Friday, May 31, 2013

Is your Chiropractor your Cure?

I've got a friend who wakes up at 5am and swims for 1 hour before work every single day. Which to me sounds absolutely awful... cause I think swimming is one of the hardest exercises to do.  I'm just not a swimmer, if I do a few laps I think I'm gonna die, I mean literally, I may just pass out and sink!  So to me, he's a crazy person, but you know what?  He loves it.  When I ask him why he does it he always responds with "cause it evens me out and I'm just not myself if I miss a day."  Again... crazy person!

So he's an example of a person who has to do something every day or else he doesn't feel good.  But we all have things like this.  For some people it's walking or running, drinking coffee or making a smoothie, meditating or calling best friends.  We've all got things that we have to do in our lives to make us feel good.

Now if we stopped doing these things, we'd be all out of whack.  If my buddy stopped swimming he'd be miserable, and we all know of the woman who if she stopped taking her morning walks to the coffee shop would be a disaster.  My point here is that we all do things to make us feel better and improve our lives but they aren't one time occurrences, they're things we do on a daily or weekly basis, and if we stop doing them we don't feel good.  For some people this thing is seeing their chiropractor.

Some people have to see their chiropractors on a weekly or monthly basis to feel good.  For these people seeing their chiropractors is like swimming, or working out, or drinking coffee or calling best friends.  It's the thing they need to feel normal.  And if they stop seeing their chiropractor they just don't feel well... their pain comes back, headaches come back, stress comes back, whatever it is comes back. For some people, seeing a chiropractor is as much a cure for their pain as working out is a cure for weakness. (I think that's an analogy... or a simile... I can never remember which is which).  Meaning that seeing their chiropractor isn't their cure, it's just the thing they've found that improves their lives.

"For some people, seeing a chiropractor may be as much a cure for pain as working out is a cure for weakness."

And even though we all know this, some people have a really tough time dragging themselves into the chiropractors office on a monthly basis.  If you're old enough to remember the charlie brown cartoons you'll remember how charlie brown would walk when he was upset.  Head down just dragging his body along... just like this arrested development spoof (and I apologize if you don't know what arrested development is and you don't get this reference)  This is how some people arrive in the office!

Now this isn't true for everyone.  The majority of people we see don't have to come back for life and are feeling much much better within 1-3 weeks.  But for a handful of people that's not the case.  Some people just have bad backs and have to see their chiropractor throughout life or else their pain comes back.  I'll share a story with you about what I mean.

A few weeks ago we had a woman come into the office who has mild scoliosis which causes her to be in some sort of pain every single day.  And she had been in pain for over 30 years, tried everything from pain killers and physical therapy to acupuncture and herbal remedies... none of which helped her pain.  So she came to us, as some people do, as a last resort and only because her best friend convinced her to come in.  We examined her, saw the mild scoliosis and the pain it was causing and explained to her that we could help her pain... but we could NOT cure her scoliosis.  She responded by saying "I'll do anything to get out of pain, I can't live like this anymore."  So she began treatment... still not really believing we could help her.

Now a little background here.   With mild scoliosis there is a slight curve to the spine which causes altered mechanics in the spine.  You get too much pressure and too much irritation on one side of the spine.  So the joints of the spine jam together on one side and stop moving correctly which causes a lot of discomfort and achiness for most people who battle scoliosis.  But if the joints of the spine can be loosened then the pressure is released and most people get can get relief.  This is why we see hundreds of people with mild scoliosis... because adjustments are very effective at helping this type of pain.  But of course we don't cure the scoliosis, we just allow some people to live relatively pain free.

So we started treating this woman, and low and behold, after 8 adjustments she was out of pain for the first time in 30 years.  Fantastic you may be saying!  And that's actually what she was saying... how great it was for her to be out of pain.  So we started treating her weekly, then once every two weeks, and then once a month.  A woman who had constant pain every single day now only had to see her chiropractor once a month... how fantastic!  Well not exactly, because as most people do, this woman eventually said this.... "well you've helped me more than I ever thought anyone could, but I really don't want to come every month cause I live on the other side of the city, so what can I do on my own so that I don't have to come in?"

And there it was... the question that I could not answer... because there's no good answer.  People with scoliosis got dealt a bad hand, if you will.  The mechanics of the spine will always be a bit off, and will need some sort of care.  But since she had gotten so much relief she felt that there must be some way of not coming in for care anymore.  Now remember, she had once said "I'll do anything to get out of pain" and was now saying "I really don't want to come once a month"... what a shocking change!  And also remember, she had tried literally everything before coming to see me, and now was asking me what else she could do on her own to prevent her pain... as if I knew some crazy stretch or exercise that nobody knew of... which of course I didn't.  And this doesn't just happen with scoliosis.  It happens with degenerated discs, sciatica, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, pain from sitting at a desk all day, pain from traveling for a living, and other pain syndromes associated with the ways people live their lives.

Here's another example.  The guy who sits at his desk for 10 hours a day, getting up only once to grab lunch.  Comes into the office complaining of back pain that has gotten so severe that he can't sleep at night.  He's on heavy doses of pain killers and muscle relaxers which just make him tired all day but don't really help his pain.  He now can't focus at work and he's losing business because of it.  So I examine him and find that his constant sitting is compressing the joints of his spine which is causing his pain.  I told him that I could get him out of pain but NOT permanently because his pain is CAUSED by sitting.  To which he responded "I hurt literally all day and I can't live a normal life without sleeping so do whatever you have to do and I'll come as much as I need to."  So after 2 weeks of treatment he started feeling great.  But he couldn't go more than 2 weeks without getting an adjustment or else his pain comes back.  Doesn't sound too bad right?  From constant pain that caused sleepless nights to having to walk 3 blocks to see his chiropractor for 15 minutes every 2 weeks.  But after a month or so of bi-weekly treatments the question came up again "Doc I feel great when I see you every couple weeks but I'm really busy at work and I just can't get here every 2 weeks so what can I do on my own to not have to come here?"  And again, other than telling him to stop sitting, I didn't have a good answer.  So of course I sarcastically told him he could "stop being you" and we laughed a little... but that joke got us nowhere of course.

And the reason I don't have good answers to questions like the ones I heard from these patients is because the pain many people experience is caused by either something incurable like scoliosis or how people live their lives.  Whether it's sitting, travel, scoliosis, or too much stress.  But these aren't things I can cure.  So when people ask me what else they can do, I really don't have an answer.  And when I do hear this question I always think it's sort of funny, because it's kind of like walking to your hair dresser and saying "Listen, I love how you make my hair look but I live 3 blocks away and I really don't have time to come in here, so what can I do on my own so that I don't have to come see you?"  Sounds funny right?

So what's my point here?  Well my point is that some people have to see chiropractors their whole lives, it's just the way it is.  And it's not because their chiropractor is telling them they're gonna die if they don't come in.  It's just that their chiropractor may have been the only person to ever help their pain and there's no permanent cure for them.  There's no real cure for scoliosis or for sitting all day.  Just like some people have to avoid red meat or else they'll get a heart attack, swim in the morning or else they're miserable, or drink coffee in the morning to get through the day.  Some people just need chiropractors... but is that necessarily a bad thing?  Can you imagine if these people were never introduced to their chiropractor?  And along the same lines can my friend imagine if he never found swimming?  Daily life clearly just wouldn't be the same.

So the next time you drag yourself across town, kicking and screaming, to see your chiropractor, for that long 15 minute appointment, just try to remember how much pain you were in before your first visit.  And just think that even though your chiropractor may not be able to "cure" your chronic pain... they may be able to give you a life without pain.... even though it's a huge "pain" to get to their office :)