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Who Wants a Subluxation-Free World?

subluxation-world.jpgFrom time to time, I encounter a chiropractor, usually a younger, more idealistic chiropractor, who has proclaimed that his objective, his purpose for being in practice, is to create a “subluxation-free world.” I rarely hear this from more experienced chiropractors, tempered by the wisdom of many years in practice and having been trained at a time when chiropractic philosophy was still taught at chiropractic colleges.

I appreciate their passion and I’m thankful that they are invested in a cause larger than themselves. However, in their zeal to make the world a better place, chiropractors who make subluxations Public Enemy Number One, make three serious errors:

1. You cannot win by being against.
2. Subluxations are effects, symptoms.
3. Eliminating subluxations is the practice of medicine.

Care to join me on a quick exploration of each? Perhaps in the process, greater clarity will emerge and an explanation for the current state of many chiropractic practices will be revealed.

You Cannot Win by Being Against

The War on Poverty, launched as part of the Johnson administration’s Great Society initiative back in the 1960s sounded good, but 50 years later, after pouring trillions into various social programs, the poverty meter hasn’t budged. Similarly, the War on Drugs, the War on Cancer, the War on Terrorism and, for that matter, the War on Hangnails share a similar fate. Oh, it invokes the expression of our recessive “do-gooder” gene, but it doesn’t really change much. Poverty, drugs, cancer, terrorism and hangnails will be with us forever if our best strategy is to merely pass laws, spend money and treat these various symptoms.

The only shot (and it’s a long one) we have of reducing poverty is to be for affluence. To be for self-responsibility. To be for serving others. To be for education. To be for delaying gratification and to be for all the other issues, which when manifested, result in the opposite of poverty.

And that’s true for subluxations as well. Because like poverty, subluxations are symptoms.

Subluxations Are Effects, Symptoms

This is where I often part company with the most earnest chiropractor who is positive that subluxations are the root cause of a whole host of health problems, both local and peripheral to the spine. Yet, this is the same thinking that imagines that handguns kill people and plastic credit cards are responsible for the debt so many find themselves in.

The way I learned it, subluxations are merely the gorgeous, creative and resourceful way our bodies attempt to accommodate physical, chemical or emotional stress. In the same way cancer is a gorgeous, creative and resourceful way our bodies express an attempt to accommodate physical, chemical or emotional stress. Or any other named disease or condition. Our bodies are merely trying to cope with our environment. Why would you want to be anti-coping? Or anti-adapting?

For the most rabid who have misinterpreted B. J. Palmer’s “one-cause-one-cure” observation, and who imagine that subluxations are the root cause of virtually every malady known to man, I often use the leaky roof metaphor. A leaky roof (stress) produces a water stain in the ceiling (subluxation), which damages the carpet (symptom). Is the wet carpet the real problem? No. Is the ceiling stain the real problem? No. Is the leaky roof the real problem? I think so, since rain, like physical, chemical and emotional stress is here for the duration of our lives. They seem to be “givens.” After all, you’re only likely to stop subluxating when you no longer have stress in your life, which, for most us, will be when gravity claims victory and our bodies can no longer exceed room temperature.

If subluxations are your bogeyman, you might want to be “for” the reduction of physical, chemical and emotional stresses—something far more messy, complicated and difficult to achieve. Especially if your only hammer is spine thrusting.

Eliminating Subluxations is the Practice of Medicine

Naturally, this observation roils the aforementioned idealistic chiropractor. Because many chiropractors who have made subluxations the enemy are often anti-medicine. “You’re not going to vaccinate your children are you? Heavens!” (Shame.) “You’re not going to take one of those “stomach-bleeding-kidney-killing-liver-destroying-over-the-counter pain relievers are you!” (Guilt.)

The list goes on. And it may not be so overt. It could be simply a raised eyebrow. Remember, these potentially unhealthy patient behaviors are merely symptoms—symptoms resulting from what patients believe.

Making subluxation elimination your objective is no different than an oncologist making a tumor the focus of his or her attentions. Declaring war on subluxations places the chiropractor in the same category as a medical doctor attempting to ameliorate the effects of heart disease or any other symptom. When your intent is to treat the body’s attempt to accommodate physical, chemical or emotional stress (subluxation), you have veered into the practice of medicine. Now, the practice of medicine isn’t bad; it’s just that chiropractic licensure in most jurisdictions makes it clear that chiropractors don’t practice medicine.

Treating subluxations, unlike the practice of chiropractic and its intent to revive the ability of the patient’s body to self-heal, creates the tension between the interests of third parties and holding true to the principles of chiropractic.

Why This is More Than Semantics

Some might perceive this as intellectual hair splitting and an extravagant luxury for pipe-smoking philosophers. Hardly. When this critical distinction is ignored, it produces several unhelpful practice pathologies:

1. Patients think your adjustments are treating their (enter admitting complaint here.) While this is usually what patients want, and it is the path of least resistance, if you fail to make the distinction that you’re merely helping revive their ability to self heal, you’ll be blamed for slow recoveries and their subsequent relapse. Because you didn’t “fix” them!

2. Patients dismiss themselves once they feel better. When you practice chiropractic medicine, you don’t enjoy the benefits of a chiropractic practice. You’ll rarely enjoy the stability of having a tribe of once-a-monthers who “get” regular chiropractic care as a valuable adjunct to a healthy lifestyle. Instead, you have a constant and voracious appetite for new patients, without the cultural authority afforded medical doctors.

When you abandon the notion that subluxations are “bad” and are merely the body’s best short-term strategy to accommodate physical, chemical and emotional stress, and you communicate this distinction to patients in a meaningful way, the burden of being responsible for things outside your control is lifted and practice becomes more joyful and soul satisfying.

(Originally published May 20, 2011)