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What Chiropractors Really Do - And What They Actually Don’t Do

By: Dr. Sten Ekberg

What Chiropractors Really Do - And What They Actually Don’t Do.

I believe most of the controversy surrounding chiropractic would be resolved if we could start telling the real story of how it works. Chiropractic is popular because of the results people are getting, but many people are still skeptical because they don’t understand it. Well they’re not alone. Medical doctors, national health policy makers, insurance companies and your uncle don’t understand it either.  

Chiropractic has been around for over 115 years. During most of that time, even while getting phenomenal results, chiropractors have been guessing at the mechanisms of how it works. Today, with the advances in neuroscience over the past 20 years, we don't have to guess anymore, but the world is a big place to turn around on a dime and unfortunately the word is not getting out there very fast.

I did a Google search on "what do chiropractors do?" and I checked all the websites on page one. Not one of them comes close to the actual mechanism. 

They all believe it has something to do with mechanics; as if mechanics was a primary system in mammalian biology. It is very easy to see why they would think that but very frustrating nonetheless. 

Ever since Isaac Newton presented his laws of mechanics by which the larger objects in the universe can be described mathematically in terms of mechanics, with gravity, forces, vectors and levers, our society has been locked into a fundamentally mechanistic view of reality which has shaped our entire system of science as well as our entire system of logic based on mechanics and materialism. This view is basically summed up as; I believe in things that I can see, feel and touch. Our senses have been the crucial test of truth and reality. 

This view is still what our medical system is based on, so when “main stream” tries to define chiropractors it has to be in terms that people are familiar with. That is in terms of mechanics.

Here are two of the top contenders. 

"Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal manipulation and other techniques to treat patients' ailments, such as back or neck pain." (www.bls.gov)

Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments, the theory being that proper alignment of the body's musculoskeletal structure, particularly the spine, will enable the body to heal itself without surgery or medication." (www.webmd.com)

Unfortunately it is not their fault. They have just reiterated what chiropractors have said and keep saying. At least 99 out of a 100 chiropractic websites still claim that chiropractic works by taking mechanical pressure off nerve roots as they exit the spine.

Some sites get a little closer and talk about improper spinal mechanics interfering with the nervous system and while this is absolutely correct they don't say what the nature of that interference might be other than through mechanical nerve root pressure.

In order to start understanding health as well as chiropractic, we need a paradigm shift. We need to realize that biological life forms on earth are not primarily mechanical. They cannot be properly defined in terms of biomechanics. Biological life forms are information based. Life and biology is about information processing.

So here it is.

In the body the regulatory system is primary. That is the brain and nervous system; the system that processes information. The information is then relayed as commands to the muscular system which can contract and perform work. Since the muscular system takes orders from the brain, the muscular system is secondary to the brain. The muscles connect to passive tissues such as bone and connective tissue, which makes the passive system tertiary to the brain. Mechanics in turn is the end result of this entire process, not the cause of it. If we had to rank mechanics in this hierarchy it would be third or fourth. 

Life forms as simple as amoebas all the way up to complex beings like humans all share this hierarchy. Biology is about processing information. Everything else is an effect.

The chiropractic adjustment does not take pressure off nerve roots. It puts pressure on receptors. These receptors send information to the brain which regulates everything in the body. If the brain regulates everything in the body, which it does, it is only by changing something in the brain that we can change the behavior and function of some body part.

The next thing to understand is that the body is not static; it is dynamic, ever-changing, and plastic. This means that every cell is growing or shrinking based on the activity of that cell. There is no standing still. If the cell is stimulated the DNA of the cell makes new proteins and maintains or grows the cell. If the stimulation is decreasing, the activity of the DNA is decreasing, and less protein is made; the cell is shrinking or declining in function and capacity.

In the brain this is called neuroplasticity. Hence the stimulation of the receptors that send messages to the brain is changing the brain. By stimulating specific areas of the body, we can be specific in our stimulation of the brain, and consequently make specific changes.

If we understand this mechanism, that everything that is done to the body is processed by the brain and has an effect on the body, we can start seeing how an adjustment can affect things like blood pressure, immune system, digestion etc.

It is by maintaining that chiropractors focus on mechanics that we appear unscientific. By claiming that posture and alignment somehow mysteriously improve the function of mechanically unrelated organs we appear as quacks to anyone with an inquisitive mind.

By getting fantastic results, we get a group of followers who are willing to overlook the explanation, because they are not willing to go without the benefits. Just imagine how many people could be helped when chiropractors can back up the results with a scientific explanation.

Having results without the proper explanation tends to turn chiropractic into religion which is great for those who want to participate, but it will eliminate large numbers of people. This is why it is so important to talk about and understand that the actual mechanism of the chiropractic adjustment is one of neurology. The benefits would be numerous:

  • Chiropractors can get credit for what they actually do
  • More people will have access to chiropractic without fear due to misinformation
  • People can seek help and get help for many more conditions than just pain
  • Health policy makers can approve chiropractic for what it actually does and design care plans for promotion of health rather than management (i.e perpetuation) of disease 
  • People can get true prevention by fixing things before they break
  • Health care costs can be dramatically reduced with emphasis on function rather than disease
  • Costly and dangerous drugs and surgeries can be avoided
  • People will not only live longer, but have better quality lives while they're alive.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about advancing your well-being. For more information, feel free to visit my chiropractic site to read more articles and view videos on how the body really works; through information processing, not a mechanical machine with random behavior.

Sten Ekberg D.C.
Wellness For Life Chiropractic
Cumming Chiropractor