Chiropractors gaining new respect across the U.S.

Q. My mother is super-active for a woman past 80. She insists on cutting her lawn and regularly runs errands for neighbors, who largely are shut-ins. Still, she complains of “achy legs” and plans now on seeing some local chiropractor. Is this wise? A. The day has long past when chiropractors were regarded solely as “bone crackers” and shunned as pariahs, to be held outside the bounds of scientific medicine. There are many hospitals today with chiropractors on staff. Moreover, Medicare reimburses for “spinal manipulation” therapy. In effect, this places the federal government’s approval seal on both manipulator and his or her treatment. Now, having said this, I quickly add that a conservative, even deliberate, approach to most matters of health and medicine strikes me as appropriate. For example, let’s together examine the matter of chronic pain in the back, which could in fact also cause someone to suffer “achy legs.” First, accept that more than 70 percent of American adults, at some point in their lives experience what medicine labels “significant lower-back pain.” (Aside: the first rule for treatment of back pain: the pain almost always goes away, with or without treatment.) Next, know that the rush to treatment for back pain is good business. Indeed, the current estimate for this medical care is more than $26 billion annually. Disabling back pain commonly occurs between the ages of 45 and 64, when many people are anxious to return to work to prove they’re still fit. The result: a rush to surgery, in particular the lower-lumbar spinal fusion. There were more than 150,000 such operations performed last year, and while critics of medicine acknowledge this surgery is excellent for patients with fractured spines or spinal cancers, no one is absolutely sure how effective it is for lower back pain. Yet, these fusions continue-and no one steps up to suggest we call a temporary halt, at least until we have persuasive proof. Plainly, faith in medicine runs very deep in today’s America. Now, before someone yells “Doctor hater” or insinuates a bias exists in favor of chiropractors, let me state: 1) no relatives, or close friends, practice chiropractic medicine; 2) however, a beloved son, Paul R. Lindeman, is a board-certified internist. Further, I once worked inside the House of Medicine, referring to the headquarters building of the American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago. During these years, there was an aggressive committee whose full-time mission was to uncover failings, mishaps and errors committed by chiropractors. In my role as editor-in-chief of Today’s Health, the AMA’s consumer magazine, I understood the subject represented trouble, editorially speaking. Chiropractors were considered imposters, or “fakes.” (Aside: this was just 30 years ago.) Thus, the lessons for today: Back pain is common, it’s expensive and there oftentimes is a rush to treat it “now!” Meanwhile, medical science knows not nearly enough about the origin and/or cause of this trauma. “We know more about the surface of the moon than we do how to treat the bad back,” continues as popular wisdom. For too long, chiropractors have worked under a shadow, in a dark place where bias holds currency. At a time when all science is moving faster and faster, why not invite these professionals to the main banquet: challenge the supposed newcomers (the discovery of chiropractic dates to September, 1895) to “show us what you got!” And please publish all findings in the accepted medical literature. Consider, our compelling need to do better: the United States spends more than $4,500 per person per year on health care. Costa Rica, with half as many doctors per capita, spends just $300 per person every year. Yet life expectancy at birth is all but identical in both countries? Here then are a number of reason why we’re “sick:” an estimated 127 million Americans, of all ages, are obese or overweight, while 47 million still smoke, risking any number of cancers. Additionally, 14 million abuse alcohol, and 16 million use addictive drugs. Plainly, we need a serious, continuing national campaign promoting good health habits, so how about this for a first proposal: a cut in Medicare premiums and taxes for those older adults who demonstrate they’re avoiding the leading risks to a healthful lifestyle? In summary, they’re living right. Finally, this free advice to chiropractors: join the good health practices campaign. Tell your senior patients to exercise (nearly everyone can walk), eat smart, be sociable, volunteer, read and learn. Too few medical doctors, pressured for time, follow this common sense regimen. Bard Lindeman welcomes questions from readers. Although he cannot respond to each one individually, he will answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Bard at 5428 Oxbow Rd., Stone Mountain, GA 30087-1228; fax to 404-815-5787; or send e-mail to [email protected]. Reprinted with permission of Bard Lindeman, article in the Gwinnett Daily Post. Bard Lindeman covers issues faced by seniors, including family, health, retirement, elder care and aging. He has received the American Society on Aging National Media Award.

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