Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Dark Side of Chiropractic

One should be warned of a human factor in the chiropractic industry. The profession lends itself to abuse. Should a chiropractor be dishonest (imagine that), tempted to drum-up more business or just angry at his patient, he can easily turn instruments of healing into those of injury. His hands top the list.

According to the history of chiropractic, it seems to have originated from a spiritual charism. Some people throughout history have been gifted with healing knacks. On the coattails of these gifted ones ride today's quacks.

These people were called "bone-setters." They had a magic touch for healing pain in the joints, particularly those of the back. The vertebral joints, their disks and dynamics are the domain of bone-setters. Fixing what ails people there comes as naturally to them as leading armies does to a virago.

Bone-setters applied strategic thrusts, aligning the spinal column, setting bones aright. What they did cannot be explained by modern technology, as bone-setters practiced their craft many centuries B.C. People would come to them from miles around like tribal people came to their holy men.

Given the sacred origin of this healing craft, today's schools of chiropractic cannot be compared with it. From my studies about the phenomenon, one does not become a bone-setter. One is rather born a bone-setter. Like the Lakota holy man who has visions about the future, you can't set up a technical school that teaches people how to do that.

In chiropractic today, there is a curious instrument called an activator. It is a spring-loaded hammer that looks like a miniature pogo stick. This hand-held device is used most commonly to strike the transverse and spinous processes of the vertebrae. Proponents of its use claim that this little hammer helps adjust spinal misalignments, also known as "vertebral subluxations" -- the diagnosis of which is not clearly discernable outside of risky radiation imagery (x-rays) which is pushed at chiropractic offices beyond necessity.

Chiropractors claim that subluxations can also be detected by observing the length of a patient's legs, when they are measured side-by-side. I do not accept this as a science. For injuries, magnetic resonance imagery is a substantial method of diagnosis to be considered. If a gentle, hands-only spinal adjustment does not do the trick, then what ails you is something beyond the scope of the chiropractor anyway. Get thee to an MRI lab if you want to know the brass-tacks.

If there is no pain present, it is a good indicator that things are fine. When it comes to bones, leaving what is not broken, unbroken is better for the spine. These eager-beaver doctors should be told that if nothing hurts, then Dude -- don't fix it.

As things read to me, medical questionnaires are not so much about diagnosis as they are about fishing. The doctor is fishing for ways to make you feel sick and worried. Every medical student knows that studying diseases can manifest in physical symptoms. As does the hypnotist who's bread and butter is the power of suggestion.

Did your mother die of kidney failure? Then that is perhaps how you will die (hint-hint). Are you sometimes depressed or divorced? Well naturally you're a crack-pot in need of psychotropic medication. What else is wrong with you? Let's cast the jitter-bug a little farther this time. Do you have night sweats? Based on your age, the sky is falling. We have some pills for that. How's your sex-life? Not so good? We need to get you on some hormones right away or else you'll surely lose your mind.

You get the idea. So at the chiro's, expect a similar questionnaire about all the things that are supposed to be wrong with you. And how the bones in your back are all related to it -- somehow. If the white-coat industry pushed Amish veggies and vigorous exercise as hard as they pushed pills, their industry would dwindle to tying off bleeders and end-of-life morphine.

The activator can be used to align a subluxated vertebra by striking one of the handy bone levers (transverse or spinous process) and thusly snap it back into its proper place again. Likewise, the activator can also be used to knock a perfectly-good bone askew using the same method. If this is the case, you will feel it. It will hurt. Keep in mind that not only is a spinal adjustment not supposed to hurt -- but if done correctly, it should feel good, like your little sister walking on your back after band practice.

According to the bone-setters, your body has a wisdom of its own and gets its walking orders from a higher place. Injury and disease are made known to you in obvious ways. If all you do with your body is ride a daily couch, then these ways will be less obvious.

The spine has a propensity to right itself by simple traction. Hang upside-down from the monkey bars for a while and listen for the popping sounds. Doesn't that feel good? That is your spine aligning itself.

Ideally, the activator spring tension is supposed to be loaded to an amplitude commensurate with the bone size and density that it is intended to adjust. Should the hammer strike a small bone with high-enough amplitude, a fracture can result. If the activator is used to secretly injure a patient, he may think that he injured himself and seek help for the new pain from the same person who caused it.

Chiropractic is not recognised by most insurance companies and thereby shares a predictable decline with other alternative therapies in today's economy. This sets the stage for fraud, abuse and deliberate injury of patients who would otherwise only visit their chiropractors when they have hoisted a heavy cat, or something.

In the case of angry chiropractors, one should be aware that "neck adjustments" can be used to tear every muscle in your neck. All a skilled injurer needs is four seconds to make it happen. But your body will require two weeks to make it heal. The damage inflicted will remind you each time you turn your head, however slightly, that you should not have asked for that itemized list of costs and services.

Some chiropractors may be angered by having to produce a document of charges and services for their patient's records. Such documents hold the chiropractor to what has been put in writing and are safeguards against fast-talking duplicity.

One doctor recently told a patient that based on x-rays he found a subluxation that he then treated with what felt like a blow from a carpenter's hammer. Yet when the patient called him to task, he could not point out which bone it was on the x-rays -- which showed no sign of subluxation. The blow to the patient's vertebra was inflicted during a prone position without warning. The patient complained of fracture-class pain that took several months to subside.

Lessons learned: always demand everything in writing up front. Nothing a chiropractor does should require you to remove clothing. Never submit to unnecessary x-rays. Never let a chiropractor use an activator hammer on your body unless you are willing to risk broken or dislocated bones. Ask the chiropractor exactly what his adjustment process entails before you let him touch you.

** Sources
(1) Scott Haldeman, Principles and Practice of Chiropractic (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005)
(2) The Empirical, 2009