Chiropractic heading into mainstream

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Almost everyone of a certain age has had this experience: Either you are in a motor vehicle accident, lift your child wrong or simply wake up one morning after an awkward sleep and you're in pain. Low back pain, neck pain, a headache or shoulder pain.

Statistics show that 85 percent of the population will have neck or back pain severe enough to warrant a visit to their doctor. Two percent will be disabled by this pain.

So what do you do? Ten years ago you may have headed to your regular family physician for treatment. If you had told me 10 years ago that a time would come when chiropractors and medical doctors would be working together in common clinics, when they would collaborate on chiropractic research funded by the federal government, when chiropractic services would be recommended by medical and national organizations and that people in pain would choose a chiropractor first, I would have thought you were crazy.

Gradually prejudice has softened. Now more and more people have made chiropractic the second-biggest health-care industry by visiting a chiropractor first, avoiding the ever-increasing risk of dangerous drug side effects.

Chiropractic has emerged from the periphery of the health-care system and is playing an increasingly important role in the discussion of health-care policy. After more than a century of both suppression and isolationism since its founding, the chiropractic profession is assuming its valuable and appropriate role in the health-care system in this country and around the world.

In the past, people mainly went to a chiropractor for neck or low back pain, also two of the most common complaints seen by their family doctor. Over the years, these same people began learning that chiropractors are expertly trained in the whole musculoskeletal system and can treat myriad disorders, including disc bulges or herniations, headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder/elbow problems, hip/knee conditions and many others. As more and more people seek chiropractic care for these other conditions, chiropractic has been forced to grow along with its use.

The last couple of years, more and more chiropractors have been branching out into specialties, like medical doctors. The most common specialties are neurology, radiology, sports injuries, rehabilitation and nutrition. These doctors attend another four years of postgraduate study and are board certified in their new disciplines. This means that along with their regular patients with low back pain or headaches, these doctors also treat specialized cases in their field of expertise that other chiropractors may not feel confident to approach.

For example, a chiropractic neurologist may treat strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease or peripheral nerve entrapments with advanced functional chiropractic treatment, brain-based exercises, therapy and nutrition. Other chiropractors may not even attempt to treat these cases and would need to refer them.

Another new development in the profession is how a patient is treated in the office. Along with the typical "adjustment" one might receive, a chiropractor may now incorporate newer styles of adjusting, more effective physiotherapy such as light therapy or cold lasers, FDA-approved supplements, acupuncture and rehabilitation. All these are included in the nondrug, nonsurgical philosophy of chiropractic and help increase healing to help patients overcome their condition more quickly.

The goal of these new developments is not to take patients away from medical colleagues. It is to work more closely and in conjunction with other doctors for the benefit of the patient. Often chiropractors and medical doctors work together and cross-refer patients so patients can receive the maximum level of care. As this happens more and more, the professional battles of the past will fade and the patient, at last, will be the true winner.

Dr. Aaron Andrews is a chiropractic neurologist in Cape Girardeau.

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