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The Reality Check: A Quest To Understand Chiropractic From The Inside

by Dr Heidi Haavik DC, PhD (Author)| ©2019 152 pages

About the Author

Heidi Haavik was born in New Zealand but grew up in Norway. She is a chiropractor and a neuroscientist who has researched in the area of human neurophysiology for the past 15 years. She has used sophisticated brain science techniques to investigate the effects of chiropractic adjustments of vertebral subluxations on various aspects of brain function. Dr Haavik graduated from the New Zealand College of Chiropractic in Auckland in 1999, and was awarded her PhD degree by the University of Auckland in 2008. She is the Director of Research at NZCC where she runs the newly established Centre for Chiropractic Research. Dr Haavik is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Canada, and is a member of the World Federation of Chiropractic’s Research Council. Dr Haavik has received numerous research awards and was awarded Chiropractor of the year in 2007 by both the New Zealand Chiropractors’ Association and the New Zealand College of Chiropractic Alumni Association. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her two children Steffen and Sofie, her fiancé Glenn Arthur, and their dogs Darcy and Ronny.

The Vertebral Subluxation

What chiropractors mean by the term vertebral subluxation is a dysfunctional area in the spine that negatively affects health and wellbeing, due to its influence on the nervous system. One key focus of chiropractic care is to detect and correct vertebral subluxations, in order to restore the healthy function of the spine and nervous system. This in turn enables the body to function at its optimal potential.

Early chiropractors coined the term “vertebral subluxation” to describe areas of dysfunction that felt “out of place” or “stuck” when palpated. This terminology suggested a “partial dislocation” or the notion of a “bone out of place.” However, modern science has shed light on the true nature of these occurrences. Instead of partial dislocation, we understand that tightness in the small muscles attaching to individual vertebrae is often the culprit. This tightness can result from various factors such as injury, postural stress, or overuse. The affected muscles twist the vertebrae, causing certain parts to protrude and feel “misaligned” or “stuck” to the touch. While these areas may be tender and cause discomfort during movement, they don’t necessarily induce pain at rest. Some chiropractors prefer alternative terms like “joint dysfunction” or “joint restriction” to describe this condition. However, for consistency, I’ll use the original term “vertebral subluxation” throughout this book, with further elaboration on the topic to follow.

For starters, it’s essential to understand that chiropractors don’t simply adjust random parts of your spine. During a chiropractic session, you’ll likely notice that they assess your spine by palpating, moving it, and possibly testing muscle strength. They may also apply pressure to different areas of your spine to gauge tenderness. Ultimately, chiropractors meticulously select specific spinal segments for adjustment. These chosen segments often exhibit corresponding muscle tightness, tenderness upon pressure, and abnormal joint movement, indicating the presence of a vertebral subluxation at a particular location along the spine.

“The adjustment affects the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for mood, emo-tion, mental health, coordination, autonomic nervous system balance, hormone control, immune system control, and executive functions – the very seat of your intelligence and identity.”
– Dr Heidi Haavik DC, PhD

Discovering the Big Picture of Chiropractic

“Every organ in your body is connected to the one under your hat.” This insightful quote by B.J. Palmer, the son of D.D. Palmer, highlights the interconnectedness of our body systems.

Chiropractic, established over a century ago in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer, has a fascinating origin story. Palmer claimed to restore the hearing of a deaf janitor, Harvey Lillard, by adjusting a segment in his spine that was ‘out of alignment’. This led to the concept that misaligned spinal segments interfere with nerve function, and adjusting them back to normal restores this function. However, modern understanding suggests that a vertebral subluxation isn’t merely a bone being out of place but rather a bone functioning or moving in a less than ideal manner. Throughout this book, we’ll delve into how this affects health and wellbeing. Today, with over a century of chiropractic practice, we’ve gained deeper insights into brain and central nervous system function. We’re also realizing the importance of the brain’s accurate ‘map’ of the body’s muscles and joints in 3D space. Ultimately, much of what we perceive as reality is shaped by our brain’s interpretation of sensory information from various receptors.

“Every organ in your body is connected to the one under your hat.”
– B.J. Palmer

The Brain and Central Nervous System

We possess billions of nerve cells, each forming multiple connections known as synapses. Put simply, these cells communicate by getting excited when stimulated, sending electrical messages down their axons to other nerve cells through the release of neurotransmitters.

