Magic Pills vs Magic Hands
Early in my manual therapy career, I had an experience that opened my eyes to a certain perspective about health care, healing, and the nature of what humans expect and want from the healing community, be it conventional or complementary.
I was working in a clinic that was associated with a vitamin store, and a regular client had come in with a broken arm from a hockey game injury. I assessed and treated his whole body, including the injured arm as best I could around his cast, and he left feeling markedly better. I suggested a supplement that would support his healing process, and sent him upstairs to buy the product. 10 minutes or so later, an older woman came down and told me that she had overheard this boy telling the sales clerk that his pain "melted away" during the treatment and he no longer had pain from his injury. Of course, this woman, having chronic pain, wanted to know all about this, so my client's mother sent him down to me.
What she wanted, and had an expectation of, is what has stayed with me for over 15 years now. What was it she wanted? She wanted the pill that I'd given him that caused his pain to "melt-away". I explained to her that I practiced a certain style of manual medicine and that it was this manual treatment that eleviated his pain. There was no pill that I could sell her that would have replicated these results. She seemed dumbfounded and asked again to buy this "pill". I told her the only thing I could sell her was a gift certificate for manual therapy - and despite the unsolicited story that she had overheard, her paradigm refused to let her believe that this even was possible. She left unsatisfied, without a gift certificate, and I never heard from her again.
There is no pill that can "treat" pain - any and all pills, natural supplements and pharmaceuticals alike, are temporary external bandaids
that treat symptoms instead of causes.
I have seen this pattern manifest repeatedly over my career in manual medicine. It's strong and deep roots have a basis in the way our healthcare system has evolved as a pharmaceutically driven medical practice that manages symptoms, especially pain, instead of effectively treating them. What arises from this can be seen in the every growing issue with opioids and other pain medication because an opiod epidemic is what happens when pain is treated only with pills.
This is an enormous frustration for me as a complementary health care clinician: What will really address the root cause of chronic pain is not covered by health care and insurance, yet highly addictive pharmaceuticals are a readily proffered "treatment" in the medical community. This leads to almost guaranteed addiction because the "treatment" doesn't, and cannot possibly, treat the cause of pain: Neuro-musculo-skeletal dysfunction and, at times, stress and emotional trauma. Over and over in my 17+ years of hands-on clinical practice I see this pattern, and yet people still search for the "magic pill" that will take away their pain, consequence free, and opt out of actual treatment that will functionally address the root cause of their pain because it's not covered by insurance and they have to pay out of pocket.
In university in the mid 90's, long before "alternative medicine" became popular, I learned that alternative health care had the markedly good results with the worst of patients that had tried everything conventional and failed to find benefit. I wondered why these modalities would be considered "alternative" when success of this sort was possible for so many. Well, the simple answer is that it's not lucrative and can't be patented for profit.
This "pop-a-pill" mentality that has ultimately been set up by the medical and insurance companies has created a lack of responsibility mentality in people for their own individual health, while asserting that manual practices such as acupuncture and osteopathy are related to the realm of "pseudoscience". This is paired with the constant search for the "Magic Pill", which has morphed into the "Magic Natural Supplement" and "Super Food". Yes, supplements and foods can be, and are, useful and powerful; yes pharmaceuticals are at times necessary, but by and large, there is no pill or food, natural or man made, that can take the place of the maintaining the basic structure that nature has provided to be functional and self-sufficient! I have seen many physical and structural issues mimic illness, and be resolved quickly with manual treatments such as osteopathy, craniosacral, and acupuncture when nothing else has helped, including physio and chiropractic.
Humans take better care of their cars with regular ongoing maintenance
than they do of their own bodies!
They key in this pain resolution (as opposed to management) is that past injury, "healed" or otherwise, has a very unique way of surfacing, and it's not always in the direct cause and effect manner that satisfies our way of looking at and resolving matters. Healing after injury - without any sort of therapeutic intervention - is simply normal compensation and adaptation. While this is a necessary and useful "adaptation", it sets up a predisposition for the "healing" to fail at some point in the future. Time and time again in treatment I find a structural issue and inquire about a trauma that was "forgotten" in the health history only to hear, "but I healed from that injury", or "I forgot about (insert here): major car accidents, broken bones, head trauma, or other significant injuries that have been "healed" from "without issue" - often times this is simply because we easily "forget" what it was like to feel good, vital, and free to move without pain. Yet here they are, on my table, because of pain, dysfunction, or some other pattern in need of support and attention, often that nothing else has helped address. The memory arising during treatment is also key, because it shows the source or root of the pain or dysfunction that has been found, which can now be addressed so that pain can resolve, and the body can truly "heal" instead of continuing to compensate.
Hippocrates himself recognized the human body's innate ability to rebalance itself - a process it performs every second of our lives without external assistance - which may be why the Hippocratic Oath advises and cautions to not over treat patients. This is something that conventional medicine is struggling with in light of the opiod epidemic, and vast over prescription of antibiotics, anti-depressants, and other mood or pain related medications. Dr. Andrew Still, the founder of Osteopathy, also practiced based on this principle. With a surge in chronic illness and disease, and it's easy to see how modern approaches are often aimed at suppressing and fighting the bad, rather than supporting and assisting the good. Perhaps many of us have forgotten that our bodies are elegantly engineered machines, capable of great healing when given the right assistance. Patients possess a remarkable capacity for protecting and regenerating themselves, and it's time that we support this capacity by bringing a patient's health back into balance, rather than trying to override it with external supplementation. Every patient carries their own doctor inside them, and because of this, Osteopaths never underestimate the body's innate capacity to heal.
What I'm encouraging those who are not in the health profession to consider is that *all* history is relevant, including those injuries, shocks, emotional and physical traumas alike when it comes to pain, and are remembered in your body's tissue. The reason, as we age, that "things fall apart and hurt", is not always because we are "aging", but because our body can no longer adapt and compensate for the toll on the body of the general living of life. In general, humans take better care of their cars by providing regular maintenance than they do of their own bodies! Just as we turn to a reliable mechanic to help "realign" the working and structural parts so that our vehicles run optimally, at times we need to have this done to our living human bodies.
So. If you have chronic pain of any kind, depression, anxiety, low energy, repeating mental and emotional patterns that are difficult to let go of, or simply feel stuck in life, think twice before reaching for that ever evolving "magic" pill, including those natural wonder supplements, and book an appointment with a skilled practitioner. And choose this person wisely! Not all therapists are created equally, and if you are picking a co-creator of health, it's got to be a good fit Being free of pain and emotional weight will boost your mood and energy more than any pill, supplement, manicure, pedicure, or highlights ever can, because, for the same cost, you'll have an internally generated healing, not a temporary external fix. As the famous hair colouring quips:
You're worth it!