7 misconceptions your chiropractor wants you to straighten out

Mention the word ‘chiropractic’ and the first thing that probably comes to mind is that it’s a treatment for old people. Or that you need to hear a pop or a crack to prove that your “pain” has been fixed. Or maybe you’ve been wondering all along: Is chiropractic the same as physiotherapy?

But as AVENUE ONE has learned, these are some of the biggest misconceptions that have surrounded chiropractic science which remains to be one of the things that a lot of people are not aware of.

To learn more about chiropractic care, we spoke to Dr. Shaan D. Rai, nerve system specialist and founder of Vitality Chiropractic Centres in Singapore.

The team at Vitality Chiropractic Centres only focuses on the upper cervical area to treat neurological pain

The only dedicated migraine and vertigo specialist centre on the island, Vitality Chiropractic is the first in Singapore to introduce an upper cervical-focused practice to treat various neurological issues such as migraine, headache, neck stiffness, numbness in hands, digestive problems, and sleep-related problems.

In addition to using top-of-the-line equipment and X-ray to accurately analyse patient’s nervous system and diagnose the issue properly, Vitality Chiropractic also has a recovery section on site where patients rest comfortably with specially designed furniture to naturally relax tightened muscles and restore the backbone to its optimal position to take the pressure off the affected nerves. This method has been found to be a gentler approached compared to a massage.

Ahead, Dr. Shaan shares with us the key things everyone should know when it comes to chiropractic care and the profession itself, including the reason why younger generations are starting to need neurological help from professionals.

1. Chiropractic and physiotherapy are not the same

Dr. Shaan performing a posture test on a female patient

According to Dr. Shaan, the two disciplines are not the same but have sort of intertwined over the years recently. “To some extent, yes, but chiropractic is not just about posture. Posture is more of a window we use to see what’s going on internally, but the main purpose of chiropractic – in my opinion – should always be the neurological fix. I say that because it’s not always easy to see to straighten someone who has been having a posture issue for a prolonged period of time.

It’s like straightening a tree that has grown around something – that’s not gonna work because logically, all of its roots have now grown to fit around that something and trying to make the tree straight is just going to kill it rather than saving it.

The main thing to remember is that chiropractors work in neurology while the purest form of physiotherapy is all about the muscles and the joints of the body. So if someone comes in to my clinic and says they have knee discomfort or ankle pain, that’s what physiotherapists would be very good at rectifying.

Some chiropractors do work on those issues too, which is why there’s been some sort of border crossing in the recent years – they’re doing bits of chiropractic and bits of physiotherapy.”

2. Main focus of the chiropractic practice is the human nervous system, not the spine

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Majority of people think that chiropractic deals with the human spine but that’s a common misconception, says Dr. Shaan Rai. “It’s simply because the most important part of our nerves are located in these big gaps that run through the spine which is located on our entire back.

Our nervous system is like an intricate wiring system for your body, much like how buildings are powered by electricity which then powers up all the TV screens, laptops, alarm systems, and everything else. But the power doesn’t happen due to magic, it comes from the wires connecting from electricity box to every unit of the building to make sure everything works.

Your body and the brain are exactly the same – your brain is the electricity, controlling everything and making sure that all different body parts are working well together,  but it can’t send those messages by magic. This is where our nerves come in, with the role of transporting all that information all across the body to the brain and vice versa.

At Vitality Chiropractic Centres, we specialise in upper cervical correction which focuses only on C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis), the first two vertebrae of the spine. So if something is being affected by one of the local nerves in your body which then affects your C1 and C2 vertebrae, it will have a domino effect throughout the rest of the body as well. It’s kind of the equivalent of, say, cutting the wire that keeps the laptop going or knocking a hole through the wall which will kill the lights, screens, and everything in the building unit.

So for us, we see that correcting the first two vertebrae of the human spine as the most crucial because it is the key to keeping your engine – that is your nervous system – running smoothly”.

3. Stress is a big reason why your body overruns with problems, including pain

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Sure, posture is usually the key reason you’ll think of when you’re having pain in the neck or back area but over time, this sort of pain can only be exacerbated by stress, which is something Dr. Shaan sees a lot in his patients.

According to him, the human brain works extremely hard to deal with the stress we face daily and this is something scientific research over the last three decades or so have proven to be true. He says, “The body’s natural fight or flight system activates whenever we have a stressful event and once it’s triggered, it’ll start to affect how the rest of the body works.

Say you’re doing your tasks of the day for work, and you have quite a fair bit to complete for that day. Someone decides to come over to you and have an impromptu conversation with you, which you’re obviously not prepared for. Then someone else taps on your shoulder shortly after to perhaps ask for something, and then another colleague starts sending emails about a last-minute task that you have to take care of.

Essentially, you still have to do all the things you need to do for the day and you obviously know how to do them, but now there’s more to do. The next thing you know, your body starts to shut down, like a computer that’s crashing because it’s overrunning with applications. It’s kind of the same thing with the human body.

Your body is always taking care of you – it’s fighting bacteria and viruses every single day, sending food to living tissue, and doing everything possible to make sure you can stay healthy – and it’s doing all of these instinctively without anybody telling it how to do that job.

But stress changes the body’s blood chemistry which then affects the adrenal glands and also how muscles work, and when it’s overworked, the body eventually can’t perform all the other million things it does every day and when it reaches the tipping point, it will just crash.”

Since stress in inevitable especially for urbanites, what can we do to prevent the body from shutting down?

