The Chiro-Circus: hucksterism on trial

Many people are reluctant to try chiropractic care because they are afraid they’ll be sat down and sold a long program of never-ending care based on an unproven concept that spinal adjustments free up blockages in nerve flow.  And many potentially referring health care providers continue to wait in the wings until they can find an evidence-informed chiropractor they can trust.  They know chiropractic methods are not a panacea but they’ve seen good outcomes.  But like me, they’ve also heard (and seen) the horror stories.  I encountered one such story last week, and it is this experience that has led to this particular blog-rant.  If you’re a member of the consumer public, this post will help you make a better decision about choosing a chiropractor.  There are good ones out there!  If you are a chiropractor and this raises your hackles, you might consider the role good clinical science plays in your practice methods and in the way you formulate treatment plans for your patients.  

A Boy and His Father See Through the Blather

Ancient biblical wisdom asks rhetorically:  “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?”

Spoken by my favorite Author.

Let’s say you order take-out (“take away” in the U.K.) but forget to check the food on your way out. You ordered a burger but they stuffed a salad in your sack instead.  You didn’t get what you came for!

Neither did an athlete with a puffy knee…

Last week a young lad presented to our clinic with a knee injury from sport. He’d been with his dad to another chiropractor several days earlier — for a KNEE INJURY, mind you — and this is what he received:  a sales pitch explaining how he needed 30 visits to fix his neck at $1000, after which his midback and low back would also need fixing for an additional $2000.  Only after $3k and months of care would the knee issue be addressed.

Oh my goodness.  :-/

Would it be better to turn our faces and pretend this tom-foolery doesn’t exist?  No indeed.  It’s time to raise the bar in my profession.  It IS a learned profession and there IS a growing literature base.  It IS a clinical science, and chiropractors have played an increasingly vital role in multidisciplinary environments ranging from spine medicine to sports medicine to complementary and alternative medicine. But to be exposed sooner than later this hucksterism must have a very hot spotlight shined upon it. And the health care consumers whom we serve need to be educated.

Did I mention I am so glad that my young friend and his dad didn’t give up on chiropractors altogether?

Look — I’m all for good posture.  I even subscribe to and acknowledge the deleterious effects of heavy school back packs, the odd short leg (grossly overdiagnosed though it is), etc.  But to brush aside an acute knee injury — that for which this athlete and his father were seeking help —  in order to “upsell” a spinal care package for $3k in cash?  Give me a break!  We are under an oath and an honor code to SERVE!

So this is a good time, here in 2014, for the Chiro-Circus to again be brought to light.  Hucksterism in my profession is an embarrassment to me and to a host of other reputable, ethical and skilled chiropractors who don’t try to fit every presenting complaint into the “you’ve got a pinched nerve from a bone-out-of-place in your spine” box. It is high time for this ragged segment of my profession to grow up, hit the library, and stop pretending it already knows.

Turns out our young chap had an acute Grade I MCL tear… and a mild neck problem as well. He needs some help, but he’ll do fine with a few visits, some in-clinic rehabilitation, and then a good home exercise program.  As of this writing the patient is 85% improved with 3 treatments in both neck and knee, with a 35 degree increase in knee range of motion.

Don’t give up on trying to find a good, honest chiropractor for sports injuries and spinal care.  We’re out here, many of us, in Denver, the front range, rural Colorado, and throughout the country and the world. We’ll serve you with integrity and competence.  And our science will grow with us because we ARE, many of us, a learned profession.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. C

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