Chiropractic is said to have started in 1885 in an accidental manipulation of the neck by the father of chiropractic, DD Palmer, in Davenport, Iowa. This resulted in an organic change in the person’s hearing, initiating the beginnings of a profession which stood as an independent health system to orthodox care (the standard medicine of the day). One clinic even had its own ambulance to treat fracture cases in their town as the chiropractors of the day felt they were so familiar with the boney structure of the body.
Research to date for this organic link has been difficult to uphold and the profession has modified itself through DD’s son, BJ Palmer, to become renown for specific manipulation of the spinal vertebrae to relieve back and neck pain. Thankfully this has been an effective route and in 2009 the profession showed enough evidence to be acknowledged as an important aspect of back pain management in todays orthodox medicine. This was confirmed with acceptance by NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) who are the body that examine evidence and create guidelines for modern health care and funding.
NICE stated that if lower back pain continued for more than six weeks then manipulation should be considered as a relevant referral for that patient from their general practitioner (GP). In 2014, these guidelines are still not enforced comprehensively as yet, however the NHS is a system that takes some time to change and it is therefore implementing the first contracts for free chiropractic on the NHS in some areas, in order to test its effectiveness in both management and cost of back pain services. This may become the norm in all towns in the future if this round of contracts proves effective.
The spine is intricately related to the nervous system as is in every working part of the body. As the brain is mostly sensory – a little motor control – we are primarily an organism of feedback and fine adjustment. Whether that’s to catch a ball, or move our individual spinal vertebra to look round in the car, the sensors around the soft tissues of the spine are continuously telling the brain where they are, how far to move and whether there is pain coming from that movement, etc. Correcting this bony movement and feedback is the task of the chiropractor. If you ever want to understand the coursework of a chiropractor, then take all this information stretched over a five year masters degree . That is the level of dedication your chiropractor will give your spine.
If we compare the input and output of a segment of the spinal cord, it can be compared to two rivers flowing in opposite directions. A nice steady flow of information in both directions. Imagine these rivers are right beside each other. What happens if a storm occurs and a deluge of water flows down one river? Yes we know that analogy all too well in the UK at the moment, don’t we? The overflowing river spills its banks and the consequence in this analogy is the neighbouring river, flowing in the opposite direction, is also flooded, thereby slowing it down.
In chiropractic this is considered to have the same effect in the nervous system, where if feedback up to the spinal cord from the periphery is overwhelming, such as from pain or poor function (nociception), the signals from that same level of spinal cord going out will be undermined due to this overflow. If incoming information is from movement, the outgoing information can be both to bones and muscles, as much as to organs. Consequently the belief is that ‘structure affects function’, regardless of evidence.
Now, no one can believe in all aspects of alternative medicine, but often logic can generate belief. Throw in daily accounts of ‘wellbeing’ stated from patients with resolved spinal pain and it can be a very convincing argument that the spine has an effect on the how the rest of the body works and feels.
I often refer to masseurs, as many of the bodies I try work with have become too stiff and resilient to work on at the depth of the spine. However, often feedback from poor function of the skeleton is the cause of recurrent muscle spasm. Consequently, the masseurs in my clinic and I have a close relationship with referral between our services. We have a referral note to give a brief history of the person we are referring between us in order to each work at the right level for that person.
My faith is that we are greater than the sum of our parts. Throw in techniques like applied kinesiology (AK), cranio-sacral therapy (CST), etc. into the treatment pot of what we offer patients in order to understand the workings of their body and the wonders of our human balance and feedback, become astonishing to observe on a daily basis.
Consider a patient we’ll call Mrs P. She came in suffering a tremendous amount of pain in her arms, neck and lower back with sore muscles everywhere and an unwillingness to continue her life with joy. Cranio-sacral therapy showed she was holding a huge amount of stress, not only from her recently departed husband, but also from her youth. Though trying chiropractic would have been to some degree helpful to her, the CST showed a lot of this was poor feedback from stress triggering all the tension.
Rather than bodywork from myself or our masseurs, Mrs P was sent for counseling, meditation and cranio-sacral work. Once this was to a degree resolved from its initial unconscious trigger – she had lost the arm pain – the neck pain was only occasional (often a measure of her stress levels again – like a red light on a cars dashboard!) and chiropractic and massage could then be initiated. Mrs P was willing to change her initial stress feedback and she has made such a large improvement through all the therapies she received, she has now become a personal friend. Much respect, Mrs P!
Healing can be a journey, or it can be simple if you have tackled it early. If it does become an amazing journey of self discovery, it may even lead to new friends!
So, here’s to your health and recovery! Whether it starts in the spine as a journey or simply to fix that aching back and neck, do something for yourself and start getting that body better today.
Mike Noone (BSc Chiropractic, MSc Chiro Paeds) – Chiropractor- member of the BCA, GCC