Chiropractors, Massage Therapy, and Surgery

July 10, 2009 at 3:30 AM | Posted in Health and Fitness, Rants | Leave a comment
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First, let me just say thank you to all of you who have visited the blog so far. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ve seen more views within the first few days than I thought I would see in a whole month. I’m excited that so many of my readers are taking what I say and running with it. Today I’d like to talk about surgery. If you are looking at surgery for something like thoracic outlet syndrome, sciatica, skeletal misalignment, or some other kind of spinal or nervous disorder, you should read this first.

I recently suffered a serious bout with something called thoracic outlet syndrome. It causes your arm to go numb when you lift it above your head, and it might even be numb when it’s in a relaxed state, too. You’ll probably experience some loss of coordination in the affected side and some muscle wasting (muscles getting smaller).

Actually, as it turns out, I had more problems than that thanks to my heavy lifting days. It all started in high school, where I used a heavy backpack all day. In some cases, like mine, where the person has poor posture and no one to tell them otherwise, said person can compress a nerve called the axillary nerve in the back of the shoulder. The axillary comes off of the brachial plexus and controls your deltoid and a small muscle called the teres minor. Big deal, right? If you don’t have these muscles working properly, external rotation of your arm will be controlled by tiny rotator cuff muscles that normally have no purpose other than stabilization. End result? Bad shoulder mechanics and lots of pain.

So how is thoracic outlet syndrome is fixed? It depends on who you see. If you go to a physical therapist, they advocate stretching, muscle re-education, and perhaps laying off the weights for a while. They usually don’t understand that nerves are key to using muscles in the first place. Time for rehabilitation? Anywhere from 4 months to 2 years.

Let’s say you go to physical therapy for all the time they say and it doesn’t improve much. Now what? Well, there are probably two or three things that can happen at this point. One is the physical therapist and/or shoulder specialist sends you to chiropractic if he/she hasn’t already. Chiropractic care deals with realigning the spine and eliminating nerve impingement. But let’s talk about that for a second.

Chiropractic care gets a pretty bad rap, especially in places like Omaha, Nebraska where most of the population consists of conservative, skeptical old people. However, their skepticism isn’t entirely misplaced. If you find a bad chiropractor, you will just spend a lot of money and never get better. I’ve definitely been there…they don’t do much besides crack your back and put you on a few machines. If you go to them with an injury that’s anywhere besides the spine, you aren’t likely to get better. There are good chiropractors though. Some chiropractors are so good they can fix a short leg in one session by releasing a few muscles, or put an entire portion of your spine back in place by fixing a spasm or two. The lesson is that you should be careful about who you choose.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that you found a good chiropractor and it didn’t do a whole lot for you. You feel marginally better but you’re still not quite yourself.

There’s a technique out there that’s so new the original inventor is still alive. It’s called active release therapy, abbreviated ART. It’s something that chiropractors who commonly deal with athletes usually know. Let’s skip the science for now (I’ll go over it in a later post), but let it suffice to say that as we get older (starting pretty young for lifters, say 20-ish), our muscles begin to stick to one another. It’s common and everyone has muscles that stick to each other. For example, your pec minor and major like to stick to each other, and your rotator cuff muscles are also probably tight and at one with each other at the moment. Some other good ones to watch out for are your calves (soleus and gastrocs), your iliotibial band (tight band on the outside of your thighs) and potentially some hip flexors or deep hip muscles. When muscles stick together, they don’t work optimally. If you keep using them, you can steadily make the situation worse.

But all this sounds really exotic, right? I mean, you’re in the loop. You would have heard about some new, radical health care wave sweeping the nation that claims to be able to fix you instantly (or damn near instantly), permanently and without surgery. Well, I have to admit, it makes sense. Something like this DOES seem like it would be spread by word of mouth pretty rapidly. I urge you to try it for yourself – you’ll be recommending it to others pretty quickly.

A lot of people overlook massage therapy, too. It’s usually avoided due to the prohibitive cost, the limited results, and the variability in quality between therapists. These are all good reasons not to get a massage from a professional. But, as it turns out, a rather new and exciting thing that has been developed, again by elite athletes suffering from the limitations of the frail human form, is called self-myofascial release, and it’s a devastatingly effective method for giving yourself a massage at zero cost with great results. Look for that in a new article, too.

For now, let me just wrap this up with the alternative ending to my story. My thoracic outlet syndrome was caused by extremely tight muscles (scalene muscles for those of you wondering), and I fixed it by loosening the muscles and getting to the root of the problem. In the traditional schools of medicine, the solution to stubborn thoracic outlet syndrome is surgery. It’s called a scalenectomy, and the procedure involves the removal of the anterior scalene (responsible for your ability to tilt your head side to side and playing a pretty important role in posture) muscle and the portion of the first rib where it attaches. This seems like the solution one might expect in a third-world country, not in the states! Why remove essential muscle and bone to free a nerve when all you have to do is relax the muscle and make it happy?

So there you have it. I firmly advocate chiropractic care, massage therapy (whether it be from yourself or a specialist), and active release therapy for your chronic aches and pains. It could keep you alive and healthy well into your fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. decade of life. Remember that pain is not normal – it is a sign that something is wrong and you shouldn’t live with it.

There’s no reason to go through disabling surgery that will cost you thousands of dollars in hospital bills and continue to fuel the fire that perpetuates obsolete forms of health care if you can fix your problem so easily using such simple maintenance techniques.

If you have any comments, you’re more than welcome to post and I would like to hear your thoughts.

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