We examine some of the truths and myths about chiropractic care.
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Chiropractors. Those are the guys who crack your back, right?
Not so fast.
Nothing is that simple, and neither is chiropractic care, which has been around since time immemorial yet still suffers stigmatization. “Some patients have told me, ‘My mom won’t go, my dad won’t go, because they think chiropractors are quacks,’” says Nelson S. Ong, D.C., of Universal Chiropractic & Functional Rehabilitation and a provider for Sutter Center for Integrative Holistic Health. As someone who had his first chiropractic treatment as a high-schooler, when an auto accident left him with multiple spinal injuries and a bruised sternum, Ong understands that it often takes a firstperson experience to become a believer.
Are you a believer? Regardless, it’s a good idea to get your facts straight instead of rushing to judgment. To that end, we asked three local chiropractors to address some of the more commonmyths and misunderstandings surrounding their profession.
Chiropractors treat only back pain. Hardly. Get this: About half of David S. Gunther, D.C.’s, patients come in for non-back-related issues, he says. “Feet, knees, hips, ankles, shoulders, elbows—I see patients with joint and soft tissue conditions in all these areas,” says Gunther, who has a private practice in midtown. Similarly, Justin C. Lau, D.C., of Elite Spinal & Sports Care in Sacramento, says he sees a lot of runners with shin, knee and hip injuries. Ong adds that you may be surprised by the range of things chiropractors can help with, such as migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome and TMJ. Who knew?
All they do is spinal manipulation (aka “adjustments”). Not necessarily. But it is the most common therapeutic procedure used by chiropractors, according to the American Chiropractic Association website, acatoday.org. In a nutshell, the goal of adjustments is to relieve pain and restore mobility in joints that are restricted in movement, usually (but not always) due to injury. (Lifting a refrigerator, as one of my friends recently did, likely will do it.) But not all chiropractors are all about adjustments. Lau, for example, says spinal manipulation accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of his work. He spends most of his time treating dysfunctional soft tissue—muscles and tendons, for example—restoring function and movement and addressing the root cause. Gunther is in the same camp, combining traditional chiropractic with soft tissue work. He and Lau both say their approach is not typical and separates them from many. “Chiropractic has traditionally focused on the joint/adjustive part, but not focused on the soft tissue part, which is hugely important in my eyes,” says Gunther. It’s also time-intensive work, says Gunther, whose sessions run 30 minutes. “Much of that time is soft-tissue work,” he says. “Adjusting does not take much time.” Gunther and Lau are not the only two in town stepping outside the boundaries of traditional chiropractic. Ong, too, incorporates other therapies, including postural stabilization and manual therapy. Bottom line: Don’t assume chiropractors are one-trick ponies. But don’t assume they’re not.
Spinal adjustments hurt. Adjustments rarely cause discomfort, according to the ACA. But as Gunther points out, it really depends on what shape you’re in. “If someone is in an acute state, that’s different from someone who’s coming in for a tune-up,” he says. Taking time to do soft tissue work also makes a difference, he says. “If I do no soft tissue work and I lay you down on the table and go whack!, that’s not going to feel good.” Similarly, Ong says that if you’re hurting when you walk in the door, “there’s always some degree of discomfort. Everything you do will cause pain. A massage could hurt.” On the upside: If things go well, he says, you might walk in with pain and walk out pain-free.