Taking a closer look at the health care philosophy of chiropractic.
Healers have been around for all of recorded history. These are the people we turn to when we fall ill or have pain. It should come as no surprise that throughout history, there have been many different methods and philosophies of treating illness or returning a person to health. Long ago, these methods may have included eating specific plants or herbs, meditation, and even blood letting. More current treatments include things like acupuncture, chiropractic, and taking prescription drugs. All of these treatments were/are popular in their place and time in history and they all fall under a specific philosophy of what the healer believed would remove disease and produce health. So it’s important to know what your health care philosophy is when choosing your health care practitioner.
Now, I’m sure some of you at this point are saying, “Philosophy!? What does philosophy have to do with health care? Health care is about science! Philosophy has no part in health care.” Well you’re right, but only half right. Today, we often gauge the effectiveness of health care treatments based on the outcome of scientific studies, but the way in which we use and interpret this information is based on your health care philosophy. The two predominant health care philosophies today are the mechanistic and vitalistic philosophies.
Mechanism is the belief that the living things function as physical machines composed of only physical parts. If a part breaks down the machine will malfunction or stop working. Repair or replace the part, and the machine will function again. Modern day medical care predominantly follows this philosophy of health and treats the body as a machine with parts. If you are experiencing a symptom or disease, find the part of the body that is broken and either fix it, replace it, or cover up the symptom so you won’t notice it malfunctioning. One problem that people have with this approach to health care is that it returns their body to a state of “not sick” rather than to optimum health. Here’s an example. The FDA sets the recommended daily value of vitamins. The recommended value for vitamin C is based on studies that show that if we want to prevent conditions like scurvy, we must have at least 75 milligrams of vitamin C per day. Notice, this value is not based on what it takes for your body to function at 100%. It is based on a level that is just enough to prevent disease. You can see this trend in many aspects of medicine because it is based on a mechanistic view. With this view, health is what you are left with when sickness and disease are absent.
Vitalism believes that living organisms, although made of the same physical matter and parts as non living matter, are different because they contain a non-physical element. This non-physical element is called “innate intelligence” in chiropractic and “chi or qi” in acupuncture. Chiropractic recognizes that all living things have the innate ability to heal and this ability is a defining characteristic that sets living things apart from non living things. If a living person has a cut on their arm, the body will recognize this damage and actively try to re-organize the tissue to heal from this damage. If a dead person has a cut, no healing will take place. But why is this? We are made of the same physical parts, molecules, and atoms. What has changed? The physical matter hasn’t changed, only the force that organizes it.
What many don’t realize is that the process of healing goes against the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. If you don’t remember your science classes… the 2nd law is the one about Entropy. It states that all things in the universe will actively seek a lower level of organization. This basically means that all things that are organized will tend to decay and try to become less organized. All things that are grouped together will want to spread out. A balloon full of oxygen that is popped will spread throughout a room rather than stay together in one pocket of oxygen. When applied to organic matter, like plants, animals, and humans, when we die our bodies follow this law of entropy without any problems and we will start to break down into our base elements. But while we are alive we defy this law. The matter that makes up our bodies will actively seek organization when it is damaged or has become disorganized. When we break our leg, our body will actively coordinate matter to take it back to its original state or as close to it as possible. If it hasn’t already, this should be blowing your mind. Living beings are made of the same bits and pieces (elements) as everything else in the universe, but the big group of atoms and molecules that make up a human has some organizing force that helps us to heal. When we die, even though we are still made of the same atoms and molecules, this organizing force leaves and we will begin to decay. Recognizing this organizing principle as an important factor in health care is considered a vitalistic philosophy.
With all that being said, it is easy to see why chiropractors have a vitalistic view of health care. Chiropractors recognize that the brain is the master control center of the body but believe that its function involves more than just its physical parts. They believe that this spark of life or innate intelligence flows through the brain and nervous system helping to control or coordinate all the functions of the body. If the brain can’t communicate with the body effectively because the pathway between the brain and the body (nerves) are being interfered with, then the body will begin to malfunction. To restore proper function of the body, you have to remove whatever is interfering with the body’s ability to communicate, coordinate, and heal. This interference could be a drug that you are taking that affects your nervous system. It could also be a vertebrae that is misaligned which is placing pressure on a nerve and is limiting communication between the brain and wherever that nerve goes. The chiropractor’s job is to take a thorough patient history, and examine the patient to establish where this interference, that is limiting the patient’s innate ability to heal, is happening. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about necks and backs with chiropractors. They are experts in finding this interference no matter where it may be. It could be the patient’s diet, their poor posture, the caffeine, alcohol, or drugs that they take, or one or many misalignments of their spine.
So, what’s your philosophy of health care? What do you believe? I hope I have expanded your view on the subject and answered some of the questions you may have had about different health care philosophies. If you are curious if chiropractic can help your condition, please contact us today.