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Why I became a Chiropractor

Steven A Rudd DC FRCC
With the current public interest in whether chiropractic can have benefits beyond the musculoskeletal system, I wanted to offer an article on why I became a chiropractor.

“Sorry you failed” the Doctor said, “you can never be a pilot”.…..

Why? Asthma.

Well it was the end of a career that never started for me, but it was the reason that I went for my first chiropractic treatment in the 1970’s. I grew up on the Isle of White and to see a Chiropractor meant a trip to Wigmore Street in London. I was 17 years old and wanted to be a stunt pilot, I had looped the loop with an RAF instructor sitting next to me and loved it. Anyway having failed my medical, but still in hope, I went off to be cured by a Chiropractor.

I really had no idea what to expect, I could have been given pill or potions or talked to, it was new to me. Anyway Dr Cooper, the chiropractor, took some x-rays, chatted with me, asked what I wanted to do with my life, and manipulated my upper spine.

“What is the difference between medicine and chiropractic I asked”? Well he said, “Chiropractors study health, what makes people healthy, while medical doctors study diseases, what makes people ill.” “Wow!” I said, “I am really interested in health!” As I was leaving he said, “You know you ought to consider studying chiropractic, I think you’d enjoy it.” As I walked out past Selfridges I noticed I was breathing freely, it was as if my lungs were bigger and looser than usual, the sun was shining and I felt really good!

Up to that point in my life I had received medical care for asthma, I had two inhalers that I used regularly up to eight times a day. After that first treatment my inhaler usage reduced dramatically immediately; no one had said it would or wouldn’t, I just felt I could breathe fine so I stopped using them. I checked this with my G.P. who was in favour of symptomatic usage luckily.

Over the next few years I think I used an inhaler for the odd week here and there possibly associated with hay fever, but never needed it regularly again with many consecutive years of not needing it at all. So I returned to sit my A-levels, having given up on flying and applied to study psychology (I later married a psychologist but never studied it!).

Dr Cooper’s words and my new breathing ability however soon made me change course and I applied to join the Anglo European College of Chiropractic in 1979. Asthma has remained of great interest to me ever since. I went to chiropractic college because of the reduction in my Asthma symptoms. At 17 I had no aches and pains, plenty of time for that later of course! Over the last 30 + years I have had no serious asthma attacks although I still can wheeze in dusty conditions, I would say I am 90% asthma free. In my final oral examinations at AECC I was able to present a successful case of an asthma sufferer who I helped in the college clinic.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic allergic inflammatory condition where the airway tubes or bronchi go into spasm and the mucous lining of the lungs swells and produces excessive mucus. Asthmatics can feel like they are drowning, as a child I remember being very scared when I couldn’t breathe. The drugs at the time were relatively ineffective. It may be seasonal, like hay fever or triggered by stressors including dust, animal fur, mould, emotional stress, and structural faults. In my case I think I had most of the stressful causes around me; two cats which slept on my bed, or on my chest when I was off school with asthma, an old damp drafty house, no particular dietary help – I ate anything and everything including the classic allergens that many asthmatics find best to avoid: wheat and cow’s dairy products.

On top of that I was predisposed genetically, as my father had asthma and my parents divorced when I was two – which was a blessing I’m sure, but still an emotional stressor for me as a child at the time.

Can Chiropractic help?

In my case, evidently so. The Cochrane report in 2005 reviewed some published research on physical therapy applied to 156 patients in various studies with asthma but found that there was insufficient evidence/ research carried out so far to determine whether there are benefits or not. The Bronfort report suggests there is no benefit beyond sham manipulation. However, in my opinion and personal experience chiropractic is non invasive and cheap – compared to years on preventative drugs, so in this former asthmatics opinion it should be front line. Try it and see, because it helps some people, (but not all), including me.

In my own clinic we also use Naturopathic treatments to augment Chiropractic treatment which widens the input to include diet, food sensitivities, supplements, lifestyle and relaxation but I had none of this in my own treatment.

My Research

I am beginning to compile a list of people, hopefully some thousands, who have diagnosed asthma and have also received chiropractic treatment. I would love to hear from you whether you have had a positive, neutral or negative experience? E-mail is easiest drrudd@mac.com subject line Asthma, otherwise snail mail to my clinic. If you can say whether your asthma is the same, better or worse after receiving treatment, and ideally by how much- 10% – 90% or whatever that would be fantastic. If willing I will then send you a short 2 minute questionnaire. If enough people respond we may be able to publish some more useful research findings on the actual efficacy of natural therapies for asthma sufferers.

Possible mechanism of helping

Simply improving the mechanical function of the rib cage by joint mobilisation is the most direct and obvious treatment. Cervical/ neck and cranial manipulation can influence the nerve supply to the lungs. Direct soft tissue massage to the diaphragm has merits as well. I have my patients do breathing exercises to strengthen their diaphragm muscle.

What else helps?

Diet: See my essay “Designing your own nutritional programme” and look up Asthma in Murray and Pizzorno’s excellent book ‘The Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine’ a nutritional naturopathic text which seldom leaves my side. They give a comprehensive list of vitamins, minerals and herbs that have been shown to have benefit for individuals suffering from asthma with 78 research references.