Overfed But Undernourished: Why Supplementation Matters

One of the cornerstones of our chiropractic practice is proper nutrition.  Indeed, eating a healthy diet and supplementing for the holes in a healthy diet should be a cornerstone of any health related practice.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, however, I’ve found that very few people ever even give rational though to how they are feeding their body.

The truth is, you will only be able to remain well with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Your body requires a variety of certain nutrients in order to fight of disease and preserve your health.  Too little of certain good nutrients can lead to diseases like neuropathy or cancer.  Too much of the bad stuff can lead to heart disease or diabetes.  The job of the individual looking to become and stay healthy is to find the happy medium that balances nutritional requirements without consuming excess calories or chemicals from their diet.

It can truly be said that, as Americans, we are overfed but undernourished.   The results of this lifestyle are plain.  We now suffer from skyrocketing obesity rates and chronic illness continues to rise.  Despite having one of the most sophisticated “healthcare” delivery systems in the world, we’re not getting any healthier.

One of the ways we attempt to improve the overall health of all of the patients in our office is through improved nutrition.   Some of this comes in the form of nutritional supplementation.  I’ve realized over the years that one of the reasons so many people are overweight is that they are getting so few nutrients from their food.  Food quality is not today what it was 50 years ago.  We’re literally bathed in food that’s high in calories and additives but very low in nutrients.  As a result, we end up eating more and more just to satisfy the minimum nutritional requirements of our body.  So, we eat and eat and eat just to get to the minimum nutrient requirement your body needs to function.  The problem is that the unhealthy foods we are eating are very calorie rich, causing us to literally burst at the seams.

During our patient intake process, I ask patients if they are taking supplements.  Not surprisingly, the few people who do take supplements are largely just taking a ‘pot-shot’ in the dark, offering little if any health benefit.  Often their decision on certain supplements is not based on health, training, or guidance by a healthcare provider, but is based on advertising.  Worse, I’ve had patients who believe or have been told, even by their own healthcare provider, that vitamins are “worthless” or “a waste of money.”  The ironic and sad thing is that many of the patients who mistakenly believe this disinformation are some of the most ill new patients we see in our office, often taking the most medication.  The bad advice they have been given is sabotaging their health.

Here are several reasons why taking a nutritional supplement is critical to maintaining your health:

1.       Many people don’t eat the diet they should – In our busy world, many of us eat a diet of convenience.  Meaning, we eat what we can when we can.   Our diets are nutrient poor, high calorie, and laced with artificial chemicals.  We give little though to what we eat, how we eat, and when we’re eating it.   Worse, many people who think they’re eating a healthy diet have never really sat down and evaluated what they really eat during the day.  Many are surprised at how shockingly bad their diet really is when they do a 7 day diet intake analysis.

2.       General food quality has declined – With an increase in convenience foods, from fast food to microwavable meals, our food quality has suffered.  We’ve moved away from cooking and preparing fresh food at home to “picking something up” or “grabbing a bite.”  Restaurants also include additional salt and MSG to enhance the flavor of their foods and thus generate repeat customers.

3.       Nutrient content of even the good food we eat is on the decline – Think about it.  We are growing enough food in the U.S. to feed the largest population ever, over 300 million people.  That doesn’t even include the food and food supplies we send to other countries.  The problem is that we are growing it on the fewest number of farms in a century.  So, what happens when you grow more and more food on less and less land?  The nutrient content of the food declines.  In other words, a carrot nowadays does not have the same nutrient levels as it did in 1950.

4.       How we cook our foods depletes many of the natural nutrients found in healthy foods – The cooking process can often destroy naturally occurring nutritional and digestive enzymes found in raw foods.  This is particularly true of fruits and vegetables.  Further, cooking and preparing meals often adds undesirable elements such as greases and oils, not to mention chemical additives.

5.       As we age we absorb fewer nutrients from our food – Do you honestly think that a 70 year old will absorb the same nutrients from food as a 17 year old?  Of course not!  As we age, our digestive system ages with us.  Just as our muscles may not function like they used to, so does our digestion.  It’s critical then to supplement those nutrients for which we may have a problem digesting and absorbing as we age.

6.       The medications we take may prevent absorption of certain nutrients and deplete nutrients from our body – There are several examples of medications that affect nutrient absorption.  For example, acid reducers for acid reflux neutralize stomach acid which is required for calcium absorption.  Likewise, cholesterol medication decreases vitamin D production in the liver, which is also critical to calcium absorption.  Cholesterol medication also decreases the body’s production of Coenzyme Q10 which is a critical antioxidant and important for cellular energy.  Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut that produce vitamin K.  Even the pain medication you’re taking can deplete a multitude of nutrients from vitamin C to Zinc.  And the list goes on…

Not taking a supplement in this age of nutritional decline is a mistake.  Even if you do eat a healthy diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need to stay well.

