Back to Basics
by Michael Braunstein
Chiropractic Does Not Treat Symptoms.
Nor does it treat diseases. Chiropractic does not use drugs or surgery. It recognizes that the body heals if it is in balance. The body heals if the lines of communication are open. In the body, the communication lines are nerves. And the nerves move through the spinal column to the various parts of our body. No one thinks it odd that if we pinch a nerve in our back that we could get a tingle in our shoulder or arm. No one doubts that a pinched nerve in our back could cause a pain in our leg or side. It follows then, that since every organ and every system in our body is influenced by the nerves that communicate to them, then any compromise in that flow of energy would have an impact on the performance of that system or organ. By correcting any misalignment of the spinal vertebrae, known as a subluxation, chiropractic promotes the proper flow of information through the nerves and the body performs in a healthy manner.
Now it becomes understandable how patients who visit a chiropractor can notice the alleviation of problems as varied as asthma, digestive problems, migraines or ear infections. It's all connected. And it's connected by the nervous system.
Chiropractors often note that the belief that chiropractic is just for back pain is the greatest misconception they have to deal with in their practices. Chiropractic is preventive medicine as well as for the relief of the imbalances caused by acute or chronic spinal misalignment. And the nature of these imbalances can be as far-ranging as immune system problems or hearing loss in one ear or both.
With the attention being given to the dangers of antibiotics, the side-effects of drugs and the invasive nature of surgical remedies, a health-care system that is effective and uses a completely natural approach becomes more appealing than ever. Even if your back doesn't hurt, it doesn't hurt to find out more about chiropractic.
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Let me tell you a story. It's about the first time I went to a chiropractor. It was 1985 and I was still living in North Hollywood. And if my guess is right, the reason I went is the same reason most people visit a chiropractor for the first time. My back hurt.
I had first "tweaked" my lower back trying to lift a Hammond B-3 speaker cabinet for Stevie Wonder during a late-night recording session. I could feel my back twist and it was sore for several days but it finally got better by itself. But it never felt the same. That was in 1975. What threw my back out ten years later was when I was eating lunch with my friend Mimi in Studio City. I picked up my tray, reached across the table to put the salt shaker back in the rack. It was an awkward move and when I tried to straighten up, my back plain locked up. I couldn't stand up. It was the weirdest feeling. My body would not do what I was commanding it to do.
Over the next couple of days it got worse. It hurt so much at night, perspiration would bead on my forehead. I'm telling you, it was uncomfortable. I knew I was going to see a chiropractor. I just didn't know any. How was I going to find a good one?
I went to the gym to ride the Lifecycle and see if my back would loosen up. I sat on a bike next to my friend Steve Strassman. He, like I, was a record producer and engineer. We both made our living using our ears. That little fact will be key to this whole column. I told Steve of my back woes and he could relate. He had hurt his back skiing a couple of years prior. He knew the chiropractor I should see. I knew he was right.
FREE AT LAST
Dr. John Cathcart agreed to see me right away since I was in pain. A little over an hour after I gingerly walked into his office, I walked out on to Westwood Blvd. pain-free. My back was still tender but loose and flexible. I also was about an inch taller. (It is not uncommon for people to actually gain a noticeable amount of height after their first spinal adjustment.) That night, I slept like a baby.
Early the next morning is when I got my big surprise. Now, remember, hearing was my livelihood. And with the hubris of a Hollywood recording engineer, I prided myself in my "golden ears." Not that our hearing is any better than anyone else's, just that we paid more attention to it and it was highly trained. Because of that, I was keenly aware that my right ear didn't hear as well as my left. It was down about 10 dB. When I would awaken in the mornings, with my left ear against the pillow, I couldn't hear birds singing. If I turned my head over and had my right ear against the pillow, I easily heard the song birds with my left ear. It was a little game I played with myself in the mornings.
Well, that morning was different. I was laying with my left ear on the pillow and I could hear the birds chirping with my right ear! My right ear was back to normal and I was astonished. I sat straight up in bed and remembered that my back didn't hurt either and I instantly knew what had happened. My chiropractic adjustment the day before had somehow "fixed" my hearing! I understood immediately. I mean the whole thing is connected. As recording engineers, we knew that hearing is affected by muscle tightness and tension in the neck muscles. Engineers who were known to use artificial stimulants to stay up late doing night sessions were also known to temporarily lose high frequency response in their hearing because the stimulants would cause the muscles to tense. I figured the adjustment I had gotten had freed the muscles. What I did know for certain was that my hearing was back to normal. And that I was an expert in.
That dramatic experience was what taught me that chiropractic is for more than just back pain. And when I came to understand more about chiropractic, it all made sense.
AN AMERICAN WAY OLDER THAN HARLEY-DAVIDSON (BUT NOT YET AS TRENDY)
Spinal adjustment and manipulation of skeletal joints have been practiced throughout history. Even Hippocrates pointed out its value. "Look well to the spine, for many diseases have their origins in dislocations of the vertebral column," he wrote. Cultures as varied as Incan, Egyptian, ancient Chinese and Native American document the practice of spinal realignment. Polynesian cultures trained adolescents to walk on backs to adjust vertebrae. In the Renaissance period, the term "bone-setters" was used to describe healers who practiced the art. But it was not until one hundred and three years ago this month that the healing art now known as chiropractic began its transformation into the largest drugless, non-surgical health system in the Western world.
Daniel David Palmer had been interested in healing since childhood. In his twenties, he moved from Canada to Iowa and began to study with a magnetic healer. (To paraphrase NBC, "If you only read the World-Herald, it's news to you!" Magnetic therapy has become one of the most popular remedies for a number of ailments and professional athletes have become one of the greatest champions of magnets. Seems Palmer may have been ahead of the curve.) After years of studying physiology and practicing healing, Palmer concluded that the cause of disease was linked to misalignment of the vertebrae.
In 1895, Harvey Lillard, a janitor in Palmer's employ, told him he had been deaf for 17 years, ever since the time he felt something in his back "give" as he exerted himself in an awkward, stooped position. Palmer examined him and found a spinal misalignment. He adjusted it back into position. Lillard's hearing returned. It was an historical moment. From that day, Palmer began development of the formal medical approach now known as chiropractic. He opened the first school in Davenport, Iowa in 1897, Palmer College.
Now, doctor of chiropractic is recognized as a formal, licensed health-care profession. As one doctor quipped to me recently, "We study everything an M.D. does in medical school and then add chiropractic."