Chiropractic Works, Except When It Doesn’t

Chiropractic Works, Except When It Doesn’t Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic

22 Jul Chiropractic Works, Except When It Doesn’t

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I come from a chiropractic family.

My mom has been getting adjusted all of her life.

My pop-pop believed in chiropractors + swore by an applied kinesiology doctor.

My dad had a bad low back, walking like a duck at times due to an inflamed lumbar disc issue. He also swore by the chiropractor who practiced out of his home + had the office that smelled like fresh leather, no matter when we entered his office.

As of this writing, my mom is 55 years old.

I treated her a month ago when she visited us in New Jersey from her new home in Sarasota, FL. Any chance she gets, she’ll ask me to work on her neck. The tension + pain, as long as I can remember, has always been constant.  She LOVESSSSS adjustments.  She always gets up after an adjustment stating:

It feels so loose!

(Only to have it tighten up again by the next day.  The temporary relief is called a “Reflexive Change” – this is a neurological phenomenon, not a pathology-reducing phenomenon).

As I’ve gotten better at finding + removing adhesion, I’ve become able to perceive where I can or cannot help an individual.

After 6 years in practice, I was finally able to realize something I hate to tell any patient, but especially, my mom:

Mom, I can’t help your neck.  You’re too far gone.

Mom asked:

What? What do you mean? I’ve been getting adjusted all of my life. How is this possible?

Cue the light bulb moment for a teaching opportunity:

Sit down.

The neck tension + pain you’ve had all of your life was caused by something. And the pathology wasn’t an “adjustment deficiency”.

Your dysfunction blocks include:

  • chronic, severe emotional stress
  • excessive sitting load (she just got her PhD a few months ago)
  • adhesion throughout your neck
  • more recently, significant degeneration (in the form of osteoarthritis) throughout your neck

At this time, your degeneration has progressed so much that while you do have adhesion, it’s irrelevant to the pain you’re experiencing.

Going forward, stop being such a stressball. Remember to breathe. Enjoy life. Don’t sit so much. In fact, buy a standing desk. And yes, when I visit, I should still remove the adhesion to prevent further degeneration of your spine to the extent I can find any tissue that pulls tight.

Mom replied:


What Pain Looks Like On A Graph

In our office, the patients who respond quickly + get better with 100% permanent resolution look like the 1st graph below.

The Y axis shows “Dysfxn”.  Dysfunction is a biomechanical term for a Problem.

“Sx” indicates Symptom threshold. Because the block is above the dotted line, this person has pain.

In an ideal world, every person with have no blocks on the graph indicating perfect health + huge capacity to do what one loves to do in life.

The below example has one problem – adhesion. The sweet spot solution for adhesion is Manual Adhesion Release.


The below graph is a typical 50 year-old person.  She has two issues.  One is “OA” or osteoarthritis.  There is no direct treatment for this condition.  OA can only be prevented from growing in magnitude and the pain can be managed, not resolved.

Treatment to remove the adhesion would bring this patient well below the symptom threshold + give this person a lot of room to do things with her body.



The below graph is my 57 year-old mom.  Her OA has grown bigger in size relative to the adhesion.  Because the “OA” block is above the symptom threshold by herself, no amount of alternative treatment will bring her pain level to an acceptable level.

NOTE: This graph is oversimplified.  My mom does have other dysfunction blocks (stress, excessive load with sitting, poor sitting posture, emotional stress).

I draw it this way to prove the concept of structural dysfunction (aka block with “X” through it).


The graphs indicate the reality of a person’s condition.

Unfortunately, it’s not what I was taught in school.

My Chiropractic Education

I was sitting in class in chiropractic school, doodling cartoons on my note paper, when I heard the teacher say:

What can chiropractic fix?

She waited to hear the answer from the class.

Chiropractic can fix everything.

She smiled.

Who can chiropractic help?

She looked around the room.  She overheard a student say “everyone” and she smiled again.

