Car Accidents, Chiropractors, and Chronic Pain: Breaking the Cycle of Treating Pain Symptoms
About 10 years ago, I was practicing as a massage therapist working for a chiropractor. Most of the patients had been in car accidents and came to us because they had back or neck pain. The protocol for treatment was this: each patient had x-rays taken, was diagnosed, then treated based on their diagnosis which was generally based on the location of their pain. Most of them had herniated discs and pain in their backs or necks. So that's what we treated, backs and necks.
The chiropractor decided what ancillary therapy each patient needed, such as ultrasound, EMS, and heat or cold therapy. For my part, I would massage their backs and necks, and with the proper diagnosis and insurance approval, I could occasionally work on extremities.
Although the patients were grateful for some relief, it always seemed like as they took one step forward, they took two steps back. They would feel better for a while, but then their pain would flare up again or a new place would start bothering them. Some patients would even start having numbness going down an arm or leg. When that happened, I did my best to massage and stretch the places that might help it, even though I wasn’t technically allowed to treat anything that wasn’t approved by their insurance. And when their insurance coverage ran out, they had to stop getting treatment whether they felt better or not. It was frustrating for me because it seemed like we were never really getting to the source of the problem, and it’s true, we weren’t. At the time, I thought it was because insurance companies were dictating what we could treat. But this cycle of pain – treatment – temporary relief isn’t a problem unique to therapies covered by insurance. It is the reality for nearly everyone.
People slowly stop living their lives when they’re in this cycle. They’re preoccupied with not inflaming their back, or neck, or hip, or whatever place is bothering them at the time. They keep adding more aches, pains, and diagnoses to their list and little by little, they stopped doing the things they enjoy because their bodies won’t let them. Regularly seeing specialists for each of their pains becomes normal.
I saw this cycle of pain – treatment – temporary relief, time and time again, and not just in people who only got massaged, in people who saw specialists and tried therapies of all kinds. Regardless of what anyone did, everyone seemed to be stuck in this mediocre existence where nothing ever really changed. Their lives, just like the treatments they got, revolved around pain. They were stuck in a cycle of perpetually treating pain symptoms rather than improving how their bodies worked.
I was stuck in this cycle myself. Although I had never been in a car accident, like the patients at the chiropractic office, I had chronic neck pain and headaches. Also, like them, I got regular massages and adjustments. My headaches and neck pain also never went away, but I believed I was doing the right things to get the most relief. I also believed this was life; there was nothing else that could be done.
It was while I was still practicing massage, before I became an SI practitioner, that my outlook changed. When I started receiving structural integration (SI) bodywork, I found that it worked to fix my chronic neck pain and headaches better than anything else I’d tried. The reason is, it didn’t work at all the way other therapies worked because its methodology wasn’t dictated by pain at all. First, relieving pain was not the primary goal. And second, just because I had neck pain didn’t make my neck the focus of treatments. This seems counterintuitive at first, but it was by looking at the body through the SI lens that I finally understood what it takes to truly change things for the better, not just work on pain symptoms.
Because bodies get compressed and twisted (this happens because gravity is always acting upon us), the goal of SI is to get the body opened and organized so it can lengthen. When a body is open enough and long enough, pain ceases to exist inside it. This is why pain is not the focus of SI methodology, but getting the structure more open and organized is.
Areas of pain always have a relationship to other places in the body. That’s why my neck pain was never alleviated for very long by just working on my neck, and why the chiropractic patients never really got much better. It’s not the neck you need to look at exclusively and treat exclusively, but how does the neck relate to the shoulders, arms, pelvis, and legs. Opening and structurally organizing my ribs, arms, and even legs opened my neck and allowed it to lengthen. That’s what fixed my neck pain. Its these relationships throughout the body that are missed in traditional treatment.
In my SI practice, we’ve seen many people who’ve had chronic pain after being in car accidents and other injuries. Just like most people, they’ve tried massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, and non-invasive medical procedures. In theory, they’ve done all the right things. But it was going through the SI process that helped their pain when nothing else did.
There are a lot of factors to consider with something as complicated as pain, so I’m not suggesting that SI is the be-all and end-all for all of your problems. But I do know that when you get the structure more organized and the relationships between the parts of the body more organized, you have your greatest chance of overcoming the chronic pains that other things have been unable to help with.
Chances are if you have chronic pain that nothing seems to help, it’s probably because everything you’ve tried is going after pain symptoms. And although you might make marginal improvements, in the long run, you’ll always be playing catch up.