So what supplement should you take?  That depends on your individual health status and your ability to supplement.  I generally recommend that anyone looking to make a serious change in their nutrition consult with a healthcare provider.  That being said, make sure that the people you take your health advice from are in the health business and not the disease management business.  Just because a provider may understand the cause and treatment of disease, does not necessarily mean that they understand what it takes to be healthy.  Managing the symptoms of your disease is not the same as being healthy.  Don’t confuse the two.

Supplementation is a crucial aspect to being healthy.  With regard to which supplements to choose from the infinite choices, we’ll discuss that in a future blog.

Are You Even Willing To Be Healthy?

The great motivational speaker Les Brown once said “The hardest part is getting the person to be an active participant in their own recovery.”  As a healthcare provider, I’m faced with this dogging anathema regularly.  People want health, but are unwilling to do the work and invest in themselves enough to obtain and maintain it.

Participating in our local community is very important to me and our chiropractic office regularly attends dozens of community events every year, from health fairs to senior expos.  Consistently, a regular occurrence during these events are those looking for solutions to the near limitless potential problems that ail the average individual.   I probably speak, at least briefly, with thousands of separate individuals at each of the multitude of venues we associate with annually.  Of issue, is how few of those people are actually willing to pursue any form of solution to their problem.

Recently, we attended a wellness expo for the local school district.  We performed nearly 60 screenings in a single morning, evaluating the attendees for muscular and postural issues.  Most of the people I consulted with during the screening were suffering from various conditions, often for years.  Most had also “learned to live with it.”  What always continues to surprise me about these events is that a person can list a litany of ailments but how very few will actually take any further action to correct them, even when a solution is presented to them.  Often, I can offer my confidence that we may have the potential solution they’re looking for to significantly improve or even resolve their issue, yet the person will refuse any additional commitment to being health.  My observation is that they are more content in their illness than in the potential to be well.

This is a phenomenon I have seen in broad ranges of patients in all avenues of care.  From the person who won’t commit to beginning care to the person who does not follow through with their treatment to completion, there seems to be a generalized non-committal attitude toward being well.  I think that even if I could promise a free guaranteed 100% cure, many people would still turn it down.  Now, I don’t promise cure and nothing is guaranteed, but you get the point.  Many people are unwilling to invest in their own recovery.  Why?  The answer is fear.

I once heard someone say that F.E.A.R is False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear holds people back.  It keeps the greatness of individuals trapped inside them so they never realize their full potential.  The same is true of health.  You have an amazing healing potential.  The question that should be asked is fear preventing you from living up to your full health ability?  Is fear limiting your willingness to try alternative treatment options?  Is fear stealing your hope?

Fear with regard to health manifests itself in many ways.   Fear is a pernicious multifaceted beast that prevents many from realizing wellness.  Do any of these describe you?

1.        Fear of commitment – Health will never be handed to you on a silver platter.  Health is something you must commit to.   Health isn’t a matter of happenstance or occurrence by chance of fate.  Being healthy is a matter of deliberate intention.  Being healthy requires a time investment.  You have to invest in time to exercise, time to pick the right foods, time to take care of your spine, and time to manage your stress.  The excuse that “I’m to busy” is just that…an excuse.  You have to have health as a priority.

Committing to a lifestyle change that includes healthy choices forces you out of your comfort zone.  Albert Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   Too often, unfortunately, a person will wait indefinitely to magically get well.  As the old saying goes, “If your ship doesn’t come in, you may have to row out and meet it.”  If you’ve been waiting indefinitely to get better, you’ll ultimately have to come to the realization that change may be your only solution.  Change can be uncomfortable but, in my experience, more often change can be extremely fulfilling.  Let go of your unrealized fear and make a commitment now to change.

2.        Fear of trying something new – If the solutions you’ve always done aren’t working for you, why are you still doing them.  It always fascinates me when I talk to a patient who has had back pain for years and has been doing the same interventions they have always tried but they don’t get any better, at least not in any meaningful way.  Again, change can be uncomfortable but fear may be preventing you from growing and improving for lack of trying.  William Shakespeare has said “Our doubts make us traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”  Maybe the solution you need is out there.  You just haven’t found it because fear has prevented you from even trying anything outside your self imposed comfort zone.  What solutions have you eliminated, not because they didn’t work, but because you were too afraid to try them in the first place?

3.       Fear of financial expenditure – Of course, in our current economy, this can be a very real fear.  Many people are afraid to commit to being healthy because they feel it may be a bad investment.  They’re afraid of sending for their health but not getting a likewise return.  Well, let me tell you, being sick is a lot more expensive than being healthy.  You have to look at your health as an investment for your future.  A little time and money invested now may save a literal fortune later.

