Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Why No Chiropractic For Me

I'm currently having something of a recurrence of a lifelong problem with what used to be called "a stiff neck". There's a cycle to this: Something sets it off, it gets gradually worse, then it gets better. Thank goodness that as of yesterday it is now definitely in the "getting better" stage. The occurrences were more frequent and the pain was much worse when this first started back about 30 years ago, and in those days there was no Ibuprofen available (just Excedrin's Arthritis Relief Formula, although a couple of beers was therapeutic as well). For some pretty specific reasons, there is no question in my mind that this is a ramification of playing a huge bass drum on the march in college, with a cloth harness that focused enormous weight in the exact part of the neck where the problem is acute. I was two or three years away from regular marching when the problem started, but I remain convinced of the root cause.

When I whine about this, as I am prone to do, people will suggest I see a chiropractor. To which suggestion my gut response is "No way." I try to express that gut response politely, and of course it is people who are genuinely concerned about me who are doing their best to help who tell me this. But no, I went that route once.

Back years ago, during a time when I was having no immediate flareup, my company sponsored a "health fair". One of the vendors offered free "chiropractic evaluations" associated with what was advertised as a "free" appointment with a chiropractor. As I say, I was having no issues just at that time, but I thought that maybe this was the answer to the recurring neck problems and what could it hurt? So the man staffing the booth did an evaluation that had nothing to do with my neck at all but presumably uncovered all sorts of other issues -- mostly related to the fact that my legs splay out, and they always have. (An elementary school teacher used to yell at me to walk with my feet facing forward, as if it were simply a matter of will; she might as well have yelled at me to walk with my feet facing backwards). Well, I thought, I'd better do something about this, and made the followup appointment. I mentioned this to my father -- who is a dentist, and as such is pretty up on the skeleto-muscular system -- and he was skeptical. He said that what I was describing was genetic variation and if I was having no problems there was no reason to seek fixing. He wasn't judgmental at all, he was just questioning the wisdom of seeking medical attention when there's nothing bothering you. He was right, of course, but I still thought I had nothing to lose and besides, I did have these neck issues even if I didn't have them just at that moment and even if the evaluation turned up nothing in that area. And hey, it was a "free" appointment.

What follows is my experience. Yes, it's only one chiropractor and as in all things there are good and bad and I know and trust people who swear by their chiropractors. Still, it was quite unpleasant for me.

- The chiropractor they sent me to gave me a spiel about my "subluxations" and kept saying things like, "And you have problems with x or y or z" (where x and y and z were random health issues). At the time I had no problems whatsoever with any of these things. This I found strange, even uncomfortable.

- The treatment for my "subluxations" was "adjustments" for something like three times a week for some number of weeks, then twice a week for a while, then once a week for eternity. But if I signed up for a commitment number of weeks in advance I would get a discount. I was completely uncomfortable at the time with the notion of medical care as a wholesale discount business. Completely. That's just not how medical care worked at the time (although we've certainly moved in that direction as a culture).

- I wasn't just uncomfortable with quantity discount medical care -- I was uncomfortable with the notion of committing to treatment for problems I wasn't aware of. This had nothing to do with my neck issues, you see -- those weren't the health problems the chiropractor insisted I must be having.

- The sales pitch was very high-pressure (appeals to how I was risking my health if I didn't have treatment) and I was naive, so I decided to have a "treatment" then and there and make one appointment and then I'd consider my options. The bulk discount thing was repeated to me when I said that this was my decision, and I had to be insistent that I would commit to only one more appointment. I had never before had to put my foot down so firmly in response to a sales pitch. I later found out that a large proportion of training in Chiropractic college is devoted to sales. Again, this to me is not how medical care should work.

- I had my first treatment right then. After the treatment was finished, I learned that this wasn't part of the "free" first appointment -- just the evaluation. (Oh yes -- and there were x-rays, which were also not free even though they were a reguirement for the free evaluation.) I suppose this was a miscommunication, but I honestly think the fact that my "free" first appointment only included part of the session should have been made explicit beforehand.

- Part of the treatment involved manipulation around my neck, which hadn't been hurting at the time. As I walked away from the office I could feel the neck thing starting up again. It used to start slowly. By that night the tension and pain had returned. I went back for my appointment two days later and the chiropractor touched my neck and got a look of distress (when this tenses up you can actually feel heat) and said immediately, "I didn't do that!" Well of course she did. I don't think anybody really understands neck and back pain, by the way.

- This is an interesting part: The chiropractor was able to work out the tension and pain right then and there. This was amazing and miraculous. So maybe I really should try to find somebody to see when something like this happens again -- but not before, that's part of my issue.

- I said I wouldn't be coming back again, but the chiropractor did sell me a special neck pillow (shaped exactly as I had learned to shape pillows to sleep) which I used off and on for the next ten years and found to be a great thing. In fact, the price of my two appointments was well worth it just for being introduced to a pillow that allowed me to sleep when my neck acts up.

- Over the next several months I talked to various people about chiropractors, and discovered that WITHOUT EXCEPTION every single person I talked with had been given the IDENTICAL treatment plan. This is anecdotal, of course, but astonishingly off-putting to me. I've since read up on the theories underlying chiropractic medicine, and if you have a sort of universal theory of what causes health issues then the same treatment would be appropriate for anything from allergies to stiff necks to lung cancer. Current practice does not make the sweeping claims of earlier practitioners, I should point out, not in general.

So what do I think? I think there are people with a sort of magic touch and a bit of experience that can work wonders with the sort of problems I have with my neck (and back). I think many of them are chiropractors. I think if my neck doesn't actually get better then maybe I'll at least talk to people who have had similar experiences. But it will take an awful lot to overcome the prejudice I developed thirty years ago.
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