It is a known fact that cultures around the world tend to have similar stories and legends, regarding a variety of topics that have been passed down from generation to generation.
One of such topics is about the human body and how it functions. In Hinduism, among other philosophical schools of thought, the Sanskrit word prana is defined as a cosmic energy that flows through everything. It is often referred to as “life force” or “life energy” and can be understood to make all physiological processes work. Similar terms are used around the world, to communicate the same, natural form of energy that dictates life. In China, and within acupuncture theory, it is called qi (pronounced CH-ee). Other words that exist for this idea is mana, orenda, and in chiropractic terminology – Innate Intelligence.
Chiropractic, literally translated to “practice of the hands,” is a form of healthcare popularized in North America over the last 120 plus years. Primarily considered a CAM or Complementary Alternative Medicine, chiropractic doctors are the 3rd most common practitioner with a doctorate designation in the world. The practice is predicated on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of issues stemming from the neurological, muscular, or skeletal systems. Often, patients present to chiropractors with problems that have roots in all these systems, which requires specialized attention and care.
In its early stages, chiropractic philosophy was heavily vitalistic, relying on Innate Intelligence to explain many illnesses and maladies. The thought process was simple – there was an interruption in the body’s own ability to heal – which in turn caused the illness. Several slogans were then introduced, many of which are still used, such as “one cause, one cure” and “the power that made the body, heals the body.” Vitalism, which propounds that life has a certain quality which differentiates the living from inanimate objects, has been dispelled by the medical community.
Most alternative healthcare methods embrace the idea that various health disorders occur because of a disturbance of a central force. For example, in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, stagnation of the “flow” of qi in the liver can result in feelings of anxiety, anger, and increased stress levels. Chiropractic, as a profession, validates the notion that the body can heal itself. In matters of self-regulation and immunity, the body is already well set up to maintain homeostasis, that is a balance of systems. A common example that is used refers to the clotting mechanism that the body is capable of, once a superficial scrape or cut occurs. First, blood escapes from the blood vessels at the surface, biochemical cellular signalling then causes clotting, scabbing, and scarring. Eventually new skin forms, and the scar disappears. No new information, chemical or physical, was added to perform this “healing event.”
Mechanists quickly pointed to the fact that this was just machinery in motion, that the body was simply running a programme it was destined to perform. Vitalists rebutted that no inanimate object could perform the same actions, that the “universal” intelligence or energy created that ability. Doubters of chiropractic’s efficacy demanded scientific studies supporting the wide variety of cures the profession claimed to make. Chiropractic was challenged with providing more than anecdotal evidence for its mechanism of action; the medical community was clear that the subjective experiences of patients did not provide the same level of evidence as objective clinical trials.
Despite the naysayers, chiropractic has made enormous strides since its early days as a fledgling healthcare practice. It is now regarded as an acceptable and effective form of natural healthcare, with its own body of credible research that is expanding constantly. The fundamental issue that arises from time to time is the fact that results are often difficult to reproduce (low inter and intra-examiner reliability in certain studies). Still, the quality of research being produced has really changed the landscape for the profession, with general medical practitioners and specialists alike sending patients to chiropractors for correction of subluxations, or misalignments of joints.
The word subluxation itself holds a special place in chiropractic circles. In medical terms, subluxation refers to a complete dislocation of a joint creating total dysfunction. In chiropractic terms, a subluxation refers to slight misalignments of joints, both spinal and peripheral, which then interrupts normal function. In its original meaning, Chiropractic founder D D Palmer believed that a subluxation in the spine created pressure on spinal nerves, which then interfered with the body’s ability to express Innate Intelligence. Later theories emerged that explained that the subluxated spinal joint merely irritates or applies pressure to spinal nerves, not necessarily directly and physically interrupting the nerve output.
The chiropractic profession has many circles, and indeed spans a broad spectrum of thought. Much of this thought is shared by the medical community, and the para-medical community as well, creating a de facto continuum of “scientific” and “pseudo-scientific” practitioners. Within chiropractic, three major identifiable (and theoretical) schools of thought exist. The first are the group of practitioners who have abandoned the vitalistic origins of the profession and stick to evidence-based methods and protocols published in peer-reviewed articles. These practitioners, in the view of many traditional chiropractors, are more like physiotherapists than chiropractors.
The second is the group that attempt to meld vitalism and mechanism, and sort through various patient presentations using the Vertebral Subluxation Complex (VSC) model. This model outlines that subluxation can occur at any of five to nine components of pathology including cellular, neural, and kinesiological, among others. It attempts to bridge the gap of vitalism and mechanism by maintaining that subluxation is the source of the illness, and giving the source a basis rooted in modern science.
The final group are the traditional chiropractors, who as purists of the profession are largely vitalistic in philosophy, and work to continue to manifest the beliefs of the founders of chiropractic. This group believes that the dissolution of chiropractic specific terminology will bring about the demise of the profession, and resist changes to the role of the chiropractor in the healthcare industry.
Chiropractic as a healthcare profession focuses mainly on restoration of function, either as in innate intelligence or as proper mechanical range of motion for a joint. The manual methods used by a chiropractor are effective, safe, and do not include the use of medicines or surgeries. The most typical complaints in chiropractic offices worldwide include back pain, neck pain, and headaches. In addition to restoration, chiropractors educate patients on preventable issues, which is a critical benefit to public health.
Physiologically, the spinal cord runs from the brain down through the spine. The spine acts like a series of bony rings, providing support and protection to the sensitive nervous material travelling through the cord. At every level of the spine, the spinal cord gives off a pair of nerve roots, which branch exponentially through the body, giving rise to billions of nerves and nerve endings. Because of the physical arrangement of the spine, spinal cord, and spinal nerve roots, even a slight misalignment of the spine can create irritation of the spinal nerve root, creating a whole host of issues, many of which may not even manifest with noticeable symptoms.
Chiropractors play a crucial role in the healthcare landscape. By checking the spine for misalignments, subluxations, or joint restrictions, they work to solve neuromuscular issues, and prevent them from happening. By optimizing the nervous system, they can have far reaching effects on a wide variety of ailments and issues. Relatively new to Indian healthcare, there is a considerable need for chiropractic care, and it is foreseeable that more chiropractors practice in India soon.
(Author is chiropractic physician, Bengaluru)