I understand that money can be a touchy subject for a lot of people but, like a time commitment, my experience has shown me that money is truly less of a mitigating factor than priorities.  Frequently, we’ll see patients in our office who, once they calculate an estimated cost of their care plan, claim poverty and will completely discontinue care for financial reasons.  Too often however, I’ve found that these same people drive a $50,000 Mercedes, have a personal trainer or a cleaning lady, or even recently remodeled their house.  For them, health is just not a priority.  Their luxury lifestyle is more important and it may eventually cost hem their health.  Do you have your priorities straight?

4.       Fear of hope – One of the things I am seeing more and more often at some of the events we work, and with many new patients who present to our office, is a loss of hope.  Many have been told they are destined to live with pain or disease for the rest of their life.  Many have been told that they are fated for illness or that sickness is inevitable for them.  In my opinion, there is no greater disservice done to a person than to steal that person’s hope.

There is always hope for any condition or disease.  I don’t think there is a condition out there that doesn’t have a documented case of a miraculous recovery.  Too frequently, I’ve seen people with reversible conditions completely give up on the ability to be well because someone foolishly told them it can’t be done.  Just because someone says it can’t be done doesn’t make it true.  Obviously, there are no guarantees in life and you shouldn’t expect or believe absolutes but that doesn’t mean you should give up.  It’s heartbreaking for me to talk to a person who has a condition that we can most likely help, only to have them never commit to wellness because they’ve had their hope stolen from them.  Don’t give up!  Become the inspired healthy individual you were meant to be!

Ask yourself, are you even willing to get well?  Are you willing to commit to you?  My experience has shown me that, more often than not, the answer is no.  That’s why only about 8% of the population will ever see a chiropractor.  That’s why less than 25% of people have a regular exercise regimen.  It’s why so few people take vitamins.  It’s why fast food is a multibillion dollar industry.  It’s why prescription drug sales are on the rise yet, according to the World Health Organization, we’re 37th as a nation in general health.  Unfortunately, my experience is that people expect health but reject commitment but you can’t have one without the other.

No one will ever care more about you than you.  To that end, no one can force you to be well.  Being healthy is a choice.  What you have to decide is whether you can move past your fear and commit to being the amazing, inspiring, and unstoppable individual you were built to be.

Fat and Happy or Fit and Healthy

There is an old expression that describes contentment as “sitting fat and happy.”  Our modern lifestyle seems geared toward having both, often at the expense of your health and longevity.  While the United States has one of the most sophisticated healthcare delivery systems in the world, we rank 37th in overall health according to the World Health Organization.  Why is that?

Look around you.  We live in an age that is designed to sabotage our health.  Cheap, poor quality food is readily available at every turn.  Our jobs are slowly moving away from physical labor toward a computer driven economy that inhibits exercise.  We even have moving sidewalks.  So, the question becomes is “sitting fat and happy” the picture you had for your life?

Let’s look at the results of a sedentary lifestyle.  There are endless known effects of lack of exercise and poor diet, including:

1.        Increased risk of heart disease

2.       Increased risk of diabetes

3.       Increased risk of cancer

4.       Increased risk of stroke

5.       Decreases immune system

6.       Sleep difficulty

7.       Depression

8.       Digestive problems

9.       Decreased life expectancy

10.   General decline in health

The “fat and happy” lifestyle is a recipe for disaster.  While you may enjoy temporary satisfaction, you are setting yourself up for long-term failure.

Unfortunately, many people are led to believe that being healthy is out of their reach.  They’ve been told that illness is just inevitable and they are destined to suffer the rest of their life with some form of chronic infirmity.  Worse, many of the people telling them this are the very people they trust with their health decisions.

The truth is exactly the opposite and you have more power than you know.  Being healthy is a choice as much as being sick is your decision.  Your body is a self healing machine and functions optimally with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Further, where you are in your health right now is more likely a reflection of the decisions you have made up to that point rather than an accident of genetics or fate.  The biggest detriment to being healthy may be you.  Lack of exercise, poor diet, high amounts of stress, and poor nervous system health all contribute to a decline in your overall well being.

If we’re told that as we age getting sick is normal, does that make the 90 year old healthy individual on no medications abnormal?  When did sick become the new normal?  Where you are in your health is a product of the choices you make, a cause and effect.  If you choose to exercise or not, there will be an effect.  If you choose to eat junk food or vegetables, there will be an effect.  If you are able to manage your stress or not, there will be an effect…and so on.

Disease does not occur in a vacuum.  It’s the deliberate result of years of poor decisions and neglect…years of “sitting fat and happy.”  You need to understand that the decisions you make now about your health may determine whether you spend the later years of your life sick and tired or fit and healthy.  The decisions you make now may even shorten or prolong your life.

Even if you are sick, there are ways to restore your health.  No, taking ibuprofen for pain, an acid reducer for acid reflux, or an antibiotic for a sinus infection does not make you healthy.  You can’t get health from chemicals in a bottle.  Medications are only designed to alter body functions in order to manage a disease process…cause and effect.  They are not vital nutrients.  In other words, you’re still “fat” (or, more appropriately, sick) but at least you’re happy.  Health can only come from one place…from inside you.  The decision you have to make is whether you are willing to make the good decisions to take care of yourself as an insurance policy for your future.

