Monday Morning Motivation | Lie #1 - Treatment

Posted by Bill Esteb on May 30th 2020

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Lie #1: Chiropractic is a treatment for spinal conditions.

Categorizing chiropractic as a therapy for various back complaints and spinal syndromes is a relatively new development. This "off label" use of chiropractic adjustments is the result of several significant oversights. 

The implications of being a "treatment."

The word treatment is a term that refers to an intervention with the intent of reducing, alleviating or suppressing symptoms. Most people with a headache would like their headache symptom reduced or suppressed. That's perfectly understandable. But doing so is the practice of medicine.

If you want to "treat" patients, by going into your "treatment" room and using adjustments with the intent of reducing the patient's symptoms, you're practicing medicine. Which is what patients want and what their insurance carrier expects. Both exert a strong gravitational pull that has influenced countless chiropractors to blur the line between chiropractic and medicine—if they ever knew such a line existed.

The practice of medicine isn't bad. I don't want to live in a world without powerful drugs, hospitals and specialists. I'm guessing you don't either. It's just that as a chiropractor, you aren't licensed or insured to practice medicine. Which effectively contravenes the reason chiropractic was granted separate licensure in most states. Because it wasn't medicine. Licensure effectively stopped chiropractors from going to jail for "practicing medicine without a license." Because they weren't practicing medicine. At least not until the 1970s.

Focusing on spinal conditions.

Up until it became perverted from the allopathic influence of health insurers and government programs, chiropractors were whole body family doctors. For many families, their chiropractor was their only doctor. He or she was consulted for just about any health condition.

Awakening the capacity to self heal by reducing nerve interference along the spine was why you saw your chiropractor. The ability to resolve various visceral and organic health complaints peripheral to the spine by adjusting the motion and position of wayward spinal vertebrae was the goal. The innate capacity of the body was the hero--not the chiropractor.

This was an era in which patients regularly experienced so-called chiropractic "miracles." Of course they weren't miracles in the sense that their cause was unknown. It's just that the resolution of these health issues didn't fit the prevailing medical paradigm of treating parts at the expense of the whole. They still don't.

Thus, if your model of chiropractic is to treat the local effects of poor spinal biomechanics then you're unlikely to see "miracles" nor will patients seek you out in the hopes of experiencing them. The old adage of "I'll believe it when I see it" would be more accurately put, as "I'll see it when I believe it." 

This isn't chiropractic legalism.

This is more than simply adhering to some 100-year old set of principles. Instead this about telling the truth--to ourselves and to patients. 

Treat pain with an opioid and success with suppressing symptoms borders on 100%.

Treat pain with adjustments and you have no idea what your success rate will be.

Because reviving a patient's ability to function more normally is dependent on countless variables outside your direct and indirect control. Thus, you wear the burden of producing a specific outcome when you're actually delivering a process. Whether your process will deliver the result the patient seeks, and do it in the time frame the patient wants, is unknown.

That's the emotional weight you assume by agreeing to implicitly or explicitly treat their symptoms.

Don't get me wrong. You can help a lot people treating spinal conditions. They'll love you for it. And you can limit chiropractic to spinal biomechanics if you wish. It fits the medical mindset of treating parts and ignoring the whole. It matches the perceptions of most patients. Insurance carriers will likely pay you. And medical practitioners may even throw you a bone from time to time because you've accepted the constraint of practicing a subspecialty limited to the spine.

Truth: Thinking of chiropractors as spine doctors is like categorizing medical practitioners as mouth doctors because the prescribed medication usually enters the body through the mouth. Limiting the practice of chiropractic to spinal biomechanics overlooks the principle of neurological tone and the potential whole body effects of reducing nervous system interference.


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Bill Esteb has been a chiropractic patient and advocate since 1981. He is the creative director of Patient Media and the co-founder of Perfect Patients. He’s been a regular speaker at Parker Seminars and other chiropractic gatherings since 1985. He is the author of 12 books that explore the doctor/patient relationship from a patient’s point of view. His chiropractic blog, in-office consultations, patient focus groups and consulting calls have helped hundreds of chiropractors around the world. His Monday Morning Motivation is emailed to over 10,000 chiropractors each week.