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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.

Spinal problems are very common in the elderly.  The wear and tear that accumulates in one's spine can often lead to problems down the road, especially when they go untreated for long periods of time.  Back pain, headaches, neck pain, and limb pain are very common as a result.  In fact, back pain is the most frequent reason for activity limitation in those over 55.  This limitation in activity causes depression, loss of muscle mass, fatigue, and overall poor health.  The problem is that they seldom have anywhere to turn for these problems.  They are often told by their doctor that their age is the cause of all their concerns and they are given meds they can't pronounce and a few empty words about the caveats of old age.  I for one do not ascribe to the whole "It's your age" or "It's just arthritis" catch-all excuses for every single ache, pain, and problem plaguing our seniors. Elderly people should be tending gardens, attending their grandchildrens' recitals, and playing the Wii!

Pills, Pills, and More Pills

In most cases, prescription pain medications are the first thing offered to these patients by their doctors.  However, the majority of elderly patients are already taking several medications for various other conditions, increasing the risk of harmful drug interactions.  In addition, the medications are only covering up the symptoms rather than actually relieving the cause of the problem.  This sets the patient up for failure because the drugs may make them "feel good," even though they are not, which will increase the chances of making the problem worse by abusing already damaged joints and soft tissue.

The absolute worse case scenario involves spinal surgery.  Nowhere in the history of medical care will you find a more dubious practice.  There is absolutely NO statistical evidence showing any long term benefits of spinal surgery for backpain, except in extreme cases like fracture, disc herniation, and dislocation.  In fact, most studies show that the patients that have lumbar fusion surgery are actually worse off in the long run: Read "Why You Should Never Get Fusion Surgery" from Forbes magazine.

The interesting thing is that despite this lack of evidence, American doctors perform 5 times more lumbar fusion surgeries than doctors in the UK, which is the most comparable country to us in regards to lifestyle and genetic factors.  Why?  Because there are so many more surgeons that perform this surgery in the US.  And companies that make the equipment to perform the surgeries pay MILLIONS in fees back to the doctors that perform the surgery.  It doesn't take long to figure out why so many surgeries take place.  Just follow the money.  To quote well-respected pain management expert Dr. Seth Waldman, MD, who is critical of back fusion surgery, "If you have a screwdriver, everything starts looks like a screw."  We apparently have a health care system stacked to the gills with screwdriver-toting surgeons that cut first and ask questions later.  Luckily, many primary care MDs try to steer their patients away from surgery, and try to encourage alternatives, which is a refreshing step in the right direction.

So, Now What???

So what is an active, virulent elderly person to do if they have back pain (or would like to avoid it)?  if you are wary about the risks of drugs and surgery, you may want to consider checking into chiropractic care.  Chiropractic care has been around for over 115 years and has become the 2nd largest primary health care profession in the US.  Chiropractors offer a safe, effective treatment for back pain, neck pain, and headaches, even for the elderly.  Unfortunately, some critics of chiropractic spin yarns of fracture, stroke, and other risks which often scare off patients.  However, when asked where the research is to back up these risks, these critics often shrug and have nothing to offer, because there is no research indicating that chiropractic is unsafe.  In fact, there is plenty of research proving that it is safer and more effective than drugs and surgery. In a recent study done by Consumer Reports, chiropractic care was rated #1 in regards to patient satisfaction for treatment of back pain.

Of course, all the research and testimonials in the world mean nothing if you cannot fathom the thought of someone "snapping and cracking" your joints.  Fortunately, doctors of chiropractic have a number of different techniques to choose from.  Some utilize the more traditional manipulation while some, including my Muskegon practice, use gentle non-manipulative techniques. Using the Atlas Orthogonal and Activator methods of chiropractic treatment, we utilize precision instruments to adjust the spine, re-aligning the spinal joints, and taking pressure off the nerves and soft tissue without the pain associated with more aggressive manipulation.  This makes our treatment safe even for those with osteoporosis, advanced arthritis, and other bone abnormalities.  Once the spine becomes more stable, we also encourage stability exercises to help keep the joints flexible and strong to help prevent flare ups.  Plus, the extra range of motion gained by chiropractic does fantastic things to your golf swing!  (There's a reason why the PGA has a chiropractor on hand at each event).

So, what do you have to lose?  The drugs aren't fixing the problem and they're probably causing some side effects you would rather avoid.  Surgery is costly, risky, and generally not effective.  There is another option.  When I talk to patients or teach at seminars in the community about ditching what hasn't worked and trying something new, I remind them of one of my favorite quotes of all time from the late great Albert Einstein when he tried to define insanity:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Although I am not saying that you or your doctor are insane, I can tell you that the only way you are ever going to get to a different place in regards to your health is if you take a different path.  A consultation with a doctor of chiropractic may be the first step on a journey towards better health and renewed vitality.

