Free your mind, see a lumbarjack
Most people associate mental health with happiness, balance, stress, and absence of mental or mood disorders. Some resort to medication to lift moods, others to psychological counselling. Few would think of seeing a chiropractor.
Like many people, I associated chiropractors with solving back pain by bone manipulation. I was surprised, therefore, to learn that chiropractors heal not only on the bone level, but by doing so, strengthen the functioning of our nervous system. Given that the nervous system controls just about everything in our bodies - physical, mental and emotional - it doesn't sound so far-fetched to find a correlation between chiropractic healing and mental health.
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) explains the practice as 'a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health'. There is no medicine involved. Chiropractors focus on the biomechanics, structure and function of the spine through adjusting the bones with their hands or a mallet-like instrument.
Wrought with depression and anxiety amid other physical problems such as severe migraines and vertigo for the past three years, I decided to see a chiropractor in Beijing, where I live, to see if we could come up with any new insight into my sufferings.
The consultation started with some scans. The surface electromyography scan checked the amount of electrical activity in my muscles, and the thermal scan measured skin temperature along the spine. An inclinometer measured the range of motions in my neck and back, and a pulse-wave profiler recorded the rate of my pulse. A roller down my spine tested my tolerance of pain, and tender spots along the spine. A few X-rays of the spine were taken, from the neck down to the sacrum.
I was shocked to learn my spine was S-shaped, and the vertebrae near my lower waist were almost crushed together. Under normal conditions, there should be space between each vertebra and the spine should be more or less straight viewed from the front, with curves in the neck and waist areas when seen from the side. The thermal scan showed red along the spine, meaning there were subluxations.
According to the ACA, a subluxation is 'one or more bones of the spine moving out of position and creating pressure on, or irritating, spinal nerves'. The result is a malfunction and interference with signals travelling from those nerves to other organs and parts of the body. This causes a vacuum of instructions on how to operate, or in some cases, a disruption in daily activities.
Chiropractors believe the body can heal itself given the right conditions. Realigning the spine would not only heal me of physical pain, but also improve my mental and emotional state.
Related scientific research and chiropractic journals claim that subluxations at different parts of the spine are associated with different symptoms, including mental conditions. I was surprised to see that the lower back and the sacrum, where I had a lot of pain, were associated with depression and anxiety, both of which I suffer from. I had always thought it was muscle soreness from being a couch potato.
Also, my neck and mid-back areas were extremely tense, which could be the reason for my migraines, insomnia and other sleep problems. Chiropractors have worked in mental institutions beside psychiatrists for many years and helped treat patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other mood disorders.
Chiropractic healing doesn't just fix sick people. Adjustments even when patients don't feel pain create optimal conditions for the body to regulate itself, to reach a balance that is right for each person.
Some people can cope with more stress, others less. It is up to the body to transmit messages through the nervous system in order to process the challenges people face mentally and emotionally. Chiropractic healing promotes and maximises patients' mental health before they even experience mental illnesses by allowing the appropriate signals to go through the nervous system without disruptions.
Whether chiropractic healing can cure me of my depression and anxiety remains to be seen. I also see a psychologist who helps guide my thoughts and stop my self-destructive intentions. I have also been exercising a little more, and I'm finally starting to eat breakfast instead of starving myself until lunch.
With so many factors in play, it is impossible to isolate and identify the direct causes between my occasional uplifts in moods and chiropractic healing.
One must also exercise judgment in trusting a chiropractor, as with any medical practitioner. It is your right to terminate any form of therapy or treatment at any time. So why not give chiropractic healing a try next time you feel down, stressed and burnt out, especially if you have exhausted traditional remedies?