The ironic thing about health is that most people know what they need to do to be healthy.  They know they need to stop eating the junk.  They know they need to eat more fruits and vegetables.  They know they need to get more exercise.  They know they should take care of their spines.  Many of the patients I talk to even know that the medications they take are not the solution they are looking for.  Still, they choose not to do anything about being well and prefer to live “fat and happy.”

Each day is a new cross-road in your life.  Each day, you have the option to take care of yourself or not.  Keep in mind that every day you choose not to act builds upon the next.  Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself whether you are going to live each day “fat and happy” or fit and healthy.

Adjust Your Thinking: Chiropractic First For Low Back Pain

Recently, I was doing some research on low back pain and common treatments for the condition.  What struck me as peculiar was how difficult it was to find accurate information on chiropractic care in the medical literature.  Having seen thousands of patients with back pain over the years and watching the vast majority of them improve with spinal adjusting, it seems to me to be inexcusable that chiropractic care is not the number one consideration when discussing caring for patients with back pain.

My search was rife with cautions and contraindications, most of which were inaccurate to say the least, and very few medical sites even referenced chiropractic spinal adjusting at all as a valid treatment for back pain.  Sure they’ll list about every other form of medical procedure from drugs to surgery, rarely mentioning known complications to those treatments, but chiropractic care is noticeably absent, ironic considering the success rate and safety record of chiropractic care versus traditional treatments for this condition.

According to WebMD, one of the foremost sources of health information on the internet, over 22 million Americans seek chiropractic care annually and over a third of those patients are seeking care for back pain.   Additionally, research confirms that chiropractic care is effective for the treatment of back pain, neck pain, and headaches.  Moreover, WebMD also reports that the satisfaction rate for patients seeking care in a chiropractic office is 95%.

So, why does the mainstream medical establishment still apparently have difficulty embracing chiropractic care as an effective valid option for patients with back pain?  I have spoken with many medical physicians over the years and their opinions are generally across the board.  Most, I have observed, really have no idea about how chiropractic works, why it is effective, or even what happens in a chiropractic office.  Essentially, I’ve inferred that they just think chiropractors ‘crack backs’ and the patient gets better either by magic or would have improved anyways.

Part of the reason for this misconception and poor understanding of the nature of spinal adjusting is that so many doctors, in my experience, have ever even been to a chiropractor.  Worse, with so much antiquated and disinformation prevalent from “respected” sources, it’s tough to sum up chiropractic care from a medical literature perspective.  I’ve seen, though, that those few medical doctors we’ve worked with in our office have a completely different opinion of chiropractic care once they become a patient.

When researching treatment options for low back pain, options such as lifestyle modification, physical therapy, oral medication, or even surgery are very common in searches.  Too often, unfortunately, chiropractic care is omitted altogether, though it may arguably be the most effective method of addressing the cause of the pain, rather than just covering the symptoms or offering temporary relief.  Even the National Institute of Health refers only briefly to ‘spinal manipulation’ and does not use the term ‘chiropractic’ at all when suggesting treatment options for back pain.  This is despite the fact that a 1992 government sponsored study by the RAND organization found chiropractic care to be more effective and less costly than medical care for the treatment of acute back pain.

Deepak Chopra, M.D. has said “instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box.”  For too long, options for the treatment of back pain have been confined to limited ‘box thinking.’  Chiropractic care has been an established healthcare choice for over a century and its effectiveness for treating low back pain is well documented in the peer review literature.

Sites that offer back pain relief suggestions should be recommending chiropractic care as a first choice, especially given its effectiveness rate and safety when compared to medical care for comparable conditions.  Instead of burying ‘spinal manipulation’ in the second half of an article on back pain, the article should be saying, “If you have back pain, see a chiropractor first!”

It’s time to toss out the box that traditional methods are the only ‘solution’ for back pain.  Medication, for one, does nothing to address the cause of the pain and merely offers symptom relief.  It completely ignores the fact that pain occurs for a reason.  Surgery may directly address the cause of the back pain but comes with high procedural risk due to its invasiveness and relatively high potential for failure, not to mention limited options for care post-surgery, should the procedure fail.

