Why is Chiropractic Considered Holistic and What Does Holistic Mean Anyway?

Chiropractors take a holistic, whole body approach to treating patients. Chiropractic care examines and aligns the spine to remove interference with the nervous system that may be causing pain and dysfunction throughout the body. This allows for the entire body to function at its best.

Could you start us off by explaining what the term holistic means?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: I think we can do that. When you go to a practitioner or you take an approach that is holistic, it literally means treating the body as a whole. What is interesting to me is when you look at the study of medicine, medicine has a tendency to break the body down into its very specific parts. Now, when you go and look at the medical system now, we have lots and lots of specialists in medicine. You hardly have any general practitioners anymore, right? They’re not really in practice. Everyone is a specialist and a specialist seems to be a person who knows more and more about less and less until the consummate, ultimate specialist seems to know everything about nothing at all. It’s really interesting because you know, it’s like you go to one doctor and he is like, “Oh, I only specialize in the shoulder and elbow. For your hand you need to go somewhere else.”

But chiropractic is holistic in the fact that it doesn’t just treat symptoms. When you look at medicine, medicine has what they call an allopathic response. If you have pain, you get a painkiller. If you have inflammation, you get an anti-inflammatory. If you have a muscle spasm, you get a muscle relaxer. Again, those are just treating the symptoms of the problem, right? The cause of a muscle spasm is not a deficiency of muscle relaxers. The cause of inflammation isn’t a deficiency of anti-inflammatory tablets and the cause of pain isn’t a deficiency of painkillers. These are all signs and symptoms of a different problem. Very often stress, poor posture, accidents, falls can cause the vertebrae to misalign. When they are out of alignment, they can pinch or at least irritate the nerves. If you irritate the nerves, which are part of the communication in the center of the body, it really creates adverse and inappropriate communication from the brain to body.

When things start to go wrong with the nerve system, which runs and regulates the entire body, that’s when you’re going to start to see all the other systems start to fail or break down because the nerve system is the master system which controls all the other ones. In chiropractic, since the nerve system controls everything else, we propose that if you optimize the function of the nerve system, the body is going to be healthier because your brain and your nerve system heal, run, and regulate your body, and your body heals by replacing damaged cells with healthy new ones. That happens under the auspice of the nerve system. The better your nerve system functions and communicates and runs like a DSL or a T1 line, not that crappy dial up that we started out with, the more efficient the body’s going to be and the more efficient the body is at running, regulating, and healing, the healthier you’re going to be. A healthy nerve system leads to a healthy body, and that’s how chiropractic works in a holistic realm.

Is all chiropractic care considered holistic or is there a different type of holistic chiropractic?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: What’s interesting to me and somewhat frustrating is that in chiropractic there are some separate camps. All chiropractors should be considered holistic because that’s what our philosophical constructs are and what it was all founded on. But what we notice in some of the schools, some chiropractors come out very mechanistic and they want to be like medical doctors and just treat the symptoms of back pain or neck pain. But other chiropractors are primarily concerned about the function of the nerve system and the alignment of the spine and how the misalignments or these subluxations can impede or interfere with nerve transmission. A chiropractor, truly its basic job as our founders described it, is to detect and remove vertebral subluxations, which are those misalignments which put pressure on the delicate spinal nerves, create interference to the nerve system communication. Since the nerves run and control the healing and regulation of the body, if this communication gets interfered with, then we start to see a breakdown in the body’s function.

The body is designed to be healthy; it’s the natural state of the body. If the nerve system is functioning properly and the brain is monitoring and making all the corrections and adaptations, the body needs to keep it healthy, not just surviving, but actually thriving. A body free from interference will be healthier than one that has interference or subluxations in it. The important thing to understand is that when we make a chiropractic adjustment, we’re removing nerve interference to that life force or the information coming from the brain. When that message to the kidney is clear, the kidney’s going to execute the brain’s orders exactly how it was intended to do so. However, if that information is garbled or distorted, the kidney might not make a certain amount of a certain enzyme or hormone or it might not function properly to filter the urine and pull things out of the body. Then toxicity starts to build up in the body and then other things start to break down.

Managing the body as a whole is, I feel, the job of a chiropractor. It’s about detecting and removing the interference in the nerve system. However, some doctors choose to practice very mechanistically and just, oh, wherever you have pain, they’ll make a manipulation or an adjustment. Does it help people? Yes. Am I happy that people come to chiropractors for back aches and neck aches? Sure. But if you go and see a chiropractor for back aches and neck aches only, you’re really only getting 10% of what we have to offer because only 10% of your nerve system is dedicated to sensing pain and moving muscle. I think it’s the other 90% that’s more important, and that certainly falls in the holistic camp. That’s why I think all chiropractors should practice in that realm and really share these principles of holistic health with all their patients.

What are the most common therapies or treatments used in holistic chiropractic care?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: It’s interesting, Liz, you ask that question. When you’re doing therapy or treatment, you’re not really going at it in a holistic manner, right? Because when you’re treating, you’re treating a specific symptom or you’re offering a therapy.

In chiropractic, the most common service that we provide is called the chiropractic adjustment. That adjustment is specifically designed to correct misalignments or what we call vertebral subluxations. Subluxations can be caused by stress, tension, poor posture, accidents, falls, and they tend to accumulate over time. When the bones are knocked out of their alignment, they pinch and irritate those spinal nerves and that changes the communication in the body. If we were on a staticky connection here and you couldn’t hear what I said, then our communication breaks down. When communication breaks down in the body, the brain can’t control, run, and regulate all the systems. When the brain is controlling and regulating and running everything and controlling the immune system properly, then holistically, you’re going to have good health. That’s really what’s important to us.

