Chiropractic’s Role in a Healthy Lifestyle
by Christopher M. Stepian
Have you ever heard how exercise was discovered as an effective “treatment” for diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or depression? Not one specific drug or surgery could ever have such a widespread beneficial effect without the side-effects. Chiropractors have historically claimed to be able to treat a wide range of problems from standard musculoskeletal issues like low back pain to other visceral (organ-based) diseases including headaches, infertility, asthma, and much more. Let’s take a further look at why this might be true.
The medical community sees exercise as a treatment for disease, when in reality, it is a vital component to everyone’s level of well being. The cellular, physiologic events that benefit the body because of exercise are limitless. Here are a few.
1) The Western diet, consisting of fatty plaques and inflammatory foods, causes “road blocks” in the body’s arteries and veins. Exercise clears up the road block by increasing blood flow throughout the body, speeding up the traffic by removing the “accident.”
2) When we exercise or move, it is the brain’s duty to relay messages to the muscles that a particular action is desired. Body exercise is also brain exercise because of this workload.
3) The connective tissue of the body consisting of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones works by the “use it or lose it” principle. Being self-limiting and smart, if we don’t do exercise, the human body will no longer waste energy on repairing and growing these tissues, causing decreases in size and strength. Exercise uses these tissues, allowing for the maintenance of function long into old age.
These are three simple examples as to how exercise benefits us. When the body is given everything it needs including the very necessary component of movement, life long, optimal health is the effect.
Exercise includes almost any movement that the body is capable of from walking to running to lifting weights to doing yoga. It is all beneficial as long as you are moving. People often first show up in the chiropractor’s office when they show some sign or symptom, most often some type of back or neck pain. This occurs because the whole body is not moving optimally, or in other words, the body does not have the strength, endurance, mobility, or stability in order to operate as the human body is intended to. Think about it; only in the past century have we sat all day working on a computer or watching television. Throughout most of our history, we had to hunt, cook, clean, pick fruits and vegetables, prepare shelter, take care of family, play, dance. We moved almost all day! Movement is required for health.
This is where the chiropractor has a role in health care. The chiropractor is a movement specialist, most often of the spine. He or she is able to see where the spine is not moving as it should and provide movement. When the chiropractor has a true understanding of function, he or she is able to take it further, being able to treat the limbs, providing mobility through adjustments and specific muscle work, providing strength, endurance, and stability through rehabilitation and exercise. With this understanding, it is easy to see how chiropractic can help issues related to muscles, bones, and the way the body moves.
The chiropractic treatment of musculoskeletal issues is where the general public’s understanding of chiropractic ends. The problem is that there are so many theories attempting to make the connections between a chiropractic adjustment and a patient’s positive physiologic response such as the resolution of headaches, asthma, and ADHD or colic in children only to name a few. But to date, there is no widely accepted theory as to why chiropractic is effective. People do not trust what they do not understand. Also, many people generally complain that once you go to a chiropractor, you have to keep going back. For those who are movement deficient, lifelong chiropractic care would be beneficial. As said before, movement needs to occur often, and when you don’t move, the chiropractor can help you move.
What science has found is that moving the body, particularly muscles and joints, provides sensory information carried by the nerves to the brain. Here is where chiropractic is truly powerful. When sufficient information is provided to the brain, the brain can function optimally. You can see this mechanism of sensory input allowing the brain to function in a real life example. Stand up on one leg and close your eyes. What happens? Now stand up on one leg with your eyes open. Did you notice a difference? Were you able to stand on your leg much more easily with your eyes open? Your eyes are sensory organs that take in visual information about your environment. When you use them, your eyes relay sensory information about where your body is, in space, allowing your brain to efficiently activate feet, leg, and core muscles to keep you upright when you exercise. This is, in a sense, what a chiropractor is correcting when giving an adjustment. The adjustment is a moving of a joint, allowing it to move as it is supposed to, providing sensory information to the brain for optimal function.
So how does the adjustment help in the treatment of headaches and other symptoms? When people experience headaches, they often also have neck pain or immobility. People with asthma often have thoracic spine immobility between their scapula or wing bones. Children with ADHD or colic often have neck or pelvis immobility due to birth trauma. These signs and symptoms occur because the same nerves that relay information from the brain and to the muscles also go to the organs involved in visceral (organ-based) diseases. Understanding the interconnectedness of the muscles, nerves, and organs, it is easy to understand how incorrect movement correlates with the disease caused by sub-optimal function of organs. By adjusting or moving an immobile joint that uses the same nerves as an organ, both movement and organ function become optimal. The body’s standards for movement must be met if disease is to be prevented.
There are many reasons why people choose to use chiropractic care and many different services that chiropractors choose to offer. People often ask me “why should I go see a chiropractor?” I tell them: if you treat your body properly exercising on a daily basis in a healthy manner, then you may not need chiropractic care. But realize that the movement of muscles and joints provided by exercise is a bodily requirement for well being that is needed on a daily basis. If you aren’t moving optimally on a daily basis without pain, then chiropractic care may be helpful and provide you with the treatment or education needed in order for you to be self-sufficient and independent of all health care practitioners. And symptoms, specifically in the form of pain, are signs that you are treating your body badly, proving that it needs something you are not providing it. Every symptom has a cause. Chiropractic care can be the step up needed to empower people towards a movement-filled, healthy lifestyle.
Christopher Matthew Stepian will graduate from New York Chiropractic College in Depew, NY, in November of 2009.
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