Thursday, 10 February 2011

The comfort of a chiropractor

I wrote this last year while recovering from a week-long illness. I decided not to publish it then. But due to the recent spate of posts along the lines of "don't call me stupid", exploring why some people might be drawn to alternative medicine, I thought it was timely to post about my experience at the hands of a chiropractor.

I've been ill for a week, so my thoughts have naturally wandered to medicine. My drug of choice has been giant chocolate buttons. Not strictly a medicine, but the bright purple packaging, the crack of each button in my crunching teeth and the sweet sugar rush is so comforting. This reminds me of chiropractic: a questionable treatment, but in my experience, a big comfort.
I was thirteen years old and training for a major ballet exam when I tore my left hamstring. Six months later, I tore the right. Scar tissue formed, the tight muscles resulted in chronic back pain. My dad took me to local chiropractor and family friend, Beth, who had treated his bad back.

Who loves the feeling of making their knuckles pop? This is what spinal adjustment, the technique chiropractors employ, feels like. This kind of immediate relief is very important for a teenager whose dreams of being a ballet dancer have just been ripped apart.
I had no idea that chiropractic was founded on pseudo-science. Why would I? I grew up in a typical Daily Mail household where little was questioned. And would I have cared? Probably not. After weekly sessions of adjustment, massage and ultrasound treatment, I could dance again.

It was possibly, and probably, the more standard techniques of deep tissue massage and ultrasound that healed my aching body. A physio at the nearest hospital could have treated me in the same way. But Beth was a family friend and known in my local community. When my dad took me to a practitioner who had helped him, I felt cared for. My Dad was looking after me. During my sessions with Beth, I chatted about my university plans and she even helped me choose what to study.

Personal recommendation, community spirit and desperation are all reasons why people, including myself, have gone to see the chiropractor. Not because they are stupid, defiant, or even ignorant. Because sometimes it's just where they end up, steered by family, friends and promises. And when those promises turn out to be true, when the treatment seems to work, then the cycle continues.


  1. I completely know what you mean. My parents both went to a local chiropractor for their backs and when mine started to play up, I went too. It was partly due to the initial relief - like you said - but also for the chat. She is such a lovely lady. Now I live in London and read more about science etc, I understand that physio is what I need. I don't feel that the chiropractor made my back worse or any better in the long term, but at the time it's made it manageable. I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking that they're not completely terrible.

  2. There's nothing unusual here, and nothing to be ashamed of. There are at least 3 chiropractors in my smallish, quite well-off town. They seem to do a roaring trade, and the only hesitation my friends and neighbours have is whether they get value for money ("I think once a week is a bit much"). I've never heard anyone local suggest that these practices are pseudoscientific.

  3. JDM: I think that chiropractic was founded in the 19th century on psuedo-scientific ideas tending towards more philosophical concepts of how the body and disease works. But most modern chiropractors tend to use standard treatments as I've described - massage etc. that physios (and osteopaths) also employ. Spinal manipulation isn't the sole focus of modern chiropractic treatment, and when I had my lower back and hamstrings treated, none of the psuedoscience was spouted by my practitioner. These kinds of chiropractors aren't really the ones to be too critical of, and there is a small amount of evidence to say that their techniques can improve lower back problems. But there are some who claim to cure conditions like infact cholic (as highlighted by Simon Singh) which they patently can't. These are the ones to be condemned.

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  5. To attain your dreams is one of the most wonderful experiences in the world. However, there are several challenges that may come along the way to stop you from reaching them. Your dream of becoming a ballet dancer was cut short by your chronic back pain. But as the saying goes, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel” – hope was born when you found out about chiropractic therapy. In the end, dreams do come true! ;)

    - Sharron Bonomo

  6. Chiropractic helps the body restore its function rather than just relieve the pain. With restored function, the body’s ability to mend itself is improved. Keep up the spirit, girl! =)

    - Kelly Nell

  7. You got that right, Sharron! If you’re really determined to achieve your dreams, you will get to it in no time, even if there are unexpected things that get in the way. I’m so glad you have found a good chiropractic treatment to heal your back pain. I hope to see you one day on stage dancing ballet! Good luck! =)

    Gwen Knight

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  8. People definitely tend to give chiropractic the side-eye, mainly because medical doctors don’t recommend it as a “legitimate” medical treatment. But testaments like yours help shed light on the true benefits of chiropractic. Some people have had ailments treated and repaired by chiropractors in 5 minutes, when a medical treatment might have taken a little longer. Let’s not misunderstand though – both chiropractic and medical remedies have their advantages. It’s just a matter of finding out what’s wrong, and what, in one’s personal view, is the best way to treat it.

    Felix Worley

  9. Physical therapy is a guaranteed effective way of alleviating yourself from stress. There’s this bizarre yet incredible feeling of being totally renewed after a session with your therapist. By the way, how are you doing now? =)

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