Chiropractic care has a proven track record of safety and high effectiveness for low back pain.  Risk of complication from adjusting is also very low.  So, why then is chiropractic not the first choice in all instances for mild to moderate back pain?  The only answer can be fear.  Fear that more patients may choose chiropractic care over traditional medical care for one of the most common ailments in a doctor’s office.  Fear that patients may take fewer pharmaceuticals.  Fear that patients may actually get well and may not need expensive, invasive procedures.  Fear that maybe medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

There is a history of discrimination against chiropractors that goes back 100 years.  As recently as just a half century ago, chiropractors were still being jailed for “practicing medicine without a license.”  This changed in the 80’s, though.  In 1988 the American Medical Association was sued in a case many refer to as Wilk vs. AMA in which the AMA was found to be guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, essentially conspiring to restrain chiropractic care and guilty of working to prevent medical physician referral to chiropractors.  It also found the AMA guilty of preventing chiropractors from obtaining access to hospital diagnostic procedures and staff.  The effects of this discrimination against chiropractic however, are still being felt today.  While chiropractic care is certainly becoming more mainstream, it still appears as though many medical sites regard chiropractic care as a fringe alternative treatment method.

Fortunately, the art and science of chiropractic has moved ahead by laps and bounds despite the lack of recognition in medical circles.  Most insurance companies now cover chiropractic care and even Medicare will cover spinal adjusting.  An important question is, when will medicine get with the times?  With more and more people choosing alternative medicine every day, chiropractic care has become the wave of the future.

I once saw a quote that said that “research is proving every day what chiropractors have been saying for a hundred years.”  It’s so true.  Chiropractic care is a method whose time has come.  Is it a panacea for back pain?  Not by any means.  But chiropractors should be the gatekeepers for back pain, limiting access to more invasive medical interventions only if conservative care fails.  Who knows how many spines we may save, and how much of a difference we might make in the lifestyle and health of a patient if we adopt this approach?

Referrences:

http://www.acatoday.org/level2_css.cfm?T1ID=13&T2ID=68

http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/chiropractic-pain-relief

http://openjurist.org/895/f2d/352/wilk-dc-dc-dc-dc-v-american-medical-association-a-wilk-dc-w-dc-b-dc-b-dc

http://www.onhealth.com/back_pain_health/page4.htm#low_back_pain_treatment

http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB4539/index1.html

http://pain-medicine.med.nyu.edu/patient-care/conditions-we-treat/failed-back-surgery-syndrome

http://backandneck.about.com/od/faqs/f/failedbackfbss.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21463472

The Exercise Paradox: Movement Is Not An Option

Movement is not an option.  It’s a requirement.  A common conundrum that I see on a regular basis in my office is whether or not to exercise when you have chronic pain.  The correct answer is you should always be exercising.  Now, that doesn’t mean that every exercise is meant for every person and doing the wrong ones, based on your condition, may even have a negative effect on your health.  That being said, incorporating some form of exercise into your regimen is critical to maintaining your health and there is always some for of activity you can do regardless of your current health status.

Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of assuming they cannot exercise because of some form of ailment.  Generally they report that exercise “aggravates my knees” or “hurts my back.”  The problem is that the ‘no exercise’ solution really does nothing to improve that person’s health and may even be making it worse.  Your body is designed to move and the ‘use it or lose it’ rule really is directly tied to your health,

The World Health Organization has said that “sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than smoking.”  This is a fact that often does not occur to those stricken by pain or where exercise is more of a burden than a benefit.  To be honest, we’ve become a sedentary society where convenience is the rule.   It seems that every aspect of our lifestyle from computers to mobile phones is designed for convenience.  Of the thousands of patients I’ve seen in my office, I’ve noticed that being sedentary for large portions of the day can do more to aggravate a chronic pain issue than even some traumas.  Further, most exercise physiology research confirms that the sooner you can return a person to exercise, the better the long term recovery.

The reasoning for lack of exercise that many patients make is “the more I exercise, the more it hurts.”  The paradox is that the less you exercise, the more it will continue to hurt.  Worse, the less exercise you get, the more deconditioned you will become and the more your condition will advance.  You have to understand that your body is a sensory input and motor output machine.  It requires constant sensory and motor stimulation to stay healthy.  While it may “feel good” to not exercise, it is well known and accepted that prolonged immobility leads to muscle weakness, poor circulation in the extremities, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and can contribute to neurological symptoms.

For most people, a better solution is not that they can’t exercise, it’s that they need to exercise smartly.  For example, you can’t expect a person with severe arthritis in the knees to begin a walking regimen.  However, pool exercises may be a good place to start, then transitioning to a recumbent exercise bike.   Likewise, arm exercises using weights may also be a viable option to help maintain skeletal muscle tone and improve circulation to the extremities.  Either way, not exercising is not an option.

From heart disease to degenerative arthritis, exercise is possible and even necessary to maintain or restore health.  The question becomes then, what exercise is best for you when establishing an exercise regimen?  Many people just don’t know where to start when they are in pain and looking to rehabilitate themselves.  I will generally advise my patients to begin as easily as possible, exercising in a pain free zone.  While there is a temptation to work through the soreness, exercising while in pain can often aggravate the affected area and does little to rehabilitate it because the targeted muscles are guarded, your body compensating with other muscle groups.  Begin at the beginning.  Ease into any new regimen and exercise in a pain free range of motion.

