This summer, after a spate of agonizing lumbar spasms, I got desperate. A cousin recommended that I see her chiropractor. After years of saying “quackropractor” in my head, I asked for his phone number and scheduled a visit.
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
A small brown dog watched from his bed in the corner as the doctor wrapped his arms around me.
“Do you like to dance?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
Without warning, he tipped me backwards, twisting my torso over his knee and bore down on the resulting kink in my spine until two hot, painful cracks rang out.
“Ouch!” I said angrily.
Last week was my first chiropractic session in almost 15 years.
When I was in high school, I took a tumble on an ill-fated ski trip. I was still in pain months later, so a family member took me to a chiropractor.
He laid me briskly on a narrow table and pressed my hips and my shoulders in opposite directions. I shouted in surprise as a sound like popcorn popping burst from my tailbone to my neck. He chuckled and reversed the twist for another meaty crackle. Then he laid me face down on another table and pressed on my ribcage. A section of the table collapsed under me, causing a short, painful impact a few inches down. He turned me face up and began to twist my neck up and down, side to side. A burning pain shot from my right shoulder to my ear. He gave me some Icy Hot rub on my way out the door.
I couldn’t turn my head for two days.
But this summer, after a spate of agonizing lumbar spasms, I got desperate. A cousin recommended that I see her chiropractor. After years of saying “quackropractor” in my head, I asked for his phone number and scheduled a visit.
He greeted me in the lobby of his Center City office and dropped into a nearby chair.
“Well, my dear!” he said, and began to ask me about my health problems in front of the receptionist, as pedestrians passed just outside the storefront window. I signed a permission form, and he explained the concept of “subluxations”: small displacements of the vertebrae that interfere with our nerve function, and therefore our overall health.
“Let’s put her on the rolling table,” he told the receptionist.
She led me to a darkened room with a narrow bench that had a long rectangle cut out of the middle, where my spine would go. I lay down, and she silently hit a switch. A hard, round shape reared up from below and began to roll repeatedly from my scapula to my sacrum. I gritted my teeth through one, two, three rolls and then told the receptionist to turn it off — it was too much for my sore back.
Since he knew I was in pain, I was surprised the “doctor” would install me in the device without examining my back first.
Some people swear by it. Some people scoff. But many are unaware of chiropractic’s strange, short history. It was invented in the 1890s by an entrepreneurial grocer and magnetic healer named Daniel David Palmer. He coined the term “chiropractic” by melding Greek words meaning “done by hand.”
To the ongoing consternation of the medical profession, he believed that illnesses were caused not by germs or environment, but by these subluxations, which interrupted a healing supernatural life-force called “innate intelligence.”
In his own writings, he compared himself to Christ, Mohamed, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy and Martin Luther.
Today, chiropractors have evolved. Most no longer claim to cure all the body’s ills by manipulating the spine; but like my latest practitioner, many do preach the danger of subluxations and the necessity of fixing them with repeated spinal “adjustments” that only chiropractors can provide.
“Subluxation” can be a confusing word. In your M.D.’s office, it means a partial dislocation of a joint (think twisted ankle). But there is no objective medical evidence or standard, either through x-rays or physical examination, for the vertebral subluxations chiropractors claim to treat.
Palmer founded the first chiropractic school in Iowa in 1897, graduating “doctors” after a few months of study. He repeatedly found himself in court for practicing medicine without a license. Now, unlike medical doctors, most U.S. chiropractors do a four-year post-graduate program with no residency requirement for a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
My own chiropractor did eventually invite me into a consultation room. (The dog came, too.) He talked fast, and I couldn’t get many words in. It was obvious he hadn’t read the intake questionnaire he’d asked me to do online, where I’d listed a painful chronic illness.
He laid me out face-down on a padded table, and began to grab, push and squeeze with a brute, deft expertise. His fingers found the fiery trigger-points in my neck, rocked my stiff pelvis and tugged at my feet.
“Oh! We have some work to do here, my dear!” he exclaimed over and over.
When attempts to adjust my pelvis and low back elicited yells of pain (“OK, fabulous,” he kept saying), he probed the middle of my ribcage on the right side where it connected to my spine. It hurt.
“Oh yeah, it’s tight in there!” he cried.
This is the part where he asked me if I liked to dance.
When he let go of me, he suggested I get some acupuncture and Reiki before coming back for more adjustments. Then, despite the fact that we had barely discussed my medical history, he suggested that the medication my urologist prescribed is to blame for my back problems.
To his credit, he didn’t charge me for the appointment.
A poster on his wall announced five “absolutes” of his field, including the claim that it is impossible to live life to the fullest without chiropractic therapy. People tell me I just haven’t found the right one, but I would argue that my health and safety rely on staying away from chiropractors forever.
Alaina Mabaso is a Philadelphia freelancer who has landed squarely in what people tell her is the worst career of the 21st century. When her editors go to bed, she blogs at AlainaMabaso.com.