Yeah, everyone.

I’m sorry, but I respectfully disagree.

Most Straight Chiropractic philosophy says adjusting spinal joints is like unkinking the water hose of the nervous system. They claim the nervous system is the master system and controls every piece of the body. Without a kink in the hose, the water can flow.  The nervous system can send impulses + fix/heal anything that is damaged.

If that were working, then why do other forms of healthcare exist?

But traditional chiropractic does work for one pathology.

What pathology is chiropractic the gold standard treatment for?

When you have a meniscoid entrapment, a chiropractic adjustment is the #1, sweet-spot treatment for it.

Typically, this occurs in an individual who has never experienced a spine or disc issue before.

He was probably moving funny + when he came back to his normal, neutral position, he felt something catch.

That was the meniscoid becoming stuck in between the facet joints – either in the neck or in the low back.

The chiropractic adjustment is a quick force that gaps the facet joints, creating space so the meniscoid can be freed.

Normally, this takes one adjustment in one treatment visit + it never occurs again.

Some might call this a “chiropractic miracle”.

When there is no meniscoid entrapment, what might traditional chiropractic adjustments be doing to the body?

Avoiding the Problem Does 2 Things

This is a good time to share that I’m not against lifelong care. I believe that chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, or adhesion removal do have a place in one’s healthcare regime.

What I’m against is any form of care that ignores (+ avoids) more significant problems, allowing those problems to get bigger.

Getting chiropractic adjustments without addressing structural dysfunctions (cartilage, bony, + disc problems) or adhesion can let what happened to my mom happen to you.  You’ll experience temporary relief, only to need to go back for that temporary relief for as long as you’re alive.

1. The actual problem is able to grow + get bigger (on its own).

Because you think you’re addressing the cause of the issue by getting the pain adjusted.  After all, you walk into your chiropractic office with pain + you walk out with less (or no) pain.

But really, you’re minimizing symptoms while the under-the-radar fire spreads + wreaks havoc.

Ask yourself, “Does the pain go away + stay away?  Or does it come back after a period of time that seems rather quick?”

2. The adjustment contributes to help the actual problem grow + get bigger, like adding gasoline to a fire.

Imagine a disc injury with resulting muscle spasm.

If you’re like most Americans, you get a spasm – only to rush to your primary doctor to get muscle relaxers.

What you don’t realize is that the muscle spasm is a protective response from your nervous system indicating your body has such severe damage that it’s shutting you down from any increased risk of adding load (in the form of movement) to your damaged area.

So it locks you up.

When the muscle relaxers don’t work, you go to your traditional chiropractic doctor, who adjusts you.  You notice increased tension + pain right as your chiropractor sets you up.  That tension + pain is your nervous system putting the brakes on your body, saying “Whoa buddy, whoa!  I don’t like this position!”

And you have an acute jolt of pain during the adjustment with immediate relief afterwards.

Wow. I really needed that.

Your chiropractor agrees.

Yeah, you did.

What isn’t being told to you is that your disc didn’t want any more movement or stress at this time. In fact, your disc wanted to not move.

What do you think happens to a bulging or herniated disc that receives a quick, forceful, rotational force into it? Especially when inflamed?

The answer is that it becomes really unhappy.  If not in the short term, definitely in the long term.

You’re putting more load (or water) into your disc bucket.


More load/stress = more degeneration.

Chiropractic Works … Except When it Doesn’t

There is no question that chiropractic adjustments give people relief.  Chiropractic doctors wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Same with acupuncture, physical therapy, medicine, massage, nutrition, + any other health intervention you can imagine.

Still, we need to match each pathology, dysfunction, or problem with the gold-standard, sweet-spot solution for that problem.  Only in doing so, can we fully address all issues contributing to pain + disease.  I briefly explain this concept in a holistic (and effective) approach to chronic pain resolution.


You can only hammer a nail when you’ve identified a nail as “a nail”.  You cannot hammer a screw, like in the image above.  You’d fail.

