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"Are You Holistic?"

“I don’t want to offend you, but I want to ask you something.  As a chiropractor, are you one of those really holistic people?”

I got this question from a guy I recently met.  To be honest, I didn’t quite know how to answer him.  I couldn’t give him a “yes” or “no” because I had no idea what he meant by the term holistic.  To some, the term holistic conjures up images of people who completely shun modern medicine and technology, choosing to live like a hippie in a commune; dreadlocks, infrequent bathing, hemp necklaces, homemade clothing, etc.

To be fair, anyone who has read my blog or has worked with me in my chiropractic practice knows that I do not subscribe to the pill-happy methodology prevalent in modern medicine.  I do not believe that drugs and surgeries are the only path to better health.  However, I am not a complete luddite when it comes to health care, either.

There is a time and place for medication and surgery, but only as a last resort.  Most drugs are used to cover up symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause of the condition (and most drugs also cause more symptoms which require even more drugs).  I firmly believe that most of the problems humans face can be fixed through diet, exercise, counseling, lifestyle modification (stress, sleep) and bodywork treatments like chiropractic care.  If and when those fail, then and only then should someone be putting chemicals in or taking tissues out.

So, back to the question at hand. Am I “holistic?”  Let’s first dissect what the term actually means.  The word holistic is defined as “an emphasis on the importance of the whole person and the interdependence of their parts.”

What does that mean?  It means understanding the fact that a human being is something greater than just the sum of his or her parts.  A holistic approach to health care looks at the whole person when trying to treat illness, not just a set of symptoms.  Symptoms are helpful, because they often give you a place to focus on or start from, but honing in on symptoms while ignoring the rest of the picture can lead to failure.

For example, in my chiropractic practice, I see a lot of people with lower back pain.  And most of those people have seen multiple doctors and practitioners before showing up in my office.  They have had their back rubbed, injected, medicated, and sometimes even cut open.  Yet their back pain remains.  When I examine them, I will often find problems throughout the spine, and often in the extremities.  But no one else even bothered to look there.  They ONLY focused on where the PAIN was.  This is a logical fallacy.

Why?  Because everything in our bodies is interconnected.  A misalignment of the upper neck (the Atlas) can change the way the head sits on the spine.  This can cause pelvic tilt as your body attempts to compensate for your head being shifted off its axis.  This can result in lower back pain, even though the neck problem started first.  You can work on that lower back forever, but if the only reason the back is dysfunctional is because it is trying to correct for the neck problem, the patient will never get long term results.

In the same way, a knee or foot problem can contribute to lower back pain.  An upper back or neck problem can cause shoulder pain.  Instead of only relieving the symptoms, a holistic practitioner checks the whole body for dysfunction.  They also take other things into consideration: exercise, nutrition, stress, work habits, ergonomics, sleep, etc.

So, yeah...I’m holistic, in the true sense of the word.  But I’m not planning on growing dreadlocks any time soon.


Dr. PlemonDr. Jared Plemon BS, DC is a doctor of chiropractic at Zehr Chiropractic in Norton Shores, Michigan.  He specializes in the treatment of neck pain, back pain, and extremity pain utilizing cutting edge, non-manipulative chiropractic techniques.  He blogs about nutrition, exercise, and how chiropractic care fits in with the overall health landscape.  He lives in West Michigan with his wife and two children.

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