Michael Thomas, D.C.
I don’t know how you can touch me behind the ear and fix my low back pain and sciatica, but I don’t care- it works!
Its all voodoo or magic to me!
These are comments I frequently hear as I go about my days adjusting all of you as you come into the office for care. I am in my seventeenth year of taking care of folks in Belleview and almost every new patient has made a similar remark through the years. It isn’t immediately obvious how such a light touch under the mastoid on the side of your head could somehow change pains on the other end of the body. In all of the time I have been in practice, this head scratching confusion on the part of patients has been equally joined by their surprise and happiness at the relief they have felt after getting adjusted and getting stable in their alignment. After a short listen to the neurophysiology that tends to come out of my mouth to explain the work, they shrug their shoulders and say,
Whatever I don’t care how it works, I just know it does!
In addition to being your chiropractor, I am also quite interested in the research that will bring this odd work to more of the worlds suffering people. I am a longstanding board member of the Upper Cervical Research Foundation. In addition, I am also a long time writer and associate editor for The Upper Cervical Monograph. In those roles, I spend quite a bit of time looking at the papers that are published and brainstorming with our researchers to help all of us understand the work in a more comprehensive way. The differences in our work tended to cause us to move away from the rest of chiropractic and the healthcare world. Not only do patients not understand why we get the results we do, but neither do the researchers in chiropractic and elsewhere in the healthcare community. After decades of frustration, we are finally building the bridges that will link our work to the rest of medicine.
One big reason that this work is so difficult to understand is that its foundation lies in a very different idea than the one that underlies medicine and indeed, most of the rest of chiropractic. Medicine (and much of today’s chiropractic) is based in a ˜therapeutic model. To be simplistic about it, if for example, you had a muscle spasm, the ˜treatment would be to do something that made the spasm go away. You can measure the increase in range of motion and validate that it ˜worked. A spasm hurts, so relief of the spasm is the goal of the patient. If you had tingling into your fingers, relief of this tingling is your goal, and so forth.
Many people like the gels that feel warm and make pains and spasms ease. For them, the gels ˜work. The reason they, for example, work is because the pain fibers that are communicating the problem to you are tiny class c fibers that transmit their messages pretty slowly because they don’t have a myelin sheath around them which speeds up transmission of the nervous impulses. The feeling of warmth travels on other nerves that do have this sheath around them. Because their message gets to the ˜gate (of your consciousness) before the pain, the feeling you get is warmth not pain. There is nothing wrong with this and sometimes such gels provide welcome relief, but it is a process of ˜killing the messenger not ˜fixing the problem.
Science and the scientific method have come to rely in recent times on taking the big picture and breaking it down into discrete parts. The idea is that if you ˜fix each individual part, then you ˜fix the whole. Science has been extremely successful in many ways using this idea. Medicine in particular uses this idea as its foundation. Doctors specialize in one organ or problem. Drugs are given for each symptom that people have with the idea that when all the symptoms are ˜gone then the person is ˜well. All of us are beginning to see the problems with this method of ˜treatment. Drugs are said to have ˜effects and ˜side-effects. You (the recipient of these drugs) want the effects and do not want the side-effects! If you get a ˜side-effect it wont feel like its off to the side it will have a direct effect in your life and most probably an unwelcome one. Why would you get unwelcome effects from drugs that are supposed to ˜fix you? The reason is that we are very complicated critters. In the last few decades we have begun to develop ways to understand what are called ˜complex systems. (You can be seen as a complex system!)
In a simple system what goes in is consistent (and proportional) with what comes out. As an example from mathematics, if you have an equation such as 2 times ˜x = ?, any number you insert for ˜x will double in the answer in a consistent and proportional way. However, we are vastly more complicated than that simple mathematical equation. We have many inputs, many functions within us, and the output can vary widely and not be consistent or proportional. We are ˜complex systems. A small change in input can create a very large change in output or a small one or anything in between. This is known in mathematical terms as the Butterfly Effect. It is a metaphor that says a butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon can potentially change the weather systems to the point that it could result in a tsunami in Japan. In medical terms, we call this a ˜side effect because it happens much less frequently than the expected effects. Those now struggling to regain their lives in Japan after the recent tsunami there do not think this effect was ˜minor. (I am not making any point about the reason for the recent Tsunami in Japan and am also not blaming butterflies in the Amazon!)