My goal in writing this is education.  You, the empowered patient, need to know that there are other paradigms of treatment that exist that could set you up for greater success than traditional chiropractic can.

The majority of you can notice permanent, sustained improvement in your symptoms without further treatments in five treatments or less.  You don’t have to accept my expert intuition, at least I shared it with you.

If you weren’t aware, I’ll remind you, I am a chiropractor.  I’ve already operated under the old paradigm.  It wasn’t serving me or the patients I am privileged to serve.

What should you do for your neck or low back tension or chronic pain?

Let’s get this out of the way.

I’m 100% biased because our specialty at Barefoot Rehab is removing adhesion and we get paid well to do that.

However, we have a large and ever-growing list of proof  on our website, on the Barefoot Rehab facebook page, and google, from patients who didn’t realize our style of care existed and whose lives were better because they found our care.

And …

We have a nice handful of patients who had a diagnosis that did not include adhesion, who we couldn’t help, who respected that we told them the truth about their pain + referred them out as soon as we realized we couldn’t do a thing.  Like my mom, who has severe enough degeneration that while treating her, I noticed large movement restriction without adhesion pulling tight.

With that out of the way …

My 100% biased opinion for you to get out of pain as quickly and permanently as possible or to slow down the degeneration of your body is to see a qualified musculoskeletal specialist.  Preferably someone who knows who to proficiently remove adhesion.

Update 8/11/2017: If you sit a lot and have low back pain, we found this review of the Best Standing Desks on Pick the one that suits your situation and find relief.

speechbubblesWhat has your experience been with chiropractic? I know there are those of you out there who swear by traditional chiropractors.  I have nothing against that.  I do have something against people in pain getting care that isn’t addressing the primary cause of the problem though.  Better solutions exist.

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Dr. Chris Stepien, DC, Full-Body ID Certified, ART Certified, CSCS, and CrossFit Level 1 Certified, fixes your annoying and frustrating pains, even when it's been over 6 months and you've seen 3-5 other doctors or therapists without lasting relief Barefoot Rehab in Denville, NJ. And when you're sad, depressed, or not enjoying life, Dr. Chris wants to hug you. He invites you to reach out, no matter what your concern is. Barefoot Rehab is here to serve you.
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  • Sandra bass
    Posted at 05:10h, 04 June Reply

    I am confused .I am in pain. I have had lower back surgery which left me with 4 fusions,2 -6″rods and 8 screws. I developed a problem with my neck and numbness in my hands and fingers.The back surgery was to eliminate a pinched sciatica nerve that caused numbness in my thigh. The surgery is another story and now I have a pinched sciatica nerve that radiates in my left calf ,ankle and 3 toes going numb and calf swelling. I have been going to a great chiropractor for 5 and one half months. The sciatica is worse and I ache all over and the only thing I can say is better is my S1 joint is not as painful a nd numb or burning . I am at a loss as to what to do as I really down deep feel the adjustments are making me have more pain. Do you have any suggestions as how to proceed ?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 14:01h, 04 June Reply

      Hi Sandra,

      I’m sorry for your confusion and pain. I know how much it can affect life and our happiness.

      First, it’s very possible that your surgery (and already degenerated spine) will have to live in pain. Once we accept this fact, then we can begin the emotional work to learn how to deal with it.

      But, hopefully there’s more you can do.

      I would stop the chiropractic adjustments. After 5.5 months, you should notice more progress than that.

      Where do you live? Can you find an Integrative Diagnosis doctor who knows how to remove the scar tissue from your surgery?

      Let me know. Here for you.