Once you find a regimen you are comfortable with, begin building on that foundation.  Avoid those motions and movements that may aggravate your condition, focusing instead on the movements you are able to do well.  Over time, increase the amount of time, reps, and resistance as the exercise becomes easier.  Ultimately, you will begin rehabilitating yourself, improving your strength and range of motion via your own physical work.

Besides pain, exercise is a fundamental requirement for the person looking to become healthy and stay healthy.  In fact, your body depends on small amounts of stress in order to more adequately heal.  Movement improves circulation to the tissues which brings in oxygen and nutrients to help keep muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and even organs healthy.  Movement also stimulates nerve firing to help improve nervous system function, decreasing pain, improving muscle tone, and improving balance and coordination.  Movement against gravity will help strengthen your core and improve your posture.  Increased heart rate will also help keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy.

There is a solution for just about anyone.  Of course, the best exercise anyone can do is the one they are actually consistent with on a regular basis.  Excellent exercise habits will produce excellent results.  If you are only hit or miss with your regimen, expect corresponding results.  If you neglect exercise all together, expect illness to be an eventuality for you.

Shoulder Pain: Is Surgery Your Only Option?

In my experience, besides back pain, shoulder injuries and pain are some of the most common reasons a patient presents to our chiropractic office.  In fact, I have observed that most of my patients who suffer from chronic neck and upper back issues have at least a minor shoulder condition complicating their case.  The biggest fear with our shoulder pain patients is the dreaded ‘rotator cuff’ injury.  Why dreaded?  Because so many people have been trained to think that he only solution for rotator cuff problems is an invasive procedure.  Generally, the race to expensive, invasive interventions, in my opinion, is largely unnecessary overkill but can include pain management injections, which are generally only temporary and don’t really fix the cause of the pain, and surgery, which has a potential for risk, and recurrence of the condition. Surgery also limits additional future conservative care options in the likely event that the surgery fails.

Your shoulder can experience pain and dysfunction just like your back can.  Acute traumas and chronic stresses can lead to wear and tear on the joint just like they would in the low back.  It reasons then, if a patient can experience an excellent recovery with conservative care of their low back, conservative care of the shoulder is also a viable method of improvement.  So why, when you go to your doctor, do they so often immediately refer you to an orthopedic surgeon?  There are several reasons for this:

1.        Your doctor may not know or understand the nature of a shoulder injury.  The shoulder joint is a complex one with multiple muscular, tendonous, and neurological involvements that can affect areas other than the shoulder.

2.       A lack of understanding of how the body heals if the obstructions to the healing process are removed.

3.       A lack of understanding of the role conservative intervention can play, including chiropractic adjusting of the extremities, in helping the patient to heal themselves.

4.       Surgery is a perceived quick fix (despite the fact that surgery is not without its potential complications and failure rates).

So, you have shoulder pain…now what?  Shoulder pain is not as simple as just ‘rotator cuff damage.’  You have to understand what the mechanism of injury is, what tissues are involved, and whether there are other areas that may be contributing to or aggravating the shoulder region.  There are countless reasons a person can develop pain in the shoulder and rarely is the pain ‘just a shoulder problem.’

Your shoulder joint mechanism is an extremely complex one.  It allows for the largest range of motion of any joint complex of the body.  It has muscular attachments not only to the shoulder joint, but to the neck, rib cage, elbow, and even the low back.  The rotator cuff musculature represents only 4 of approximately 2 dozen muscles that affect shoulder function.  Did you know that the collar bone is the only one that directly attaches the bones of the entire arm to the rest of the skeleton?

In order to adequately diagnose a shoulder problem with the greatest level of accuracy, an MRI of the shoulder may be required.  While many will rely on plain film x-rays to diagnose a shoulder condition, x-rays alone don’t generally reveal the information necessary, especially for a chronic shoulder issue.  An MRI on the other hand will reveal information about all the soft tissues in and around the joint, including the cartilage.  It can even offer information as to whether the injury is acute and whether there is an active inflammatory response currently progressing.

Understanding how the shoulder functions is a key to helping it resolve.  Most injuries to the shoulder are either acute sprains or chronic overexertion injuries.  Either way, most shoulder conditions will improve with conservative care.  Now, many will argue that physical therapy is the best solution for a shoulder issue and I would agree to an extent.  Physical therapy is extremely effective at helping a shoulder condition to resolve.  However, to limit conservative care to only pain management and exercising the shoulder joint may prevent the patient from reaching full resolution of their condition.

Ideally, these factors need to be addressed when caring for a person with a shoulder injury:

1.       Misalignments of the shoulder joints need to be identified and corrected manually.  This requires the expertise of a chiropractor.  There are 3 true joints and 1 potential joint in the shoulder that must be corrected to restore full function before additional care can be rendered.  Exercising or stressing a deranged joint may actually aggravated it and slow your recovery.  The muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the joint rely on proper alignment for their proper function. Your soft tissues cannot function correctly if the skeleton is functioning incorrectly.    Only a chiropractor or, arguably, an osteopathic physician has the training and expertise to identify and correct misalignments in the shoulder with precision.

