The White stuff is here in West Michigan and it's getting cold outside. Its is a time for sledding, snowmen, skiing, snowball fights, and school cancellations. It is also a time for weather-related slips, trips, and falls on icy surfaces. These injuries can trigger (or re-aggravate) spinal problems. This can lead to neck pain, back pain, sciatica, and headaches. Of course, the doctors of Zehr Chiropractic are well equipped to treat these when injuries when we see them, but the following steps may help you prevent such an injury.
I recently read an article linking a popular "osteoporosis medication" with an increased risk of fracture (I'll comment more on this in a later post). The term osteoporosis describes the loss of bone density, which increases the patient's risk of skeletal fracture. Hence, any substance that would further increase the likelihood of fracture would be counter-productive, right? You would definitely think so. Unfortunately, long term use of Fosamax has caused a frightening amount of fractures in people performing every day activities like walking. Of course, one must always determine whether or not the risk of any health intervention outweighs its intended benefits, but how often does a medication actually make the patient sicker than when they started? More often than you might think.
But doesn't the Hippocratic Oath state that the doctor should "First, do no harm?" It sure does, but new doctors who recite the Hippocratic oath also state that "I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." Is this why my mother's physician tried putting her on Lipitor and never ONCE mentioned diet, exercise, or supplements (which actually work better than statins and without the pesky muscle aches, liver damage, and loss of memory)?
Unfortunately, the likelihood of unintended consequences is evident with so many other medications that the public doesn't know about. Biased research creates a perceived benefit, which gets the medication cleared for public consumption. Even conservative estimates on Vioxx (a pain medication which had an annoying side effect of causing heart attacks and strokes) state that the final Vioxx death toll reached 28,000 people, or nearly TEN TIMES that of the attacks on the World Trade Center. A more recent re-analysis of the data estimates the death toll could be up to FOUR TIMES higher still. To put it in perspective, this would put the Vioxx death toll greater than the number of Americans that died in the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined.
Just let THAT sink in.
The problem is that these facts do not come to light until well after patients have been exposed. Since the drug companies themselves usually conduct the research that proves a drug's safety and efficacy (or they just give a pile of money to a university to do it for them), the real "test" of a drug occurs once it is on the market. Patients become the lab rats, the only difference being that that real lab rats don't actually have to pay for their medications at 200 dollars per bottle. The organization whose mission is to protect us, the FDA, is funded by pharmaceutical companies. The agency is so corrupt, that a group of scientists at the FDA have urged that the white house step in and "clean house"in an open letter to the President. The organization itself is loaded with former doctors and big pharma employees. In this case, the fox actually owns and manages the henhouse.
So who do you trust? Your doctor? She is too busy seeing patients (and fighting with insurance companies). She doesn't have time to pour over research journals all day (which are biased, anyways) and keep up with every single drug on the market. Of course doctors want to make sure they are offering the latest treatments in order to help their patients. They rely on pharmaceutical reps to keep them updated on the newest medications, taking it on faith that the information they receive is unbiased and accurate. Are we seeing a problem yet? The pharmaceutical representative is paid on commission. Of course they are going to paint as sunny a picture as possible when peddling their wares, like any good salesman. By the way, have you noticed that most pharmaceutical salespeople you see are attractive females? No, that is not a coincidence. In fact, drug companies have been known to recruit college cheerleaders to help sell more pills. If these life saving medications are all they're cracked up to be, why would you need paid models, errr..."salespeople" to convince the doctors to prescribe them? The whole system itself has gotten a pass for decades. It is high time we question the credibility of the medical establishment when it comes to the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals.
