients understand this, and understand that we are not operating off of the medical philosophy that they have been so used to, then understanding, and perhaps even embracing, some of our ideas that have gotten a bad name, such as “lifetime” chiropractic care, might not be met with such abrasive fear, but rather respect and consideration.
Chiropractic and medicine really do function off two entirely different philosophies of health. Sure we both want to help the patient, but the foundation which we draw off of to do so couldn’t be further apart. This is one of the reasons chiropractic and medicine have butted heads for so long. It’s time to stop though. For it only frustrates the patient and leaves the doctors with sore heads.
In order for medical doctors and chiropractors to truly work in harmony, we need to share the same underlying philosophy. Since this won’t be happening anytime in the near future, understanding and respecting where each is coming from, while allowing for some flexibility on both ends, will allow M.D.’s and D.C.’s to team up in helping a shared patient. There is some solace for our patients that are caught in the middle of the dueling philosophies. I think one chiropractor’s website said it best, “Every healing philosophy has its place and each exists to put checks and balances on the other. We all need each other, and if we work together the benefactor will be the patient.”