2.       Pain must be controlled.  While rendering care, there is the temptation to jump right into exercise to rehabilitate the area.  True, studies have shown that the earlier you introduce exercise, the better the long term recovery, but this has to be done within reason.  Applying stress to a guarded and deranged joint experiencing debilitating pain may aggravate the condition.  Additionally, the person is most likely not using the damaged tissue when they are in exercising the area and are, instead, recruiting other tissues to compensate for the loss.  Getting your pain under control is a critical step to rehabilitation.

3.       Exercise is critical.  Ultimately, you will have to add active exercise to strengthen the affected soft tissue damage.  Because your body lays down new tissue and builds up existing tissue according to the stress you place upon it, stressing the joints and soft tissues within reason is a critical component to resolving a shoulder issue.  It will be very difficult to expereince a full recovery without eventually adding a structured exercise regimen.

4.       Don’t ignore other associated areas.  Often, when you feel shoulder pain, you think it is necessarily only a shoulder problem.  In fact, it may not even be a shoulder problem at all.  Neck issues, upper back problems, postural issues, elbow dysfunction, and even low back pain can contribute to derangement in the shoulder.  They can both cause pin in the shoulder and aggravate a shoulder condition.  So, it’s critical that ALL these areas that interact with the shoulder also be addressed when helping you recover.

Conservative care for most mild to moderate shoulder conditions can be extremely effective.  When cared fro properly, I generally see a 90% recovery in our office in 90-120 days, depending on the type and nature of the shoulder injury.  The biggest detriment to a person’s improvement with conservative care, though, is their own impatience.  Healing takes time.  Conservative intervention for these types of shoulder injuries should at least be attempted before any invasive medical intervention is considered.

Exercise: It’s In Your Genes

Having been in practice for about 15 years, one of the most difficult aspects of delivering patient care is getting them to become an active participant in their own recovery.  In my experience, most patients want health handed to them without having to do any work or make the difficult choices needed in order to become healthy and stay that way.   They also expect a speedy recovery despite the fact that it may have taken them years to get to their current health state.

Genetically, we’re designed as humans to live a “hunter-gatherer lifestyle.”  Meaning, we are genetically programmed to spend most of the day foraging for food and hunting for our dinner.   Think about how humans lived 10,000 years ago, when there were no televisions, computers, or cell phones.  People didn’t spend all day sitting on their butt knowing they can just swing through the drive-through on the way home for dinner.  They had to keep moving or die.

Nowadays, in this era of convenience, we expect life to be easy and, after all, exercising is inconvenient and requires work.  I even had one person tell me one time that they didn’t like to exercise because “they got hot and it made them sweat.”  It was no wonder that the patient has in generally poor health.

The most common excuse for not exercising that I hear on a daily basis is, “I’m too busy.”  I say ‘excuse’ because it’s never about time.  It’s about priorities.  We fill our days with countless tasks so that it seems as if we’re almost constantly busy.  However, when you actually sit down and evaluate your day, you’d be surprised how much time you waste or even how much time is spent on low priority tasks.  Those same patients who “don’t have time” will spend 2-3 hours a day watching television or are unwilling to get up an hour earlier to exercise early in the day.  Their television show is more important than exercise.  Getting that extra hour of sleep is also more important than investing in their health.

The American Medical Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise 3 times per week but when you realize how much exercise we are genetically programmed to get, about 12-16 hours per day, you can see how 90 minutes a week is a vastly inadequate amount of movement to stay healthy.

Look at tribal communities around the world.  Did you know that their instances of heart disease, diabetes, and chronic back problems is almost non-existent?  People living a tribal lifestyle, as we are built to, don’t suffer from heart attacks and sleep apnea, at least not like we do in industrialized countries.  They die from Ebola or injured in traumas.  So, living in a country like we do where the risk for severe infectious disease or being maimed by wild animals is rare, we really choose to experience the general declines in health that many suffer as they age.

Think about your average day.  The average person likely:

1.  Wakes up in the morning and gets ready for work then grabs a quick bite and heads out the door (limited standing and sitting).

2.  Spends 30 minutes in a commute to work (sitting).

3.  Spends 8-10 hours sitting in front of a computer at work, sitting in meetings, or sitting on the phone.

4.  Spends 30-60 minutes commuting home (sitting).

5.  Prepares dinner then watches 2-3 hours of television, all the while taking care of their kids and other committments (mostly sitting).

6.  Finally, goes to bed (laying).

It literally seems like we’re resting ourselves to death.  No one ever became healthy by spending all day on their butt.