"I really just want to get off of all these PILLS!"

This statement has been echoed by new patients in my office time and time again.  It may seem simple, but it really is quite profound.  The doctor prescribed the medication for a specific disease, so why would a patient possibly want to discontinue their treatment?  In the good old days, patients saw their doctors, took their pills, and asked no questions.  So, what in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks happened?The same thing that has happened many times over the course of human history when any group of people start to question the people in positions of power: the people become educated.  As people gain knowledge, they question the dogma that has been burned into their thought process, including the notion that drugs and surgery are the only possible method for fighting illness and regaining health.Although drugs, surgeries, and emergency medical procedures have no doubt saved countless lives especially in regards to acute trauma and illness, this does not mean they are the treatment of choice when it comes to managing chronic illness.  For example, conditions such as type II diabetes, migraine headaches, chronic low back pain, and heart disease are on the rise, even though more people are on blood thinners, statins, pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and diabetes medications than ever before.  So the answer to eradicating these "diseases" cannot be found in drugs and surgeries alone and people are starting to figure that out.  They have been on these medications for years with no resolution of their problem and they have probably encountered some unsettling side affects along the way.

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 StocktonJerry 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.

One thing I love about chiropractic is the effect it can have on the whole body, not just in regards to pain relief. Many of my patients notice changes in their health while under care in our office besides less pain.  They tell me that they sleep better, move better, have more energy and do not get sick as often. But why is that?  I wish I could say that we have unlocked some mystical energy source, but the answer really is not that exciting.  The answer is all about science (specifically, anatomy and physiology).
The reason we see changes with things like acid reflux, constipation, and headaches is because the chiropractic adjustment has a dramatic effect on the nervous system.  This phenomenon has been present since chiropractic was discovered in 1895.  In the past thirty years or so, Doctors of Chiropractic have found a niche in society as “pain doctors.”  However, any chiropractor worth his protoplasm knows that we are not pain doctors, we are NERVOUS SYSTEM doctors!
Every nerve impulse that gets carried from our brain down into the rest of the body must first pass through the spinal cord.  From there, it travels through those thick spinal nerves, which further branch out to form nerves that traverse the entire body, innervating every cell, tissue, and organ of the body. For example, when someone complains of sciatica,  they experience pain that originates in the lower back and shoots down the leg.  The sciatic nerve is made up of branches of several lower lumbar spinal nerves. Irritation causes symptoms along that nerve, (down the leg), which usually starts as PAIN, but can eventually lead to NUMBNESS, TINGLING, and LOSS OF STRENGTH.  The worst consequence of sciatica is Cauda Equina Syndrome, resulting in the loss of bowel and bladder control, which is a life threatening situation (which means you need an ER, not an adjustment).  This is a textbook example that pain is not the only consequence of a “pinched nerve.”  Thus, pain is not the only thing that changes in a chiropractor’s office when nerve irritation is relieved.
Of course, we chiropractors are routinely successful in relieving our patients’ pain and we are glad to do it, but this occurs because pain sensation is merely a function of the nervous system.  The periphery is sending a message to the brain, saying "Something's wrong."  Taking pressure off of nerves and relaxing muscles does indeed decrease pain, but it goes much further than that.  What about the portion of that nerve that controls bodily functions BESIDES pain sensation?  Imagine a spinal nerve as the wiring harness in an automobile.  It may just look like a thick cord from a distance, but if you cut away the outer sheath, you'll find all sorts of different wires, all carrying messages to and from different parts of the car.  One line is for the speedometer, one is for the tachometer, one is for the oh-so important butt warmer.  You get the idea.  Just like there are fibers of a nerve that transmit pain, there are also fibers of that same nerve that transmit information pertaining to the function of all the life processes that we don't need to think about.  I'm talking about the AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM!  Fasten your seat belts, kiddies.

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?

What if the threat never goes away?  What if there is a constant, unrelenting assault on your nervous system?  The sympathetic nervous system stays at a high level and the parasympathetic nervous system is inhibited, to the detriment of your health.  One example of this is prolonged emotional stress, which has been proven to lead to multiple health concerns including increased risk of sickness, sleep disorders, fatigue, heart problems, and digestive problems, just to name a few.
"That's great, doc, but where the heck does Chiropractic come in?"  Spinal misalignments, or subluxations, cause tightness in the muscles, poor posture, altered biomechanics, and irritation to the nerves, which causes your sympathetic nervous system to activate, because your body perceives a threat.  Much like prolonged emotional stress, vertebral subluxations do not go away, until they are fixed.  This causes a chronic imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.  As you can imagine, this is not good.

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.

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