Humans have been manipulating each others spines to relieve pain and other symptoms for literally thousands of years. There are pieces of Egyptian papyrus that describe the administration of chiropractor style spinal manipulation. Bonesetters and ‘lay healers’ have a long tradition of manipulating the spine.
It is worth remembering that hospitals and doctors are essentially a brand new thing (less than 350 years old) – thousands of years before that though there were already healers – not all of whom had bones in their noses and crystals in their belly buttons. It’s a little presumptuous of modern medicine to operate on the assumption that all that preceded it was 150,000 years of placebo.
Like hospitals and doctors, chiropractors are a more recent development. A clever and charsimatic man with a great beard – Daniel Palmer was the first chiropractor. Palmer merged the tradition of spinal manipulation with a modern understanding of human anatomy and birthed the modern chiropractic profession. Much in the same way as modern surgeons merged the long standing tradition for humans cutting off each others limbs with deeper understanding of the body – to created modern surgery. If you follow there breadcrumbs most healing disciplines have their roots in our distant past!!
The basic intention behind chiropractic is to re-mobilise areas of the spine which have become stuck or locked and are causing pain. Daniel Palmer the first chiropractor took this one step further and theorised that these stuck areas within the spine can make a person unwell – due to the importance of spinal nerve traffic and the fact that the spine is very much an internal organ system. Whether its true that the spine can make you sick or not is a chiropractic conversation for another day – nonetheless it is a core part of the chiropractors professional genesis story.
It goes without saying that manipulation of the spine is what chiropactors are most known for. And after many long hard years of being misunderstood and often maligned by medical doctors and members of the general public chiropractors are now a fully stablished primary healthcare profession. And spinal manipulation is now a key feature in the international guidelines for the management of back pain.
But is there any more to the story of the chiropractic profession than that??
Purists Are Still Everywhere – But Going Out Of Fashion
If you keep your eyes peeled for them, you will meet a lot of purists as you navigate the world of wellness and healthcare. Purists are those who have fallen in love with a single theory, method or concept and are promoting it to the exclusion of all others.
Medical purists promote pharmaceuticals and surgery to the exclusion of all else. Nutrition purists tell us you can heal everything with food. Yoga purists tell us we can stretch and meditate all of our problems away. And chiropractic purists believe that if you can get the spine right you can achieve perfect health, enlightenment and possibly even world peace. None of which are actually true.
Life is complex. Health is complex. Healing is complex. No single health paradigm will ever be all things to all people at all stages of every life. But many have tried – none more than mainstream medicine. But in their own low key (relative to medicine) way chiropractors have also been extensively guilty of this same puritanical thinking.
The purist thing is an easy one to fall into when you are part of a healing paradigm that possesses great power to help others. If you look at what the modern medical fraternity have achieved in the past 300 years, it’s totally understandable that at some point they made the scary step of self anointing as the paradigm in sole charge of ‘health truths’. The simple fact is however that having great success with childhood illnesses in the 1800’s and great success with cancer treatment in the 2000’s doesn’t mean you know all there is to know about health, disease and healing. And medicines failures in managing modern issues like pain and obesity are graphic proof of this fact. Please understand that I am not bashing medicine here – all professions and paradigms have their limitations – and there is no shame or fault in that.
The chiropractor purist fell into a similar snare as the medical purist. The successes of chiropractic over-inflated its value in the minds of chiropractors.
During the 20th century chiropractors swooped in and saved the day for countless millions of people who were suffering with terrible pain and had been failed by the mainstream paradigm. Going from complete professional obscurity to being a fully emancipated primary healthcare profession – second only to medicine and dentistry – all based on real world results and not politics. Not only all this but chiropractors got to see a vast array of other issues resolve as peoples spinal issues resolved – issues like migraine, sinus issues, constipations, insomnia, asthma and ear infections. And just like medicine all these successes went to our collective head.
As a result of combining his experiences with oversimplification, ego and confirmation bias the chiropractor decided that ‘the spine is the key to health’ – and ‘chiropractic is the key to spinal health’. Chiropractors also began telling themselves that chiropractic is a comprehensive pain management tool – which isn’t entirely true. In exactly the same way that medicine decided that invasive surgery and drug therapies are the key to health – chirorpactros decided the spine was the key to health. Both professions have been victims of their own success.
There is a great deal of truth and value in what medicine can do for us, especially when we are in deep trouble. There is also a great deal of truth and value in what chiropractors can do for us – especially when we are in pain. But a truly open minded and clear headed look at the broader truths are that doctors and chiropractors have a long history over-emphasising the value and applications of the tools there have in their toolkits.
But what does chiropractic look like once you have taken off the rose tinted specs and tried to integrate it with some broader perspectives on pain and wellbeing?
A Modern Take On Chiropractors
Once upon a time a dentist was someone who pulled your tooth out – and that was what it was. But, modern dentistry is an entirely more nuanced and holistic affair right? The modern dentist has literally hundreds of procedures and tools at her disposal – she can rescue teeth – she can replace teeth – she can straighten teeth – she can educate you about prevention of tooth decay.
Comparatively – the prototypical chiropractor used spinal manipulation as his sole therapeutic intervention – just like the dentist used extraction as her sole therapy. And due to the fact that chiropractors haven’t been around for anywhere near as long as dentists there are still quite a few who adhere to these old ways.
Is there a version of the chiropractor that is more like the modern dentist? A non-purist with a broader scope of theories and tools? Yup!!!There are a growing number of chiropractors who are more than willing to engage with the job of being a chiropractor in a similar way to the modern dentist.
At my clinic for example we use the traditional adjusting tools and techniques of a chiropractors office, but we also use acupuncture – dry needling – acupressure – myofascial release – percussion massage – myofascial cupping – trigger point release, scar tissue stretching – Graston technique – extracorporeal shockwave therapy – mobiliser machines – rehabilitation exercise – custom orthotics prescription. We are happy to treat traditional chiropractors fare like neck pain, back pain, sciatic pain and headaches – but we also treat sprained ankles – RSI – knee pain – tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis, among others.
So, while the traditional chiropractic approach is still an excellent form of healthcare in its own right, we have found that merging the chiropractic toolkit with other tools from the wide world of pain management has enabled us to move not only the profession forward, but our patients lives forward. This has been our experience at least, and we believe that it is part of a growing trend within the chiropractic profession.
The Future Of Chiropractic
The future of chiropractic and chiropractors practice will most likely become more and more integrated and diverse in its scope – much the same way as dentistry has done.
Unfortunately the wider cultural embrace of chiropractic is slower than it ought to be, due to a raft of old wives tales and urban myths about the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic – so it is slow going. But at least we can say that chiropactic is a fully realised modern healthcare profession – with a strong educational and legislative foundation.
As people continue to empower themselves with the information that is now literally at their finger tips, more and more patients will navigate the maze of urban mythery and inter-professional misunderstandings and find their way to chiropractors offices where they can receive higher and higher quality care from a profession who specialise not only in ‘back cracking’ but pain management.
We may even reach a point where chiropractors and the medical profession reach an understanding. Chiropractic is a part of the ACC system in NZ and has become available within the NHS public health system in the UK – which makes it fundamentally mainstream in the eyes of government at least. Maybe family doctors will come around to governmental thinking on the chiropractic topic eventually eh.
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