Is Chiropractic Care Worth the Time?
I have an appointment with my chiropractor today. I haven’t been in several months, though I typically try to go ever 3 or 4 weeks. I thought I would explore some of the supposed benefits and criticisms of chiropractic care, along with some personal anecdotal evidence. Disclaimer: My grandfather was my chiropractor for the first 22 or so years of my life, so I may be a bit biased.
Chiropractic … is a complementary and alternative medicine health care profession whose purpose is to diagnose and treat mechanical disorders of the spine and musculoskeletal system with the intention of affecting the nervous system and improving health.
Basically, the chiropractor manipulates the neck and/or spine to relieve pressure points and allow the nervous system to function more properly. It makes logical sense given that all of the body’s nerves run through the spinal column and misalignments can cause pressure on nerves. Whether this actually happens or not is open to interpretation depending on who you ask and what their investment in a “yes” or “no” answer is.
I once knew a girl that had her neck messed up pretty badly when someone rear-ended her car. When I recommended she see a chiropractor to try to work through the whiplash, she said “chiropractors are quacks” and proceeded to continue popping painkillers. Ahh yes…I forgot that only people dispensing drugs are real doctors. Frankly, I’d put my faith in someone that didn’t turn to the pills as the first line of defense. That’s not to say that there aren’t certifiably quacky chiropractors out there, but to generalize based on lack of knowledge is doing oneself a disservice.
I think the wisest course of action is always the one that seeks to fix the cause of the pain (e.g., the whiplash in the story above) rather than the one that seeks to cover the symptoms (e.g., the painkillers). That is what you get with a good chiropractor. Mine seeks to straighten the spine and let the body heal itself and will also turn to other alternative modalities, such as massage, before pointing one in the direction of traditional Western medicine. But the key is that he will admit that traditional medicine has its proper place.
Now for some personal anecdotes. A decade and a half ago, when I hit puberty and started growing very quickly, all the way to the towering height of 5’10″, I began having migraines regularly. About once a month, I’d have a debilitating headache that put me down for the count. The only recourse was to go to sleep. Lights were like needles to the eyes and any sounds felt like someone was hammering on my brain. Occasionally I got sick from these. Luckily, those slowed once the major growth spurt stopped and I only got them occasionally throughout college, usually as a result of too much staring at a computer screen. But the thing that always helped was getting adjusted. If I started having migraines back-to-back-to-back, I’d go to the chiropractor, get my spine realigned and they’d disappear. That was all I needed to know that it worked for me. Perhaps it was a placebo, but it sure was a cheap placebo.
Now when I go too long, though I don’t get migraines any longer (likely a result of much improved dietary habits), my back ends up in knots and I’m more likely to get sick. Last week, I started developing a touch of a cough and by Friday, I wasn’t sure if I should even go to work. I think I ended up catching the flu that’s been going around, a result of stress, poor diet (relatively speaking compared to my usual fare), and a lack of keeping my body tuned up. I suppose my consolation should be that, whatever this nasty strain of flu is that’s going around, it didn’t hit me hard enough to keep me from getting out into the world as it did to many people. Obviously I can’t give my trip to the chiropractor this afternoon credit for clearing up this bout of ill health. My immune system has already begun the process of kicking the germs out the door. But I do know that when I keep my back taken care of, I never get so much as a cold. I can always tell when it’s time to go see Dr. Zemba as I end up with several spots in my back that get achy (they’re there now). A trip to get my head screwed back on straight and it all loosens back up.
One criticism I’ve heard voiced is that once you go to a chiropractor, you have to keep going. Well…yes. Once you start receiving the benefits of a painkiller, you have to keep taking them. It’s not like the doctor can just set your spine and then you walk off fixed for life. The key with a chiropractor is that you’ll want to keep going. Once you’ve experienced what it’s like to be free from the tension in your back and the aches and pains of your sore back and neck, you’ll see what you “have to keep going.” Another criticism basically calls chiropractic pseudo-science. There is no denying that some of the claims are a bit out there. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, “Take what works, add what is uniquely yours, and discard the rest.” Basically, see if it helps you and if not, ditch it.
So is visiting a chiropractor worth your time and money? For me, the answer is an unequivocal “yes”. I’ve seen benefits throughout my life. Even if it’s a placebo, it’s working wonders and for $20/month, it can’t really be beat. Your mileage may vary, but you do actually have to give it a try for a few months before you can make a determination. You can’t just go once and then deem it to be a bunch of nonsense. Alternative medicine takes a bit longer than the nuclear bomb approach of traditional medicine. Alternative medicine forces the body to heal itself. Traditional medicine just bypasses the body’s natural systems with drugs that are far stronger than what is truly needed. I doubt chiropractic is the cure-all that many of its practitioners claim it to be. However, I do think it’s a good tool in your health arsenal.
What are your thoughts? Anyone here visit a chiropractor?