With a sudden, alarming crunch, I felt something give way in my lower back. “OK,” said Dr. Hadley. “That’s it.”
“That’s it?” I asked him.
“That’s it,” he said again.
Curiously, the pain in my lower back, which had been interfering with each step I took, was immediately lessened. While it isn’t entirely gone, it’s safe to say that something significant has changed. The reduction in pain, coupled with the fast response, would seem to justify the rather undignified 20 minutes or so that I’d spent wearing “community shorts” provided to me in the office. (“You wash the ‘community shorts,’ right?” I asked, and was reassured that of course they do.)
After a pair of X-rays and several other scans, including thermal scans of my neck, upper back and lower back, I spent a few minutes in the waiting area while Dr. Hadley went over the data. A large flat-screen television in the clean, nicely decorated, well-appointed offices was playing what I assume to be a loop of video footage. One of these was one of those bizarre computer-generated YouTube-style videos in which artificial speech synthesizers read dialogue provided. A computer-generated doctor and a computer generated patient discussed chiropractic and whether it is the purview of “quacks.”
Well, is it? I wondered. It was after my brief wait that the doctor pushed back into place whatever was out of place. This was something involving my sacroiliac joint. Medicinenet.com explains that this is “formed by the connection of the sacrum and the right and left iliac bones. The sacrum is the triangular-shaped bone in the lower portion of the spine, below the lumbar spine. … The iliac bones are the two large bones that make up the pelvis. As a result, the SI joints connect the spine to the pelvis.”
So, is chiropractic technology or quackery? In a world where medical technology is more advanced than at any point in modern history, and at a time when advances in computer tech are producing great gains in convenience and lowered cost of peripheral equipment, certainly a modern office like my new chiropractor’s firm is replete with modern technological toys. Massive flat screens connected to a central source of data projected the results of my scans and analyses, which were conducted with handheld sensors and thermal imaging equipment. A sleek, compact X-ray machine stood in one corner of the initial exam room, and the chiropractor himself took the “films” (which were, in fact, immediately projected digitally onto the monitor as he took them). Another screen (and attached computer) was used to analyze what I gather were reference points on my X-rays.
Compare and contrast this to the hour I spent waiting in a my family practice doctor’s office the night before – a visit that resulted in a requisition form for an X-ray (“We don’t do X-rays after 5 p.m.,” they told me) and a prescription for pain-killing patches to be applied to my lower back. Now, my family practice doctor has saved my life a time or two (not to mention helping me through various illnesses associated with cold and flu season, such as bronchitis and walking pneumonia) and, despite the regulatory burdens of Obamacare and the federal government’s other meddling, continues to do a superb job for me. But until this chiropractic visit, I’d never received assistance for chronic pain that was so … immediate.
Where, then, does the technology of chiropractic care exist in comparison to more traditional Western medicine? The Journal of the American Medical Association now recommends chiropractic as a first means of treating back pain. “The JAMA`s recommendation,” writes John Pertzborn, “comes on the heels of a recent study out of the medical journal Spine [in which] sufferers of lower back pain all received standard medical care (SMC), and half of the participants additionally received chiropractic care. The researchers found that in SMC plus chiropractic care patients, 73 percent reported that their pain was completely gone or much better after treatment compared to just 17 percent of the SMC group.”
The benefits of chiropractic are also felt among veterans. Cat Viglienzoni, writing for WCAX, explains that spinal injuries among American veterans are on the rise. “A 2011 study of veterans who sought chiropractic care for neck pain,” she goes on, “found 43 percent of them had less pain, and 33 percent reported improved function. [The number] of veterans seeking [chiropractic] care is [also] up. From 2005 to 2013, the number of VA chiropractic clinics has doubled from 24 to 48, and the number of veterans receiving care at those clinics has gone from less than 4,000 to more than 25,000. But in that same time frame, the number of veterans receiving non-VA chiropractic services increased from a thousand to more than 9,000.”
Other more speculative benefits of chiropractic care include improvement in blood pressure and even alleviation of some forms of hearing loss as well as enhanced athletic performance. “Chiropractic adjustments help ensure that the body functions as efficiently as possible,” asserts Dr. Wayne Fitcher, “which can maximize healing and recovery from all types of injuries. Anyone who engages in athletics can benefit from regular chiropractic checkups to ensure that their spine is balanced and free from structural stress. When the spinal column is brought into balance and alignment, the body’s nervous system and body biomechanics (posture) are maximized.”
Despite these gains and even against repeated demonstrations of real benefit to those suffering chronic pain (not to mention pain from injury), chiropractic care seems always to be the Rodney Dangerfield of medical professionals, doomed to get “no respect.” But medical technology can be and most certainly should be free of politicking and agenda-driven editorializing. What is the application of medical tech, after all, if not the use of the scientific method to measure symptoms, diagnose probable causes, and prescribe effective treatments? This is the very definition of technology’s amorality: It is neither good, nor bad – neither quackery nor hard science – unless and until it is applied honestly and objectively, with an eye toward real, reproducible results.
To repeat Dr. Hadley, “That’s it.”
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