The way these nerve cells communicate changes based on the information received from our senses, allowing the brain to continuously adapt to our environment. This adaptability is termed ‘neural plasticity’.

When sensory input to the brain increases or decreases, it triggers changes in the structure and function of nerve cells, influencing their interactions with other cells. This leads to the brain forming a new inner reality, which may not necessarily align with external events.

In simpler terms, brain cells alter their behavior based on their communication with each other.

what is also very important to understand is that the brain fills in the gaps of information with what it knows. An example of this is being able to read words even though the letters are scrambled.

“This adaptability is termed ‘neural plasticity’.”

The Spine’s role in Brain Adaptation

It might sound straightforward, but it’s crucial to understand that any alteration in the information reaching the brain can trigger changes within the brain itself. What’s particularly intriguing is that when a spinal segment functions improperly, it seems to affect how the brain interprets and reacts to all sensory input. Spinal function appears to be a factor in the brain’s processing and integration of information, akin to how it handles shadows and light sources in optical illusions, shaping your inner perception of reality. One theory suggests that the brain uses the spine as a reference point for your core body position. For instance, when planning movement, the brain must consider the spine’s position to maintain balance and stability in the body.

 “Spinal function appears to be a factor in the brain’s processing and integration of information, akin to how it handles shadows and light sources in optical illusions, shaping your inner perception of reality.”
– Dr. Heidi Haavik DC, PhD

Chiropractic changes the Matrix of your Brain

How does the ‘Matrix’ concept apply to our daily lives? Our brain constructs our own virtual reality or ‘matrix’ through our five senses. By processing environmental information through these senses and blending it with our desires and intentions, our brain engages in extensive background processing, generating a virtual representation of our body and surroundings. Researchers have discovered that when the nervous system encounters new or unfamiliar stimuli, it undergoes changes in how it processes subsequent inputs. These adaptations partly explain how individuals can recover function after nervous system damage, such as that caused by strokes. Recent studies have demonstrated that spinal adjustments can influence various aspects of nervous system function, including muscle reflexes, reaction time, and information processing speed. My colleagues and I have been actively involved in this research, which is detailed in Chapter Six. We have proposed that segments of the spine not moving optimally may lead to maladaptive neural plasticity (negative brain changes). Through spinal adjustments, we aim to restore normal movement patterns in these segments, thus facilitating a more natural flow of input from the spine to the central nervous system. This, in turn, allows for more coherent processing of incoming information by the spinal cord, brainstem, and brain. We believe these mechanisms underlie the observed improvements in nervous system function following chiropractic adjustments, a phenomenon witnessed daily in chiropractic practices worldwide. Understanding these processes is crucial, as it can lead to better scientific explanations for how chiropractic care enhances function. This, in turn, could have significant implications for the scope of chiropractic practice, as well as for funding and accessibility to chiropractic care. To provide a deeper understanding, I will now delve into some fundamental scientific principles regarding brain and central nervous system function, and connect these insights to the mechanisms of chiropractic care outlined above.

“Our brain constructs our own virtual reality or ‘matrix’ through our five senses.”
– Dr Heidi Haavik DC, PhD

Chiropractic for Kids

Chiropractic care can be particularly beneficial for children, as I discovered early in my career. Despite initial doubts, seeing children respond positively to treatment quickly dispelled any uncertainties. Children, like adults, require a well-functioning spine, even if they aren’t experiencing pain. It’s essential to approach adjustments for children differently, considering their developing spines. Gentle pressure, akin to pressing on your eyeball, is applied to dysfunctional segments, ensuring safety and comfort. Additionally, gentle cranial care can be beneficial for babies and children, aiding their overall well-being. Observations of children who receive chiropractic care suggest improved balance, coordination, and reduced accidents. My own children, who receive regular adjustments, exhibit remarkable coordination and athleticism, leading me to believe in the long-term benefits of chiropractic care for children’s health and development.

If you are lucky enough to be born in Rotorua, in New Zealand, you oud mos likely be referred straight to the local chiropractors. Drs John Funnell and Margie Bishop-Funnell have made such a reputation for themselves in Rotorua that many midwives and obstetricians will refer pregnant women and new born babies to the Funnell’s to have their spines checked and adjusted. I hope I live to see the day when this is commonplace everywhere.

“Children, like adults, require a well-functioning spine, even if they aren’t experiencing pain.”
– Heidi Haavik DC, PhD.

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