By Rob Clarke Driven Sports
Chiropractic seems to divide a lot of people. Not literally, of course, it’s not that severe of a therapy. On one side you have the camp that considers it voodoo, and on the other the camp that deems it a fantastic preventative form of medicine.
Yeah, I said medicine. Even though chiropractic isn’t fully recognised as a medical practice (it is more “alternative medicine”), in the US it is treated as much as a primary health care practice as dentistry is. And many health insurance policies will at least subsidize the treatment, if not cover it completely.
It’s less voodoo if you try and forget about how it was originally conveyed (to help boost the body’s innate intelligence) and take it for what it is: a means to ensure nerves can fire to their true potential. That’s my definition by the way, not a medical definition.
Maintaining balance within the brain
If you are out of alignment then it is feasible to think that parts of the brain may have to overwork to ensure proper balance within the body. A new study published at the tail-end of last year may actually demonstrate such a thing. In it researchers conducted PET scans on the brains of twelve men to establish a baseline metabolic status of each individual. Following this, the men were adjusted by chiropractic spinal manipulation and their brains re-scanned. They found several metabolic changes, including a change in glucose metabolism – it had increased in the inferior prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulated cortex, and middle temporal gyrus, and decreased in the cerebellar vermis and visual association cortex.
The cerebellar vermis is a part of the brain heavily involved in locomotion and movement, and as you’d expect, the visual association cortex is involved in sight. Collectively they aid the body in navigation. Following adjustments glucose metabolism was lowered in these areas, but why? It is possible that one or more misalignments were forcing the brain to compensate by sending more energy and resources towards the parts of the brain involved in motor co-ordination. Once this misalignment was corrected it allowed the brain to redirect resources towards the inferior prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulated cortex, and middle temporal gyrus – areas all involved in decision making and cognitive processes.
In other words, being properly aligned allows the brain to focus less on implicit learning and more on forward-planning and strategy.
In the same study the participants also filled in questionnaires to give subjective feelings before and after the spinal adjustment. Participants claimed to feel lower levels of stress following the adjustment, and a higher standard of life. A measurement of muscle tone was also found to be lower following adjustment, suggesting a lowering of tension in the skeletomuscular system and reduction in pain.
Neck pain: spinal adjustments vs. medication
While on the subject of pain, an even newer study has investigated the effects chiropractic can have on neck and back pain and compared it directly to the effects of medication (acetaminophen in most cases, or codeine where necessary and prescribed by a doctor). This was a much longer study than that previously discussed, and used a much larger subject sample size. Two hundred and seventy two people were involved, and the treatment period was three months, with follow-ups after six months and a full year. Every participant had some form of non-specific neck pain they had been suffering from, and this was the primary assessment of the study. They used an SF-36 questionnaire to measure the secondary assessments, including improvements to their entire body, any change in medication use, and all-round health status.
The 272 participants were divided into three groups. One group was given chiropractic for the treatment period. Another was given specific exercises to perform at home. The third was medicated to treat the pain, largely in the hope that it would get better on its own. After twelve weeks about one-third of those given medication reported an improvement. In contrast, around half of those receiving chiropractic or performing the exercises rated a 75% improvement in pain. This figure was maintained in these groups, even at the one-year follow-up, whereas those who received medication could report only a one-third in pain reduction at the same point in time. The SF-36 also showed an increase in the reliance of pain relief medication in this group so those participants could be on a slippery slope.
Just to be clear, the take-home message I got from this study is not to simply avoid medication and use chiropractic. For some people the pain really is unmanageable and medication is required simply to function. Instead the take-home message is more along the lines of utilizing chiropractic alongside medication to manage the pain while remedying the issue at hand. Treat chiropractic like the complimentary medicine it is recognised as.
You and your spine
Many of you may be wondering why this is applicable to you. You may be very fit and a picture of health, but as bodybuilders and training enthusiasts we place a lot of stress on our skeletomuscular system. The spine especially faces a lot of compression during heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts. Once you factor in some relatively minor misalignments that you have always had and never corrected, and multiply these by a few years, you have quite a bit of wear-and-tear. It is conceivable that this puts you at a higher risk for injury during exercise. And then let’s consider what nuances of poor form might do to this, or factor in what sitting hunched over a desk in an office job for 6-8 hours per day may do for muscle tension.
A lot of people may not even know they even have these misalignments. I, for instance, had no idea that my left leg was a little bit shorter than my right (which I’ve since discovered is a more common trait than I ever realised). I would always support my weight predominantly on my left foot when standing stationary, but never gave this much thought. It was only when it was pointed out that the misalignment manifests as a slight (but obvious) twist at the bottom of each rep on squats. Otherwise I may have never found out about such discrepancy. Possibly until I hit my forties or fifties and need a hip replacement as my left hip would dislodge slightly to maintain my knee balance when I walked. I now have orthotics in my shoes to keep everything level.
Be proactive, not retroactive
The crux of this piece is largely to be proactive with your health. Lifting weights, exercising and being more active is great, but don’t feel the need to wait for an injury or issue to manifest before you do something about it. You may even find benefit in your training performances because of this; nerve impingement is known to affect the firing rate of muscles and correcting this may help you feel stronger on certain exercises. Being stronger can allow you to get more out of each working set and make more progress.
Being proactive in as many facets of your life as possible can really pay dividends. Because ultimately, there is no need to treat anything if you can prevent it from occurring in the first place.