Is a chiropractor worth a visit?
There’s more to it beyond the cracking sound
Apr 16, 2018
Haruki Murakami’s seminal novel Kafka on the Shore is a common gateway to the Japanese novelist’s eccentric body of work. The novel follows the loosely intertwined lives of 15-year-old runaway Kafka Tamura and aging simpleton Satoru Nakata. I’ve read it long ago, and my only remaining vivid memory of the book is its lesson on spinal health.
In the novel, Nakata meets and goes on a journey with a truck driver named Hoshino. The old man observes how bad Hoshino’s spine has gone out of line. “It’s going to cause all sorts of problems if you don’t do something about it. You’ll get headaches, you won’t be able to take a good dump. And then your back will go out on you,” he says.
Nakata offers to perform spinal manipulation to Hoshino, warning him of the horrible pain he might experience. He pins his thumbs between a muscle and a portion of the spine of Hoshino’s back. Soon after, a hideous pain comes upon the truck driver. Murakami further writes that “even death couldn’t be this awful.”
This chapter of the novel plays in my head on my first chiropractic adjustment session.
“It’s definitely not good for your age—you’re only 22,” Dr. Daniel Su, a chiropractor at Spinal Care, tells me as he looks at my X-ray result.
At 22, my spine seems to have aged faster than any other part of my body. It’s not a natural regression, though; it’s the result of poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle. It has taken a toll on my body in the form of scoliosis, constant discomfort, headaches, and anxiety. And up until recently, my back problems remained in the back burner, occasionally addressed with muscle relaxants and often dismissed with my acceptance of into normalcy.
It’s all in the spine
As Nakata says, “The problem was all in the spine.”
The spine is the bridge between the brain and every nerve throughout our body. However, the backbone is moveable and may misalign without proper care. These misalignments are called subluxations. “As it misaligns, the nerves get compressed and it interferes with the connection,” Su explains.
When left to its own devices, these subluxations could also affect the function of other major organs like the stomach and even the skin. “This area,” Su points to the lower section of the spine, “is related to the adrenal glands. If your adrenal glands are overactive, it can [produce] way too much cortisol, which then brings up the stress level so that can [lead to] the skin issues like acne.”
These subluxations are what a chiropractor, like Su, intends to correct. More than relieving back pain or aiding the body recover from other issues, Su says “it’s really about improving their function and getting the whole body to work.”
A gentle and specific approach
After reviewing my X-ray, Su senses the state of my spine with his adept hands. His motion is smooth like that of a pianist who plays a solemn piece. Then, he further examines my back with a Nervo-Scope, a device designed to measure the heat within sections of the spine.
The instrument is particularly important in Su’s practice as a Gonstead chiropractor—the first and only one in the country. Developed in the United States, the Gonstead technique follows a painstaking analysis to ensure the accuracy and precision of each adjustment. With such meticulous assessment, the technique also guarantees safety and gentleness on the delicate spine—Su even adjusted his son at only three days old.
Despite that information, the question remains: Does it hurt? Su says it varies. The only way to know is to experience it myself.
The sound of my bones
As I lay prone on the chiropractic table, Su takes his time lightly pressing and rubbing my upper back. When he finally locates the right area for adjustment, he gently places a hand over it. He remains still as if calculating the precise amount of pressure to adjust it. In that tranquil moment, however, my anticipation for the popping sound evolves into fear. What if it hurts like that? What if I can’t take the pain? Should I back out now?
Without any warning, Su interrupts my thoughts with a swift maneuver squeezing my chest into the table. I feel the movement within my spine. My eyebrows furrow. And even if my eyes are closed, I see a flash of light.
Contrary to Murakami’s description, there is not even a slight hint of pain. It’s startling but not unsettling. If anything, the sensation emulates a hypnic jerk (that moment when you wake up from a dream of falling—or the feeling you get from a well-devised jump scare or an unexpected thunderclap.)
The sound is almost inaudible to another person in the room. As the patient receiving the adjustment, I hear a sound lighter and subtler than what cracking our knuckles produces. It’s far from the terrifying popping sounds you hear in viral videos.
For the entire session (and the sessions that followed), Su only adjusts two sections. Although his findings pertain to six subluxations throughout the spine, those on my mid- and upper back are troubling me the most. “[The subluxations may seem many], but it doesn’t mean we adjust all of them [at once],” he explains. “We want to focus on one or two adjustments per session because if you overdo it, you can make the problems worse.”
The relief after the adjustment is instantaneous. As soon as I stand on my feet, I notice an overall lightness both in my mind and body. The most surprising immediate result, however, is how easy standing upright has become. For years, my parents have been telling me to keep my back straight. It’s feasible, but it’s usually physically taxing. But right after the session, maintaining proper posture feels effortless and normal again.
By the end of the day, I don’t develop the usual headache that had hindered me from thinking clearly and kindly.
It has become easier to sleep. Rising from bed the next day is a breeze, too. Before, I’d always feel lightheaded, tired, and sluggish—I was basically like Squidward waking up to another workday at the Krusty Krab. Now, those unpleasant feelings I’ve been waking up to for many months have vanished.
Chiropractic care does not end at the hands of the chiropractor. “When you first adjust it, [the subluxation] will return quite quickly because your body has been so used to that position,” Su explains. “The longer the problem has been there, the longer it will take [to correct it].” He says our daily activities have a big bearing on how the adjustments hold. “If you’re constantly sitting in front of a computer and hunch all the time, it will probably come back easily.”
Sitting is an enemy of our spine. In fact, this very position often associated with comfort is considered the new smoking. “As much as you can, sit less,” Su tells me to take respite from sitting every 30 minutes and walk around. He also suggests I use a desktop instead of a laptop to keep my neck in balance, avoid crossing my legs, among other recommendations. But in the end, Su stresses the significance of correct posture to maintain a healthy spine.
There is great value associated with the words “spine” and “backbone.” The Constitution is considered the backbone of a state, while “spine” is used to refer to the part of the book that holds its pages together. In evolution, the spinal posture is what sets us apart from our predecessors. Unfortunately, it’s also one that we—including most health insurance providers in the Philippines—take for granted. And as our circumstances make way for accelerated spinal degeneration, it’s high time to make it a priority.
Spinal Care. Unit C, 9F Menarco Tower, 32nd St., BGC, Taguig City. 816-3982. 0917-8426160. Spinalcareph.com
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