However, I am not asking anybody to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Good, appropriate medical care has its place, for sure. My mother, the same woman who was frustrated by her doctor's flippant Lipitor prescription, also received a life saving surgery by a brilliant neurosurgeon after she suffered a brain aneurysm. When it comes to acute crisis care, medicine is where it's at. No doubt about it. What we do need to keep in mind, however, is that we must make informed decisions when it comes to our personal health care, especially when it comes to preventing and managing chronic disease. Relying on large pharmaceutical companies and government bureaucracies to look out for our best interests when budget concerns, stock prices, and commisions are at stake is a risky proposition at best. Listen to your doctor, but make sure your doctor is willing to listen to you. Be open and honest about your concerns. Inquire about healthy alternatives to medications. Do a little research before putting anything in your body (or allowing somebody to take something out). If your doctor is unwilling to take your concerns seriously, find one who will. There are some fantastic medical physicians who are willing and able to treat you as an individual and not just a list of symptoms.
With that in mind, let's turn the tables and identify the person who is most often to blame if you are not healthy: yourself. You owe it to yourself and those who depend on you to "first, do no harm." The healthier you make yourself, the better off you will be in the long run, decreasing the chances you will ever be exposed to invasive treatments like drugs and surgery. The (wo)man in the mirror is the most important figure in your health care, not just a Michael Jackson song.
Quit drinking soft drinks (yes, even the diet ones). Quit smoking. Quit your sugar addiction. Quit stressing about things you can't change. Quit using cleaning supplies with harmful chemicals. Quit eating processed food with 14-syllable ingredients. Quit putting off sleep so you can facebook, watch TV, and play video games. Quit covering up your poor health decisions with stimulants, painkillers, and antacids. Quit making excuses about why you haven't done this already.
Get more exercise. Get more sleep. Get a water filter. Get more vegetables and grass fed meats into your diet. Get a massage. Get your spine adjusted. Get your teeth cleaned. Smile more. Laugh more. Read more. Think more. Be a regular at your local farmer's market. Pick up a hobby. Volunteer. Spend less time at the computer and more time at the community center. Be a better spouse. Be a better parent. Be a better friend. Be a better you.
You are in control of your own health. Your body is the most valuable thing you own. Take care of it and it will last you much longer.
"I really just want to get off of all these PILLS!"
These people are looking for alternatives because their faith in medicine has been shaken. I hear this every day in my office. I hear statements like "My doctor just keeps giving me pills. That's his answer for everything." "I am worse off than I was before the meds." "I wish I never had that damn neck surgery."
And these are not just anti-establishment types who always buck trends. These are people who were raised in the medicine cabinet and never questioned their doctor but started reading and started asking questions, and they decided to go in a different direction based on their own personal experiences. One of those directions is into our Chiropractic practice.
Chiropractic has been around for 115 years. It is not a "new wave" treatment by any means. Chiropractic has gone from being considered a miraculous new fad to 'voodoo' to illegal to legal to officially blacklisted (thanks to the AMA, although they lost when chiropractic had its day in court and won). Now Chiropractic is the largest alternative health care profession in the United States. It has gained in credibility and availability, with Doctors of Chiropractic licensed in all 50 states and over 70 countries.
Hundreds of research studies have been done proving its efficacy, even though the profession gets a tiny percentage of the government research funding that goes to pharmaceutical companies and medical schools. And the biggest voice for chiropractic is not chiropractors themselves, but patients. According to a comprehensive study done by Consumer Reports, Chiropractic care was ranked #1 in the treatment of back pain. 59 % of respondents were "highly satisfied" with the treatment they received from their Doctor of Chiropractic, while only 34 % of respondents said the same about the treatment from their primary medical doctor. I guess 1 out of 3 people must really, really like pain meds, apparently.
Chiropractors are on the training staffs of the PGA, US Olympic Team, NBA, Major League Baseball, and the NFL. Hall of Fame athletes such as John Stockton, Jerry Rice (who apparently is quite the dancer, I'm told), Joe Montana, and Lance Armstrong have sworn by chiropractic care and credited their Doctor of Chiropractic with improving their performance and prolonging their careers. Future NFL hall of famer Michael Strahan had his chronic neck pain and migraines corrected with Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic and won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year afterward. (And when some patient tells me that our adjustment is "too gentle" to move a bone, I ask them if they have more muscle mass than a 300 pound All-Pro defensive lineman...)