“You need someone to take away the blockages that are making it difficult for your body to send messages up to your brain and vice versa. If there’s something blocking the message transmissions and you don’t do anything about it, it just puts additional (and unnecessary) stress on your body,” explains Dr. Shaan.

“If no action is taken, the problem will just spiral further and further as your stress level increases. A lot of my patients who have had a full recovery may sometimes pop by and tell me that they’ve experienced a little bit of tension at their neck over the weekend, but it’s not from a fall, an accident or even a change in posture. A lot of the time, it’s because these people had been on their laptops all day or had 14-hour day of work, and the stress and fatigue just weigh down on the body.”

4. Your body is very intelligent in adjusting to pain, but that’s detrimental in the long run

Dr. Shaan examining the lower back of a male patient

Our body has something called the brainstem, which sits above the C1 and C2 vertebrae and is connected to the spinal cord, and it contains some of the main control centres for your breathing, heart rate, immune response, balance, digestion, and also your cranial nerve (it supplies all the information about your head, neck, shoulders, eyes, ears, and all the way down to your fingers).

However, when bone misalignments (also known as subluxation) happen, the gap between your spine may start to become narrow in a certain area and this phenomenon can lead to two scenarios, according to Dr. Shaan.

“The smaller gap may start to put direct pressure on your cranial nerves and pull them unevenly, which then affects how they function and affect all those control parts in the brainstem. It may affect digestion as I have seen in some of my patients as well as classic problems like headache, migraine, and vertigo.

When that is set in motion, what could happen is that your body will intelligently begin to do everything it can to take the pressure off the affected area because it is so vital. What it may do is tilt the spine a little to widen the gap.

Think about this way: if I chuck a brick inside your bag, you’re not going to stand straight – you will automatically adjust yourself by changing your posture in order to carry the weight. The same thing will happen with the body, but when it does the adjustment, you’re going to tilt on one side which will be weird and uncomfortable because nobody walks around like that.

So instead, you’ll move your shoulders when you feel tension in your neck. If there’s tension in your back, chances are you’ll rotate your hips unevenly to alleviate the pain but over time, it might lead to one leg being longer or shorter than the other. In that regard, getting your pain symptoms looked at and treated by a professional is wiser than letting your body shoulder all the weight of adjusting itself to ease the pain.”

5. Younger and younger people are starting to seek neurological help from chiropractors.

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While Dr. Shaan generally takes on long-term chronic cases in people aged 30 years old and above, he has divulged that he and his fellow chiropractor colleagues have observed more and more youngsters and young adult needing neurological help.

“Sometimes, I do get patients asking if they can bring in their kids for a consultation and I think it’s largely got to do with the advent of smartphones as well as an increase in living a sedentary lifestyle at a young age. That, combined with the worsening of posture with heavy schoolbags, is just a recipe for neurological affliction.

This happens in most parts of the world and you can probably see it in children here in Singapore – some look like they’re flight attendants because they’re pulling along heavy schoolbags filled with books. It drives the body down and over time, it’s going to negatively impact the neck and other body parts as well.

Children are beginning to become less active too, which I personally think is why we have this issue. I mean, I don’t remember ever having a headache when I was a kid but nowadays, it’s a real issue that children are experiencing regularly.

6. Chiropractic treatments should be about maintaining good health, not something you only go for when you have problems

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For Dr. Shaan, chiropractic should be more about upkeeping the efficiency of the human body rather than just treating symptoms of pain. “You have dentists who focus on the teeth and mouth, cardiologists who works on the heart, and then there are chiropractors who focus on the nervous system because it is essentially the control centre for your entire body.

With a dentist, most of us either visit when there’s some sort of problems orally or for check-ups to ensure that everything’s okay – the latter is probably more common. I would like the same for chiropractic in the future.

Sure, many of my patients first come in to see me because of some pain that’s been troubling them for a long time but it’s not necessary to always come in with some form of pain or symptoms. We should look at chiropractic treatments as a way to maintain good health in the long run, just like how we practise a healthy diet daily to nurture good health and not start on it only when the body is having problems.

My goal is to spread awareness to the public that chiropractic can help boost the efficiency of the body. That your body can always be improved to be better and more efficient regardless of whether you have symptoms of pain or not. That’s one of the reasons why we do check-ups, and also see patients from a wide range of ages, children included.

I would love for people to come in maybe just once every six months to get a check-up and they don’t need to be adjusted for the majority of the time. I would love for people to come in not hoping for a treatment, but just a check to the nervous system is healthy and running smoothly. That everything is working better, including sleep. ”

7. You need to have a lot of empathy if you want to be a chiropractor.

Dr. Shaan going through the patient’s medical history during consultation

It’s probably not the first answer you’d expect from a chiropractor but that’s exactly what Dr. Shaan answered when we quizzed him on the important skills and qualities that a chiropractor should possess.

“Imagine this: you’re having strangers coming in especially after so many years of chronic problems, it makes sense that you have to know how to be there for them because for a lot of these people, they’ve been to every other medical professional that they can go to. So having someone who would listen to their medical history and issues empathetically makes a world of difference to patients – it shouldn’t be a nuisance for you to listen.

Of course, physical skills are something you must learn and possess, as well as having good grades and knowledge in biology. Personally however, taking interest in people and their welfare is equally as important if not more. If you don’t care enough about people to want to help them and see them improve, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Vitality Chiropractic Centres is located at 5 Jalan Masjid, #01-10, Kembangan Court, Singapore 418924, which is a two-minute walk from Kembangan MRT station. Call 8438 9550, email [email protected] or visit the website if you wish to learn more or schedule a consultation.