The mathematics for understanding complex systems is maturing, but what seems clear is that dealing with simple systems is very different from dealing with complex systems. Instead of forcing discrete changes on a complex system (such as yourself!) to make all the ˜parts return to ˜normal levels, there is another way to improve function. This involves removing interference to the system. Complex systems can maintain themselves. They dont need ˜help so much as they need to remove interference to their function.
The upper cervical adjustment (You knew wed get back it this!) removes interference to the nervous system at a critical place in the anatomy. The junction between your head and neck is a most unusual place. The bony joint system at this junction is the most complex set of joints in the whole body. All of the information that comes from your brain travels out the foramen (hole) in the bottom of your head and down into the body through the spinal cord and associated nerves. All of the information that comes from your body travels through other nerves, up through this same foramen (hole) and into the brain where it can be processed and dealt with by the neural centers of the brain. Without the nervous system you would have no knowledge of the world outside your skin nor even any information about all the parts of your body. Interference to this flow of information into and out of your head changes your awareness of both the world at large and your own body function as a result of changes in your own perception.
In upper cervical chiropractic we have long found that we can trust that our nervous system and understand that our bodies know what to do. The innate intelligence that made us in the first place and runs our incredibly complex lives knows exactly what to do. You don’t have to tell your pancreas to release insulin or your stomach to make acid to digest your food or even how to stand up without falling down. These functions all work together as one unified whole you! Forcing one part to a predetermined ˜normal level does not equal normalizing the whole person. In fact, forcing one piece to a predefined normal can destabilize other aspects over time and create whole new and deeper levels of problems. If this sounds a bit like the current practice of medicine, I think so too.
Sometimes a symptom could kill you and then I am very much in favor of suppressing it! Medicine does a very good job at this level of emergency care. This is called tertiary care. Thankfully, the vast majority of our lives are not played out on an emergency level however. Symptoms are messages that the whole system is doing the best it can but considering the message, it may not be doing very well! Stifling the message does not improve health; it rather diminishes the vitality and resilience of our complex natures. If that is the best we can do, then so be it. But the upper cervical adjustment points at a whole new level of answer.
This answer trusts the power of life inside of us. Specifically, the upper cervical adjustment appears to restore normal blood flow into and out of the head. The brainstem in particular seems to change how blood flows through it on the initial studies we have begun. Corrective adjustment seems to restore normal blood flow into and out of the brain itself. This makes your brain work more optimally and we are finding that many of the problems that people have can be related to this altered blood flow. This includes changes to how your body holds itself up with regard to gravity. Misalignment causes the muscle tension to become unequal, drawing the leg up and twisting the pelvis, causing the upper body to move away from its normal position to accommodate the unleveling and twisting of the pelvis. Most probably, it also changes how you think to some degree and many people talk about ˜brain fog when they are out of adjustment. Many people feel emotionally depressed when they stay out of adjustment for any length of time. We have a study that shows many people can normalize their high blood pressure when they are in adjustment. These kinds of changes are happening in every system and organ in the body.
The x-ray films that I take at the beginning of care are carefully analyzed and precise measurements are taken. One of the most incredible things about this work is that it is measurable. I can measure that you are out of adjustment and adjust, then measure again to see if I have corrected the alignment. If I haven’t completed the correction, you have probably had me lay you back down on the table to finish the job. The measurement system takes the guesswork out of your care.
Beyond the measurements (and more interesting to my patients!) are the results of removing this nervous system interference. I wish you could listen to the many ways I hear patients tell me that the adjustment has changed their life. I believe this is primary care for human beings. So many aches and pains could be relieved, so many drugs could be stopped, so much more life could be lived, if people knew how to stay in upper cervical adjustment. This is what drives me as a researcher, and this is what drives me as a chiropractor. There is enough pain and suffering in this world. The upper cervical adjustment makes the world a better place, one person at a time!
Michael Thomas, D.C.