I am amazed at the change in perception that I have seen in my own backyard of Muskegon, Michigan; even among the medical community. We treat nurses, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists, therapists, and psychologists. We also have a few local MDs that refer patients to us (gasp!). Patients who tell their doctors that they are coming to our office are often surprised when they receive a blessing instead of a tongue-lashing, although some are still close-minded to anything but drugs and surgery. It's almost like medicine/alternative medicine is an all-or-nothing thing. It shouldn't be. They both work, depending on the situation. I'll gladly refer a patient out if I have reason to believe their pain is due to a kidney infection, gallstone, or fracture. So, why do some MDs (not all) keep a patient strung along for years on the same medications for their pain, without considering another option? Pride? Ignorance? Pressure from within their profession? Who knows? Rather than dwell on the close-mindedness of some, I prefer to focus on what we can do to make things better for the future generation. I was recently reminded by a colleague of a quote from the late great Dr. B.J. Palmer: "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness."
One area we need to improve on is making chiropractic care more top-of-mind in today's health care landscape. Chiropractic should be one of the first things people think of in regards to gaining and maintaining health along with dental care, vision care, hygiene, nutrition, and exercise. In many cases, though, we remain a last resort. Many times we succeed after other treatments fail, which is very rewarding, but frustrating at the same time because many patients have to suffer for years before making their way into our offices. They often say "Why didn't anybody ever tell me about this?" I don't have an answer for them. I simply encourage them to inform others about the importance of the spine and nervous system and how specific Chiropractic care can improve their health. This grass roots effort has worked for over a century, but it is time to take Chiropractic MORE mainstream so we can help as many people as possible to quit covering up their symptoms with pills and potions and improve their quality of life.
This branch of our nervous system deals with controlling the involuntary actions of our body (digestion, breathing, blood flow, temperature regulation, metabolism, etc.). It consists of the Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System. The sympathetic side is for “fight or flight” while the parasympathetic side helps us “rest and digest.” Like most things in life, it is all about BALANCE. Think of the sympathetics and parasympathetics on a see saw. If one side is high, the other is low. When your body perceives a threat, the sympathetic nervous system springs into action. This can happen with either physical or emotional stimuli. If you are walking around your home and you stub your toe, your body performs a number of tasks simultaneously (in addition to the muttering of guttural language). Your heart rate goes up, your eyes dilate, your breathing quickens, and your muscles engorge with blood. The same happens if you’re walking in the woods and see a bear. Why? Because whether the stimulus is physical or emotional, your nervous system detects a threat and it is helping you prepare to deal with that threat by helping you improve your ability to either fight that threat off or run away from it. Eventually, the threat is gone and your body recovers because things are back to normal. You go home and relax and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. Your blood pressure decreases, your breathing slows down, your digestive juices get ramped up, etc. Pretty cool, huh?
Many of my patients who come in suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain have also experienced the effects of autonomic nervous system imbalance. When we take the cause of that irritation away, not only does their pain decrease, but they often experience other changes in their health. Some of these changes are obvious, like better sleep, better digestion, improved cognitive function, and improved energy levels. A lot of times, they are able to ditch some of the meds they were taking that were merely covering up these symptoms of nervous system imbalance. Cool, huh?
I once had a patient tell me that when he gets adjusted, it feels like he “took a shower on the inside.” Your own internal hygiene notwithstanding, it stands to reason that any prolonged stress on our bodies can lead to autonomic imbalance, which without a doubt can have negative effects on our health. This is not to say that every single malady, symptom, and sickness can be fixed with chiropractic care (wouldn't that be nice?) Obviously, emotional stress, lack of sleep, food sensitivities (ahem...I'm looking at you, gluten), overtraining, and other factors can also lead to this problem. However, a healthy spine is a great place to start if you want your nervous system to work at peak efficiency.