Healthy Doctors: Practicing and Preaching
by Dr. Mark R. Payne D.C.
Can you imagine an overweight doctor counseling patients on nutrition? How about a physician who smokes urging patients to quit? Or a well-intentioned couch potato handing out exercise advice? We’ve all encountered doctors who dispense advice freely but rarely seem to follow it themselves. The inevitable result, of course, is that no one ever takes such advice, or the doctors who dole it out, very seriously.
I know plenty of doctors who recommend extensive programs of corrective care to their patients, but are totally unwilling to put in the effort or discipline needed to really correct their own spinal problems. But there’s a flip side to this coin as well. Over the last few years, I’ve encountered a number of doctors who recommend different standard of care for their patients than for themselves. Here’s an example. A middle aged chiropractor came to our clinic to determine the cause of his chronic neck pain and headaches. The loss of cervical lordosis and associated spinal degeneration was readily apparent. The doctor, a proponent of lengthy programs of adjustment only care, had been adjusted weekly for decades. He was quite aware of the advancing degeneration and lack of correction in his own neck, yet had never altered his own treatment program. Instead, he just continued to drop by a colleague’s office for a quick adjustment whenever his symptoms worsened.
I developed a simple self care program for the doctor consisting of Compression Counterstressing traction and basic posture exercises. I explained that the advanced disc degeneration would make full correction difficult at this point, but that continued traction and exercise should improve the posture, slow further degeneration, and keep symptoms at bay. In just a few weeks, his symptoms were dramatically improved. I spoke with my colleague occasionally and everything seemed fine—at least for a while.
Six months later, he returned to the office. The headaches and neck pain had returned—slowly at first, but gradually increasing until now they were just as bad as ever. You guessed it. Almost as soon as the symptoms disappeared, our friend discontinued traction and exercise and was back into his old routine of getting adjusted whenever symptoms occurred. I have to confess that I was pretty flustered. We were making great progress and, yet, he had lapsed right back into the same old routine. Biting my tongue, I reinforced the importance of dealing with the postural aspects of the problem and politely pointed out that, if thirty years of adjustments hadn’t fixed it yet, it was unlikely more of the same would do much good.
The good doctor is once again feeling better and is working harder at his home rehab program. That would conclude our story except for one little sticking point. Absolutely nothing has changed about the way our friend approaches the treatment of his own patients! Here’s a doctor who has seen first hand that adjustments simply won’t correct some problems. He understands how contracted soft tissues perpetuate postural subluxation and the importance of rehab. He knows all this but hasn’t changed anything in his office.
Instead, it’s just business as usual. Just like always, patients get an exam, a report of findings focused on segmental dysfunction/misalignment, and a fairly lengthy program of "adjustments only" care to correct their problems. There’s no objective analysis. No way, other than symptomatic improvement, to measure progress and certainly no effort to actually rehabilitate and strengthen the spine. Whenever I call his hand, he always says he’s going to implement posture based rehab into his clinic "pretty soon." It would seem that old habits really do die hard.
In the end, much of what we do comes down to little more than habit and routine. Whether we are talking about our own health, how we treat patients or manage our practices, much is done simply out of habit. We do what we do, because it’s what we’ve always done. There’s a certain amount of intellectual inertia which tends to keep us all immobile. We fail to do the things we know are important for our own health. We don’t look objectively at our own treatment outcomes. We postpone learning new skills because we are comfortable in our old rut. We hope the practice will grow and prosper but we never change a thing.
The specific challenges are different for each of us, but the underlying theme here is constant. If you want better results, you’ve got to rise out of the rut. Lip service doesn’t cut it. Only actions count. Some of us need to get off the couch and head to the gym, if we expect our patients to exercise. Maybe we could drop a few pounds if we want to change the way our patients eat. That’s practicing what we preach. But, as we learn and grow, it’s also vital that we share the benefits of our new discoveries with our patients as well. That’s preaching what you practice.
Dr. Mark Payne is the president of Matlin Mfg., a manufacturer and distributor of postural rehab products since 1988. To request more information on managing the scoliotic patient with postural chi ropractic methods, call 1-334-448-1210 or link to www.MatlinMfg.com.