Our bodies have an amazing capacity to heal. It is one of the most important bodily functions, right up there with regulating blood pressure and digesting our food. From recovering after falls and injuries to dealing with bacteria, viruses, bad food and toxins, we have ancient, built-in mechanisms designed to defend and repair ourselves.
But we don’t often think of engaging our healing capacity when we are sick. We just assume it failed us, and the best option is to attack the disease, typically with a medication or, in more severe cases, surgery. Most of us are not even aware that there is another way to approach health and illness. I certainly wasn’t until I started going to my doctor of chiropractic at about 17 years old for low back and leg pain. Not only did it work a lot better than the painkillers, it improved my health in other ways — and determined my profession.
I have since been taught to look at health care and disease differently. Our bodies can heal almost anything. When they don’t, it often isn’t because the disease is too powerful. The problem is that the body’s own healing mechanism is impaired. The best approach is to restore this natural mechanism. It typically does not need to be “supercharged” or ramped up — just allowed to do its work.
One very common area where our healing gets blocked is at the joints and muscles. This makes sense when you read that joint and muscle problems cause the most disability and are the single most expensive category of health care problems.
Spinal manipulation — the treatment doctors of chiropractic and osteopathy specialize in — helps the healing process by releasing joints that have become immobile, stiff, dysfunctional and out of alignment. This not only helps ease local pain but improves overall body function.
Manipulation has been shown to help improve vertigo, migraines, digestion, breathing, even circulation. Patients accept that manipulation can improve overall health, especially when they experience it themselves. There is an obvious physical treatment, sometimes with an audible “click” and often immediate relief.
Acupuncture, on the other hand, takes a little more explaining. I explain it to my patients by saying it restores the energy flow in the body, similar to how an electrician can find and fix a blown circuit in your home. Once the power is turned on, things start running again, including your internal repairs. The treatment is very subtle, but it can release the most powerful healing force of all: your own body.
It’s no wonder our first impulse is to take on the disease instead of engage our innate healing powers. We have been programmed by thousands of drug ads, as well as news reports of some new miracle drug or surgery. We can see how pervasive this way of thinking is when we read that nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population is on at least one prescription drug; when you include over-the-counter medications, that number swells to 80 percent. Last year, U.S. drug stores filled more than 4 billion prescriptions — not including medications given while in the hospital. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 there were 51.4 million inpatient procedures, mostly surgeries and invasive testing such as cardiac catheterizations or colonoscopies.
Besides the financial costs, this reliance on drugs and surgery has a downside. Prescription medications have been estimated to be the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 25 percent of patients were harmed during their hospital stay.
With numbers like this, we could use a little more treatment aimed at restoring health and a little less focus on disease.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.