Now, say you do get the 90 minutes of exercise recommended by the AMA, is that enough to counteract the 166 remaining hours in the week that you are largely immobile?  I think the answer speaks for itself.

You need to exercise for series of reasons:

1.  It helps improve your health and circulation.  Your heart is a muscle and your need to work it out.  Studies consistently show a direct correlation between exercise and a decrease in heart disease.  Increasing your respiration also helps with oxygen delivery to your tissues to decrease fatigue.

2.  In helps improve immune function.  Exercise stimulates lymphatic flow and improves function of the lymph nodes.

3.  It helps improve digestion.  Movement helps contents move through the gut.

4.  In strengthens your muscles and maintains bone density.  Regular exercise helps boost your endurance, increases your energy, and decreases the degenerative effects of aging like arthritis.

5.  It will help you sleep at night.  Physically exhausting your body will encourage healthy sleep.

6.  It helps to keep your nervous system healthy.  Your nervous system is a sensory and motor processing machine that requires constant mental and physical input and output to stay at peak function.  Exercise has been linked to decreases in pain, depression, and degenerative neurological conditions.

The question becomes are you getting enough exercise to maintain minimal health?  Are you willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary to become healthy and stay that way?  Staying well is a journey, not a destination, that requires constant work and attention.  With unlimited potential but a vast minority of Americans who have a structured exercise regimen, are you, and your unwillingness to change, the only thing standing between you and being well?

Including Chiropractic: Don’t Skip the Most Important Step to a Healthier You

Why should you see a chiropractor?  After all you really don’t have any back pain, right?  As a chiropractic physician, one of the biggest misconceptions I see in our office on a near daily basis is the assumption that chiropractic care is just for back pain.  This erroneous myth is perpetuated by the amazing success that chiropractors have with caring for patients with back pain in our office.  It’s also the result of a reactive ‘disease management’ system that only treats people after they’re already sick.

To be honest, for a chiropractor, most cases of back pain are fairly straightforward.  Making a difference in the patient’s health and moving them away from ‘crisis management’ thinking is a lot more difficult.  Seeking chiropractic care for just back pain is like thinking about going to the dentist just for cavities.  There’s more to it than that.  The big difference is that you can replace your teeth but you only get one chance to take care of your spine and nervous system.  There’s no such thing as a spinal transplant.

Did you know that the first documented chiropractic adjustment was not for back pain at all?  It was for a case of hearing loss.  Unfortunately, this is a history lesson that is even lost on some of my own colleagues. In 1895, the founder of chiropractic care, D.D. Palmer performed a spinal mobilization on a deaf janitor named Harvey Lillard.  Mr. Lillard claimed to have been deaf for years and believed it began when he felt something shift in his upper back.  Reasoning that if a bone shifting out of place could lead to hearing loss then moving the bone back should restore it, Palmer mobilized the vertebra in Harvey Lillard’s upper back, ultimately restoring his hearing.

In the past 100 years, chiropractic care has established a reputation as an alternative option to traditional medicine.  Today, there are over 60,000 chiropractors in every state in the country.  Chiropractors are so intertwined with treating back pain because that condition produces such a rapid improvement with little residual as to be astounding in many cases.  If you read the research, though, you’ll find that chiropractic care has been shown to be effective for everything from headaches to digestive problems.  It’s even effective for pediatric conditions such as colic and asthma.

Most people regularly accept the importance of diet and exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Few however, other than a chiropractor, really teach about the importance of maintaining healthy nervous system function to maintain health and ward off disease.  In fact, less than 10% of the population has even been to a chiropractor before.

Not many people could argue against eating well and getting regular exercise as important to health, but my experience has shown me that most physicians will actually discourage chiropractic care unless the patient has a back pain symptom.  While this approach is in line with treating disease, this is not a ‘healthcare’ approach.  To treat back pain only after it occurs does nothing to prevent the condition in the first place, minimize the risk of back injury, or maintain healthy nervous system function.

To be truly healthy, you have to reject the ‘disease management’ model that is reactive when it comes to health.  To be truly well, you need to take proactive steps to prevent pain and illness from happening in the first place.  I would argue that chiropractic care is most effective when the patient has little to no pain, essentially when the body is not in acute distress and can accept the adjustment and hold it.

We are constantly bombarded by physical and mental stresses.  These stresses can be disastrous to the the body if left unchecked.  How many stresses do you endure on a daily basis that your body has to respond, adapt, and deal with?  Disease ensues when your body is no longer able to counter the stresses in a healthy way.  Chiropractic care helps improve your body’s ability to adapt to stress by decreasing the physical load on the body and removing pressure from the nervous system.

To be truly healthy, you must include all aspects of a healthy lifestyle.  That includes eating well, exercising, and maintaining your body’s nervous, muscular, and skeletal system.  If you want to be at your best, just like regular diet and exercise, you need spinal adjusting on a regular basis.