Chiropractors: Quacks or saviors? A British libel court may decide

In his book Trick or Treatment, British science writer Simon Singh attacked chiropractors, claiming that the spinal manipulation treatment is a scam. Taking offense, the British Chiropractic Association has decided to sue him for libel. The trial, which begins today, will not simply determine whether or not Singh unfairly criticized the medical practice; if he wins, chiropractic could easily lose its legal legitimacy in Britain.

I have a somewhat vested interest in seeing how this trial turns out. A few years ago, following a painful back injury, I became involved in chiropractic medicine.

One day, as I sat swiveling in my chair, my back went one way, my front went another, and my spine went crazy. All of a sudden, as I fought for breath, I gained an immediate, powerful understanding of how a kitten feels when it is squeezed by a child. Over the next few minutes, I slowly stumbled to the floor, where I lay until the spasms dissipated enough to let me breathe.

While my wife was very complimentary about my new, improved posture, it soon became apparent that I needed to do something. My homespun treatment method, which was comprised of hot baths, liberal quantities of Jack Daniels, and sleeping on the floor, helped alleviate much of the pain and returned some mobility. Even so, realizing that a slow repair wasn't going to cut it, I went to a chiropractor.
Tuck Chiropractic has offices throughout southwest Virginia and enjoys a decent reputation. The Blacksburg location is clean, yet bland, much like an ordinary doctor's office, and has a pleasant and efficient staff. Following an expensive series of x-rays, my doctor determined that I would need several dozen treatments, at a cost of $30 apiece. For the first week, these would come daily, but would eventually taper off.

I wasn't prepared to spend $150 per week on spinal manipulations, but my back hurt and it seemed like I didn't really have much of a choice, so my doctor and I negotiated a less aggressive and expensive course of treatment. Over the next few weeks, I regularly came in for electronic massages, followed by spinal manipulations. In the first few days, I noticed a marked improvement, although I couldn't tell if it was from the treatment or simply from my body's natural healing process. Within a week, I was able to walk, bend, and breathe normally, and was back to sleeping in my bed.

As the treatments continued, I noticed that the routine rarely changed: an employee in a labcoat would slap a couple of gooey pads on my back and give me an electric massage, followed by spinal manipulations administered by the doctor. After the first week, she stopped consulting my x-rays, and would just give me a quick squeeze-and-pop before showing me the door.

One day, I took off my shirt and lay on the massage table as the attendant applied the pads to my back. It seemed like he was putting them a little high; in fact, I was pretty sure that, positioned as they were, the pads were set to arc electricity across my heart. I breathed easier when he moved them lower, but got nervous again when he asked me if he was positioning them correctly. As I wasn't trained in the use of the back zapper, I was more than a little disturbed. Finally, between the two of us, we got the massage going.

Later, after a particularly perfunctory treatment, my chiropractor gave me a wave and said "See you next week, Bill!" Given that my name is Bruce, I decided that my course of treatment was pretty much done. After all, I reasoned, if chiropractic was illegitimate, I had to wonder why I was continuing to pay for it. If it was real, then I had to question whether the haphazard treatment that I was receiving was helping me or doing further damage to my back. Either way, it was clear that my relationship with Tuck was at an end.

I have since been repeatedly told that chiropractic is a legitimate practice and that I simply had a bad doctor. However, I have personally found that ab exercises, lower back stretches, and pilates have done far more for my back pain than the hundreds of dollars that I gave to Tuck.

While I recognize that my experience may be atypical, I remain convinced that chiropractic manipulation is illegitimate. It will be interesting to see if Britain's courts agree. What do you all think? Had a questionable experience with a chiropractor? A good one? Let us hear about it.
Read Full Story

From Our Partners