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October 2005

Some things we're not supposed to talk about

by Dr. Frank Bowling

Recently, a lady in her late 30s came in to see me with a chief complaint of neck and back pain, but also mentioned that she'd been having "heart flutters." I adjusted her spine as usual. The next time I saw her, she reported that the heart flutters had been greatly reduced by the day after her adjustment, and were completely gone by the second day. She was very surprised.

Around the same time, a gentleman in his mid‑30s came in complaining of pain in the neck and shoulders, but disclosed that he'd been having some numbness in his lower back, which had spread to his groin, causing numbness during sexual activity. Within a few adjustments, he reported that the problem had been resolved, and that he and his wife were both much happier.

This week, a 13 year‑old boy was brought in with symptoms of the flu lasting several days, accompanied by a fever that wouldn't seem to go down. I examined and adjusted him, and although I don't "treat" fever or the flu, I expected, based on past experience, that the boy might very well be better by the next day. Sure enough, he was much improved, and was able to return to school and soccer practice as usual.

What's the connection?

The above cases represent something called "anecdotal evidence" which means they are not scientific studies, but are simply average cases, routinely seen by chiropractors all over the world. Patients initially come in for complaints they think a chiropractor can help, like neck or back pain, and often find that some of their other health problems respond as well.

How do these things happen? It's because of the close relationship between the spine and the nervous system, which affects all other systems and functions in the body, including internal organs and the immune system. Chiropractors don't treat these problems, but at the same time, chiropractic adjustments often do have an impact on them.

Two schools of thought

During most of chiropractic's 110‑year history, we've been divided into two camps, somewhat like Democrats and Republicans. We both want to benefit our patients and our world, but we have different ideas about how best to go about it.

One group thinks we should only talk about neck pain, back pain and other musculoskeletal complaints. They try very hard to "fit in" to the traditional medical model and be "accepted" by our medical colleagues and friends. They're afraid that if chiropractors talk about the effect of spinal adjustments on other systems, we'll be misinterpreted, and come across as "some kind of nuts." Indeed, that very problem has often occurred in the past, and still crops up from time to time even today. Doctors, scientists and others in positions of authority, or with a lot of political or economic power, have accused us of thinking we can cure anything.

The second group thinks that despite the risk of being misinterpreted or labeled "unscientific," we chiropractors have an obligation to tell the truth about what we know ‑‑ that correcting vertebral subluxations or misalignments in the spine has far‑reaching effects throughout the body. I can still hear my old college president saying, more than 30 years ago, that the practice of chiropractic is a "narrow scope with broad implications," by which he meant that we really only adjust the spine, but if we do it correctly, the benefits can be truly remarkable.

In recent years, respected scientists from a variety of backgrounds have begun to publish research that supports the basic chiropractic premise. Much still needs to be done, and historically, while almost no government grants or other funds have been made available to pursue that research (particularly compared to the billions spent on medical and pharmaceutical studies), progress is still being made.

Meanwhile, those of us in private practice, working out here "in the trenches" every day with real people, continue to have experiences with our patients like those described above. And rather than hide under a bushel what surely will one day be recognized as the brilliant light of chiropractic philosophy, I, for one, think we must surely let it shine!