Health Care Treatments in Perspective
In today's health care environment there are four basic treatment approaches that people use.
1. The use of orthodox medicine or traditional medicine - This is the care that most people use when they go to see a medical doctor and it is the foundation of health care in the Unites States. This style of health care is focused especially on the treatment of pain and symptoms using drugs and surgery exclusively. The benefits of this approach are that it often gives rapid results. The down side is that in many cases the symptoms are treated, but not the cause, making the results temporary leading to constant drug use with side effects and the possibility of addiction. In addition, this type of health care is extremely expensive.
Although there are times when traditional medicine addresses the cause of a health problem its emphasis is generally on symptom relief when non-life threatening conditions are being treated. Ignoring the underlying causes of many common health conditions such as back pain, headaches, hot flashes, digestive complaints etc. and using drugs for symptom relief is the primary cause of the opioid crisis and the resultant 140 deaths in the United States every day.
2. Alternative Health Care- It is obvious to many people that drugs may not be the best solution for every health problem. If a person wants a non-drug solution they are unlikely to get it from a medical doctor. A non-medical provider such as a chiropractor, physical therapist, acupuncturist, naturopath, body worker etc. will need to be seen. These practitioners rely more on natural methods to restore health and place a greater importance on improving lifestyle than orthodox medicine does.
Many alternative health care providers see themselves as providing a service such as an adjustment, acupuncture treatment or vitamin therapy more than providing a diagnosis. The benefit of an accurate diagnosis as to the nature of the what is going on in this particular persons body is that the cause of the health problem is better understood so that the treatment can be targeted. The causes of back pain are many and varied but usually involve inflammation of injured or strained tissues such as ligaments, tendons, discs and muscles, misalignment, muscle spasms and weak or inhibited muscles. Medical treatment usually focuses on the inflammation or muscle spasm part by using medications. Chiropractors are especially good at adjusting the misalignments, and physical therapists like movement therapies and exercise. These approaches are often helpful, but what if the inflammation, misalignments and muscle strains are continually returning because of poor posture, foot conditions, under hydration, constipation, or muscle tension from stress. In other words if our pain or health issue is not resolving using these treatments, we need to investigate what is causing the inflammation, misalignments and muscle strains.
While alternative treatments are often worthwhile and helpful, they may not lead to long term relief unless the reason behind the more obvious issues are addressed
3. Optimizing health through lifestyle improvements - This is simply when a person tries to make smart choices about diet exercise, managing stress etc. Otherwise known as taking good care of yourself. It involves basic but sometimes confusing issues such as getting enough sleep, how many times to eat a day and staying hydrated. The problem is that we do not come with an owners manual at birth so it is taking many centuries for us to figure out what is best. Even doctors may not know or neglect to discuss many of the most important basics.
A great example is hydration. The usual recommendation is eight, eight ounce glasses per day. This recommendation however is only slightly helpful. For example does this apply to a 70 lb child? Definitely not. How about for someone who weights 275 lbs.? No way. We would never recommend that a person who is 5'5" and weights 130 lbs. would eat the same amount as a 6' 2" 275 lb person. So why the generic advice for water? I can't answer that question but I do have a more sensible recommendation. Drink half your body weight in ounces or get as close to that as possible. Please go to the topic Important Life Habits where we discuss in more detail hydration and other ways to improve lifestyles for healthy longevity.
4. Searching for and Treating Cause - In many instances neither traditional medicine nor alternative health care is actively looking for the underlying cause of a specific condition. As discussed above many doctors provide the treatment that they were trained to provide even if that particular treatment does not address the deeper problems that is causing the patient's pain.
Here is an example from my practice that I often see. A patient comes to see me stating that they have tried everything and their low back pain persist even thought they have seen medical doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists. I do not assume that just because I am a chiropractor that an adjustment will correct the problem, after all they just told me that they have already seen a chiropractor. By listening to the patient and with a careful examination I try to evaluate what is going on and what deeper issues are that are perpetuating the problem. In many instances I find that the issues are connected to careless posture that no one else has addressed and or a foot condition called pronation. In addition I do not give one style fits all type treatments, so I do not give all low back pain patients the same exercises and adjustments. I tailor my adjustments and other recommendations to what the patient presents with and I am always looking for a deeper cause.
In summary, every one of these four approaches is important and should be used when appropriate. Many health problems respond best if all of these approaches are used together. If your primary health care provider is not considering all four approaches for your treatment then the treatment received may be incomplete.