If we put a dimmer switch on a light bulb and we turn that dimmer switch down, the bulb is going to dim. There is this electrical force, this life force, the innate intelligence, the kingdom of God within you, whatever term you want to apply, this animating force that flows across our nerve system, but the more clearly that flows and functions, the higher level of function we’ll see in the body. It’s important to understand that your liver, which is this big filter in the body, if it’s only getting the messages and filtering at 80%, well, what happens to the other 20%? That 20% of toxins starts to build up and accumulate in the body, creating toxic situations or stress. Because the body’s not efficiently eliminating all of those excess toxins, those breakdown products of muscle metabolism and all these metabolisms in general start to build up and then it pollutes the environment inside the body. Then the altered chemistry in the body alters the chemistry of how the body functions and how effective it is in working, in making its enzymes and then those enzymes doing their job. Just like if someone has altered chemistry in the brain, their moods get altered. It’s the same thing in the rest of the body. If your body’s cranking out additional cortisol and adrenaline and you go into sympathetic overdrive, those people are going to be quicker to anger, they’re going to be more stressed. People who are more relaxed or less intense are less likely to get angered in those stressful situations. It’s easy for the body to kind of heal and recover when it’s in a state of ease.

Chiropractors early on in their careers said that chiropractic is the detection and removal of subluxations to remove what they call dis-ease, not disease, but a lack of ease in the nerve system. When there’s an ease and a calm in the nerve system, the body just heals, runs, and regulates itself more efficiently.

Is it possible to find back or neck pain relief solely through holistic chiropractic care?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely. Chiropractic can stand alone and just remember everyone’s as different on the inside as they are on the outside. It’s important to understand. Chiropractors have been providing back pain and neck pain for relief for over 135 years in the United States. When you really think about the common perception now, if you go up to 9 out of 10 people in the street and you ask them what a chiropractor does, they’re all going to say, “Oh, chiropractors are back doctors,” but we’re not really back doctors. We’re nerve system doctors for all the reasons that I described before. Because, like I said, stress, tension, poor posture, accidents, falls will create these misalignments. Just by removing those misalignments and getting pressure off the nerves, will that eliminate pain or discomfort? Absolutely. If treating back pain and neck pain is what it takes to get someone evaluated by a chiropractor, I’m all for it.

But it’s the chiropractor’s responsibility to explain the holistic aspect. Remember I talked about that 90/10 rule, that only 10% of your nerve system is dedicated to sensing pain and moving muscles. Well, the other 90% control the heart, lungs, kidney, spleen, intestines, and all of your internal cycles and everything. Making sure that the nerve system is on top of its game and not interfered with is truly what holistic chiropractic care is. But if by getting pressure off those nerves helps someone with their back pain or neck pain, I’m all for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited when Nancy’s neck pain goes away, and Susie’s sciatica feels better, and Billy’s back pain goes away, and they can go out and enjoy a better quality of life. But it isn’t just about sensing pain and moving muscle, it’s truly making sure that the connections from the brain to the body run without interference and your body can run your kidneys, spleen, liver, and all those internal organs and all those cycles and your immune system, all running at the top of their game, so the body’s more efficient. Again, the more efficient the body is, the healthier you are. If getting pressure off the nerves help people with Billy’s back pain and Nancy’s neck pain, then we’re all for it.

For new patients seeking holistic chiropractic care, what are some questions chiropractors need to ask during the initial consultation to understand how best to treat them?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: That’s a great question, and obviously in chiropractic, we’re going to take that full history to understand what the history of each individual was, what the problems were, what the patient’s goals are, their primary reason for them to schedule the appointment with the chiropractor. We’re going to ask them obvious questions about when the pain started and find out exactly why they’re here. Then we want to teach them the chiropractic principles that the body is self-developing, self-regulating, and self-healing. As long as the nerve system’s intact and functioning optimally, you’re going to experience better health. Obviously, if there’s been significant trauma, physical, there’s chemical, there’s emotional trauma as well, certainly those things have an effect on the body and the nerve system and the chiropractor would want to know about those things. We always get a very detailed history, talk to the patient about subluxation and then do a proper examination, not to determine just where the pain is or what might have caused it, but where the subluxations are.

Because if we don’t address the subluxations in the spine, the results are going to vary. Ideally, you take the history, do the exam, even do x-rays to determine where the misalignments are and determine how long they’ve been present and if there’s been any degenerative changes. Then we talk to the patient about how best to manage those subluxations through chiropractic care. Once we do the initial corrections, we always recommend doing maintenance care. Just like if you saw your dentist and he filled your cavities and cleaned your teeth, he doesn’t say, “Hey, go home, throw away your toothbrush and toothpaste, come back when your teeth hurt.” They recommend that you come back a couple of times a year and that you keep brushing because again, if your teeth aren’t cared for, they’ll degenerate over time. Same thing with the spine. If it’s not cared for properly, it’ll allow for slow degenerative change of the spine, pressures to build up on the nerve system, which lead to limited nerve system function and poor health.

We always want to make sure that we understand the full history of the patient, why they’re there and how best to treat them. It’s super important that we get a handle on the patients. Not every patient comes into my office looking for that whole holistic aspect of care. If they’re just here for pain or mitigation, I’m going to explain to them what we do and then hopefully build that bridge for them. If they come across it, great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. Maybe they’ll come around the next time. But it’s important to share the true principles of chiropractic with every patient and find out where they are and where they want to be.

Learn More

To speak with Dr. Gregg Rubinstein, visit www.ChiropractorMidtown.com or call (212) 977-7094 to schedule an appointment.

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