Chiropractic and Osteopathy
Chiropractic and Osteopathy

Jules Davidson works as a chef at a large restaurant in New York. After many years of chopping vegetables, kneading bread dough, stirring pots, and working under intense pressure, he began to notice stiffness and pain in his neck and shoulders. His doctor diagnosed arthritis and sent him to an orthopedist. The orthopedist confirmed the diagnosis, further defining the problem as osteoarthritis, or the "wear-and-tear" kind of the disease. The doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and told him that it was about the only treatment he could suggest. Jules, who hadn't taken a pill in over 60 years, took one look at the prescription then shoved it in his pocket. That afternoon, he made an appointment with a local chiropractor, someone who had treated a waiter at Jules's restaurant for a back problem.

The chiropractor took x-rays of his neck and showed Jules where the vertebrae had become ragged and formed "spurs." She also examined the rest of Jules's back, noting how the spine moved and isolating some areas where Jules felt tenderness in the muscles along the spine. She explained that, over time, the spine had come out of alignment and was thus no longer able to keep the body in balance. This "subluxation," as chiropractors call a misalignment of the spine, led to some irritation of the nerve roots and to the formation of calcium deposits on the vertebrae. She then prescribed a treatment plan that involved Jules coming in twice weekly for six weeks. When told that his Medicare would cover some of the costs, Jules agreed.

During each session, Jules lay face down on an exam table while the chiropractor used a machine that vibrated, loosening the tense, tight muscles in Jules's shoulders and back. After about ten minutes, the chiropractor placed warm packs on his upper shoulders and neck for another ten minutes or so. Finally, she held his upper back, asked him to exhale deeply, then "cracked" his back with a sudden thrust forward. Jules then lay on his back while the chiropractor held his head, rocking it back and forth. When another sudden thrust turned his head, Jules heard a "snapping" noise, after which the chiropractor gave a thrust to the other side. She explained that these were the sounds of once trapped gases escaping from within the joints. Right away, Jules felt that his neck was moving more freely and with less pain.

During subsequent visits, the chiropractor repeated much the same treatments. After a few weeks, she gave Jules a series of exercises to perform every morning and evening to keep his neck more supple and relaxed. He now sees the chiropractor every three weeks and, in between times, feels generally pain-free.

Like Jules, you may have decided that taking nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other medication for your arthritis may do you more harm than good and are searching for a more permanent solution to your problem. Millions of people every year seek help from chiropractors and their cousins in the medical world, osteopaths. Both chiropractors and, to a somewhat lesser extent, osteopaths view spinal manipulation, the adjustment of the vertebrae, as the cornerstone of sound treatment for arthritis and a host of other conditions.

In essence, spinal manipulation therapy is just what it sounds like: treatment of arthritis and other disorders by adjusting the vertebrae of the spine. Twenty-four bones, called vertebrae, make up the spinal column, which surrounds the spinal cord, a sheaf of nerve tissue reaching from the base of the skull to the upper part of the lower back. Between adjoining vertebrae are pairs of spinal nerves, each of which extends to a particular part of the body. Should the vertebrae become misalignedÛthrough trauma, stress, or a chemical imbalanceÛthis places pressure on the nerves or blocks the blood supply to that area. According to those who practice spinal manipulation, the pain of arthritis and its process may be caused or exacerbated by such pressure or blockage. In other words, if the nerves extending from your spine to your knee, for instance, have become blocked, you may feel pain in that joint. Realigning the spine and massaging the soft tissue around the knee will restore proper working order to the joint, or at least release tension and pressure.

Two alternative schools of medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy, consider the spine and the nervous system that springs from it to be the center of all health in the body. Today, more than 94 percent of all manipulative care is delivered by chiropractors, 4 percent by osteopaths, and the remaining 2 percent by general practitioners and orthopedic surgeons. In this chapter, we'll discuss the benefits of chiropractic and osteopathic techniques for arthritis and related problems.

Chiropractic Technique

Chiropractic is a word derived from the Greek cheir, meaning "hand," and praktikis, meaning "practical." Every culture in recorded history has practiced spinal adjustment, but David Palmer, a self-educated American healer, founded the modern school of chiropractic in 1895. Palmer's first patient was a janitor who had been deaf for almost twenty years. By bringing the man's spine back into alignment through massage and pressure, Palmer restored his hearing. Palmer believed that the janitor had lost his hearing because an injury had damaged his spine, preventing the central nervous system from delivering messages to and from his brain and ear. Palmer also believed that the body has an innate ability to heal itself, an ability controlled by the central nervous system. If the spine becomes misaligned, he believed, then the body can no longer restore balance on its own to any part of the body, including its joints and soft tissues.

Chiropractic therapy centers on restoring proper balance and structure to the spinal column and joints and, by doing ...

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