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No more cracks about chiropractic

Updated on June 16, 2012

Meet the Witch Doctor

Many years ago, the lady of the house (hereafter referred to as SO, significant other) was seeing a chiropractor for her chronic back pain. I, too, had back pain but my physician was treating it with exercises, pain killers and muscle relaxers.

When my own back pain reached the point that I was walking with a cane and could barely move one leg, SO convinced me that I had nothing to lose by going to the chiropractor she had been seeing.

The first time I saw him, the chiropractor—to whom I had usually referred as the witch doctor or medicine man- was scary. He had a purpose-built bench with a circle cut out for my face so that I could breather face down and not see what he was doing. The middle of the bench collapsed on cue, while he was applying pressure to my back, which never failed to make me conjure up the image of a magician sawing someone in half. When all else was done, he had me sit up while he grabbed my head and twisted it to the side with sufficient velocity that I was afraid to move for fear that he had paralyzed me.

After trying to break my neck, he told me to stand slowly. When I did, I started to move my back gently to assess pain.

It wasn’t gone, but it was immediately so alleviated that I practically waltzed out of the office.

SO was smug.

MD vs Medicine Man

I went for adjustments once a week at first, and then gradually reduced visits to once a month. After about a year, the chiropractor told me to come in if I felt I needed an adjustment. Otherwise, he said we were done.

I had never had a doctor tell me that we were done. I thought that they needed the repeat visits to pay for golf clubs and their boats. But here was a chiropractor telling me that the machine was fine and needed only the occasional tune-up.

So I hung up my cane and when I began feeling the tightness in my back, I went back to the chiropractor. Actually, I went at the slightest twinge because, other than the neck-snapping, which continues to make me uncomfortable, I felt so much better when I left.

When he added a deep-massage therapist who followed up after out visit, I was ready to propose.

One time, a number of years after I had begun my relationship with the chiropractor, I began to suffer from acute abdominal pain. My physician diagnosed an ulcer and prescribed a bland diet and medication. That visit happened to coincide with a chiropractic tune-up, and while the chiropractor worked me over, (It really does “hurt so good”) I mentioned between grunts and moans that I had to fill a prescription for my ulcer.

The chiropractor asked me if I minded if he were to palpate the area to see whether he could help.

All right, I understand that chiropractors study physiognomy in much more depth than a typical medical doctor, but this was inside stuff, gut stuff, sore stuff.

However, I could see no harm in letting him check. He did, indeed, palpate my abdominal region, even throwing in the occasional hmm, (just like a “real” doctor).

When he finished, he said that, although he could feel scar tissue, probably from an old ulcer, he did not believe that I had an active one. He asked whether I wanted him to “take care of it.” It would hurt, he added.

“How much and how long?” I asked, never having been a great fan of pain, particularly if any significant duration, and inflicted on me.

“On a scale of 1-10, maybe an 11 or 12,” he said, “for a few seconds.”

Well, I can hold my breath for that long, and by the time the crying stopped it should all be over. I told him to go ahead.

It felt as if he reached up under my rib cage and ripped something apart.

Boy, did that smart!

And then it didn’t. In fact, there was no pain at all.

I did not fill my prescription that day. Neither did I begin my bland diet. I like spicy and I ate it, reckoning that I might as well test the new tum right away.


When I returned to my MD for a follow-up, he asked how the diet and prescription were working for me. He listened in silence as I explained why I had not tried either. When I finished, he paused for a moment before saying that the AMA doesn’t like MDs to acknowledge the efficacy of chiropractic, but he had heard so many stories like mine that he was not willing to challenge.

A range of flavors

It has been about 20 years since then, and I have never felt another twinge.

I did continue to see a chiropractor, not always the same one, over the years, and I learned that each seemed to have a unique philosophy and technique. When I injured my back at work, I was sent to a chiropractor who never laid a hand on me. He covered me in hot pads and put me on a massager and often he had other patients in the same room. His waiting room was always full of patients waiting for his production line quackery. But he never touched me.

I felt no improvement, and when I saw what that chiropractor was charging for what I considered insurance fraud, I called Workman’s Compensation and told them that he was doing me no good and I just wanted to go back to work.

The Workman’s Comp representative said that she had never had anyone tell her he wanted to go back to work before the course of treatment was complete. I said that my work was mostly at a desk and I would rather see my own chiropractor than the one who accepted Workmen’s Comp.

Back to the point

Over the years, I have seen chiropractors who did little more than massage and others who were aggressive enough to worry me about whether they were going to do permanent harm.

I learned to trust graduates of the Palmer College of Chiropractic. Not that others could not be good, but clearly that school trained graduates in techniques and philosophy that suited my needs.

A few years ago I learned about a different school of thought in chiropractic, when I met Andrino Flevotomos at District Specific Chiropractic in Alexandria, Virginia. I mention him by name because he is so different from other chiropractors I have known, in that he works exclusively on the atlas vertebra. For some time I went to him and his partner (whose deep tissue massages I never wanted to end) for long-term relief and to another for acute problem. As I continued with Andrino, I had less need of the others.

So, it turns out that although I was pretty sure that I knew everything, apparently, I still have some learning to do. But I feel great and am always happy to go to see my friend the witch doctor.


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