The following post was written by Dr. Adam Blair. He is practicing chiropractic in Pickering, Ontario and his contact information is available at the end of this post. I highly recommend Dr. Blair and have had many of my occasional problems solved by his work. Onto the post!
If you were to ask one hundred people what their definition of health was, you would likely get one hundred different answers- which is likely the reason you will never see the question asked on Family Feud. Luckily, I’m here to provide you with a concrete foundation upon which you can begin to contemplate and construct your own definition of health. First I will dispel the myth that health is simply the absence of disease. If it were so simple, only two extreme possibilities could exist: you’re either healthy, or you’re sick. In reality, a person’s health exists along a much more complicated continuum. Let’s explore…
Everything you experience between the day you are born and the day you die, you experience through your nervous system. This being true, it is safe to say that you essentially live through your nervous system. Think about it. Sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing – your five senses and each one is integrated and interpreted through your nervous system.
When you get sick, you do not need to consciously tell your immune system to wake up and get to work. In fact, your body is miles ahead of you. By the time you begin to experience even the slightest symptoms, your immune system has been activated and is working to eliminate any pathogens that have been introduced into your system. No conscious thought. No drugs. No surgery.
When you exercise, and the demand for blood to the muscles and oxygen to the blood increases you don’t sit down, get in touch with your cardiopulmonary system and politely ask it to provide you with some additional blood and oxygen. Again, your body is ahead of the game. It has already increased blood flow by increasing heart rate and decreasing resistance within the vessels and increased oxygen intake by increasing respiratory rate.
When you cut yourself and you cover that cut up with a Band-Aid, it’s the Band-Aid that is responsible for healing the cut….. right? False. Once again your body instinctively knows what needs to be done, and a set of complex biochemical events takes place in a closely orchestrated cascade to repair the damage.
So, we have discovered two distinct facts: one – that the nervous system controls everything and two -that your body is self-regulating and self-healing. We are also going to go so far as to suggest that if we can ensure that fact number one is working as efficiently as possible, fact number two will also occur at optimal efficiency. In other words, if the nervous system is free of stress (physical, chemical, and/or emotional) it is in an ideal state to ensure that everything in the body functions as it should. And this is the basis for our definition of health.
Our body’s are in a constant effort to achieve a state of balance. We want to find a level of homeostasis (really homeodynamics -but that is a discussion for another time) between the components of our autonomic nervous system. The idea in itself seems easy enough to accomplish. However, our typical lifestyles (which are filled with stress) tend to tip the scales and cause an overactivation of our sympathetic nervous system.
This constant stressful state (your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight/flight response) makes it much more difficult for the body to respond efficiently to the outside stressors that it is subjected to on a daily basis. These stressors can be of the physical (sports, physical labour, etc), emotional (grief, relationships, work) and/or chemical (dietary, environmental, medications, smoking, etc) variety, and prolonged exposure without intervention can lead to the deterioration of a person’s health.
Stress is a cumulative event, and the body is capable of handling stressors when the nervous system is functioning as it is meant to. However, as the nervous system endures this constant bombardment from various stressors, the body begins to shift from a state of balance to a state of fatigue and guarding. This shift is a defensive reaction, and can manifest as alterations in muscle tone. It is logical to deduce that altered muscle function can (and will) lead to joint dysfunction. Joint dysfunction will lead to degeneration which will only add to the stress already placed upon the nervous system to function efficiently. The longer this dysfunction is allowed to continue without intervention, the more difficult it becomes to return the muscles, joints and nervous system to a state of balance.
The nervous system is intelligent to a fault. When the body becomes accustomed to performing certain movements and postures it begins to accept these as ‘natural’. Yet there is nothing natural about sitting in a chair in front of a computer or hauling skids off of a truck for 8 hours a day. We are simply not designed with these actions and postural tendencies in mind. The body adapts to these learned tendencies with alterations in structure (tighter, weaker muscles), while structure is undeniably related to (dys)function. Most people assume that if anything unpleasant was happening within their body that they would realize it via discomfort or pain. False again.
It is common for early joint dysfunction to exist without any significant pain or discomfort. In fact, only approximately 10% of nociception (the neural processes of encoding and processing noxious or unpleasant stimuli) is experienced as pain. Just because you don’t have pain doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing any structural or functional deficiencies. Waiting for pain to present actually leads to a longer path towards recovery, rehabilitation, rehabituation and restoration of health.
It would make sense at this point to delve a little further into chiropractic’s role in all of this. As chiropractors we have a massive variety of tools and techniques that we can use to provide the service that makes us unique – the adjustment. Some techniques work for some doctors and not others. Patients are the same in that one person may prefer one technique while another prefers an alternative. What most techniques have in common (including those that I utilize) is that they are gentle, safe, and comfortable for the patient. A common misconception is that every adjustment is accompanied by a ‘crack’ (which in actuality is no different that the hiss you hear when you open a bottle of pop for the first time – the sound is nothing more than gas being released from within the joint). In reality, there are numerous techniques that are even less invasive and utilize highly specific, low force methods rather than a hands-on approach. Really, there is something for everybody! Another commonality is that these techniques are used to correct mechanical joint dysfunction, reduce nerve interference and neural tension by restoring proper motion to joints and re-educating the nervous system to function efficiently. And we know from earlier that an efficient, stress-accommodating (balanced) nervous system is a healthy nervous system. And a healthy nervous system optimizes a person’s potential for health. As the nerves, muscles and joints begin to adapt and memorize the corrective changes being introduced via the adjustment, they begin to revert back to their truly natural state. Chiropractic’s role is to unwind existing patterns of mechanical dysfunction and nerve interference so that we can help you rebuild a healthier way of life. In this respect, chiropractic should not be viewed as a therapy, but rather as a lifestyle.
Now, since I only intended for this post to be a paragraph or three long, I’m going to step away from the laptop for now. However, if anyone has any questions regarding anything I have touched on please feel free to contact me.
Dr. Adam Blair