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Posted on 05-04-2016
By: Dr. Sten Ekberg
Even though chiropractic wasn't started on the premise of treating back pain and even though for the first 50 years of the profession, chiropractors treated mostly conditions other than back pain, most people today associate chiropractic with back pain. Yes, we are very good at dealing with back pain too, but it is not what we primarily do; at least not in neurologically based chiropractic.
It is a very understandable association though, because when the back is adjusted, people can feel something happening, and there is often an instant relief or reduction in pain. So it's not hard to see why people make that connection. Furthermore, many insurance policies state that they only cover what they call "care aimed at correcting spinal misalignments". While this isn't completely wrong, it is an extremely limiting and simplistic view point.
It is basically like saying that car repairs are aimed at turning off those pesky warning lights, or that the purpose of filling up gas is to get that gas gauge to turn off. Those lights would not come on if all was well; they are conveying a message. If the indicator light was the problem, we could just snip the wire to the light and the problem would be solved.
In the human body, the pain is only an indicator that something is wrong, while the actual source of the problem is rarely at the sight of pain. The only exception is in the case of acute trauma. If you are shot, stabbed, fall down the stairs, get hit by a car, or get physically hurt by some kind of impact, we know that the trauma is the source of the pain; but in all other cases, including degenerative conditions, the source of the problem is not at the site of the pain. The problem is one of gradual loss of function.
If you drive your car over a speed bump 20,000 times and it's fine, but on the 20,001st the rear axle snaps in half. Was it the 20,001st bump that caused the problem or did every bump along the way contribute a little bit. Of course we all understand that each bump contributed a little bit. It is a limitation of physical matter; it wears out.
So it is with every cell in your body as well. The structural components, primarily protein and fat wear out and have to be replaced. This is what healing and regeneration is. It has to take place even in the absence of injury. Your cells are continuously falling apart so you have to continuously repair them. If you can keep up with repairs your cells stay strong, but if you fall behind you have tissue degeneration.
So if your left knee hurts or your left hip hurts, but the right one is fine, it is probably not that the left one "broke", but rather that the right one healed better, or was maintained better, or had better mechanical balance resulting in less wear and tear.
So what is it then that regulates healing? What is it that provides mechanical balance? The answer is that the brain is ultimately responsible for muscle function, and the brain allocates the blood and resources for healing.
So when your back "goes out" due to some moderate or trivial movement or activity that we have done many times before, there was a something that wasn't working long before the pain came on the scene.
So if we understand that misaligned bones are held in place by muscles and muscles are told to do by the brain, we also understand that a spinal misalignment is a brain problem.
To some this may seem like nit picking. What's the difference if you think you fix the brain or align the bones as long as the pain goes away? Well it makes a world of difference, because if you understand that the problem is in the brain, and you make the pain better, then you made something in the brain work better.
This is quite different from the mechanism involved when taking a drug, since the drug does not address the cause, but simply cover up the symptom. The drug will never increase function, balance and strength to your nervous system, but that's a different story.
When we understand that the brain and nervous system regulates everything in the body, and we understand that the body is a holistic community of cells as well as an eco-system, we understand that the back pain is not an isolated event. It is a part of a systemic imbalance. The problem, whether we are aware of it or not (yet), is having other consequences besides the back pain. Some of them may never manifest in a symptom and others may cause a symptom in a decade, but every imbalance has consequences.
On the brighter side, the reverse holds true as well. Every imbalance that we can improve upon will have consequences beyond the symptoms that we first noticed. As the back pain goes away, people often report that they have more energy, they sleep better, and their stomach isn't upset anymore. These may at first seem unrelated, but as we start understanding holism and brain as the central processor of all human perception, we understand that it is more of a rule than an exception to experience additional benefits.
So what about all these chiropractors who talk about the misaligned bones pinching nerves as the cause of disease. For the most part they are great people who are good at what they do. They have just been lured into the medical model where everything is about mechanical or chemical problems. The awareness that information processing and signals override, precede and supersede the mechanical and chemical aspects is a fairly new notion. Philosophically we've talked about it for thousands of years, but as cutting edge science it is only with advances in neuroscience in the last 20 years that we can really start putting all the pieces together.
So feel free to come and see us for back pain, but don't be surprised if other things get better as well, and don't limit your view of chiropractic to back pain. Everyone you know with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or indigestion can benefit from a holistic chiropractor.
Holistic has nothing to do with holy, burning incense or airy fairy stuff. It simply means that you understand that the body is an eco-system, where there are no independent body parts or conditions.
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