  • Sandra bass
    Posted at 05:13h, 04 June Reply

    See above comment

  • karen king
    Posted at 18:12h, 23 April Reply

    I’ve been going to chiropractic care for about 2.5 months now. In the beginning the adjustments were causing considerable pain (they called it retracing) and then it seem to get a bit better about a month – month and half in. But the last 3 weeks I am just experiencing pain after my adjustments and its interfering with life. I have my adjustments in the early evening and when I wake up the next day I feel pretty good but by mid day at work I am in pain again. Today it was extra bad, it is getting in the way of work and the rest of my life. I had no traumatic injuries to spine or neck. They say I have a sublaxation of my neck and my spine curves out at the bottom. Also I’ve been getting upper instestinal pain on my left side after adjustments. I’m doing all my at home exercises/stretches. I’m just wondering if I should be feeling relief by now? How long do I give it? Am I regressing and is that just part of the natural healing path of chiropractic care?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 18:59h, 23 April Reply

      Hi Karen, you should be having permanent, lasting relief in 5 visits or less. How many visits has it been? We don’t let any of our patients get chiropractic adjustments. It’s not addressing any pathology within the musculoskeletal system. “Subluxation” is a way of saying the joints aren’t aligned, but doesn’t tell us what tissue is pathologic. I’d see someone who fixes “adhesion.”

  • Alyssa Meeuwsen
    Posted at 03:03h, 14 May Reply

    I am only 25 years old. I’ve been dealing with upper back/neck pain since I was 17. I have a chiropractor basically on call but the last year it hasn’t helped at all. I’ve had xrays taken and been told I’m fine. I just started physical therapy last month and am getting no relief in my neck. I’ve been told it’s due to posture and will ease once I “fix” that. It’s a slow process and I’m losing hope that posture correction will fix my neck pain. Any ideas?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 12:15h, 14 May Reply

      What’s your diagnosis? Any treatment is a waste of time if we don’t know what the problem is. How can you get a hammer if you don’t know if you’re dealing with a nail or not? “Poor posture” isn’t a diagnosis either. You need a tissue specific diagnosis.

  • Carol Rains
    Posted at 00:31h, 17 November Reply

    8 weeks ago I apparently hurt my knee likely from moving, it swelled up. Went to an ortho, got xrays & MRI, he decided conservative treatment, rest, ice, compression & elevate. While I was doing all that, I got bad sciatica. Decided to see a chiro for the first time, figuring this is their specialty! He took xray, said neck & pelvis out of alignment (said I was “a mess”) I have now had 15 adjustments in 6 weeks. I feel like I’ve had zero improvement.
    I never had that initial “sweet release” that everyone talks about, on the contrary just feeling worse & worse. To the point now, my legs are like lead, my hip & groin hurt, my back hurts continuously & I can no longer lift either of my arms (going on 5 weeks now) The impingement is unbearable & radiates down to my thumbs so I have no grip & I can’t sleep at night.
    The chiro finally gave me a referral to an ortho but I can’t see him for 3 weeks. Im dying here, absolutely miserable. I honestly don’t even want to return to the chiro again.
    I’m 54, just quit an incredibly sedentary & stressful job 8 weeks ago. I’m overweight but have done something about it & lost 25 lbs so far. I can’t even exercise anymore because of the extreme fatigue & pain.
    Any ideas what I can do, other than wait on the ortho? I’d love to do physical therapy but I’m wondering if I need to see the ortho before that in order to get the referral . Knee still bummed, can’t flex all the way, but I feel that’s the least of my concerns now. I’m on the verge of depression.
    Any help?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 00:42h, 17 November Reply

      Hi Carol, I’m so sorry for the trouble. Yeah – anytime someone tells us they’re going to the chiro, we say “Don’t.” It’s not worth it.

      I highly recommend you find someone who can fix hard problems like us. Here’s where you can look:

      You need to get a specific diagnosis before you can get good treatment.

      You may have to travel because there aren’t many of us. Try to keep a positive mindset as much as you can. Keep focusing on eating healthy cuz that will serve you and help your mindset.

      We are here for you.

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 15:28h, 17 November Reply

      TY for kind words. Feel free to use us as a resource. You can do this.

  • Carol Rains
    Posted at 02:11h, 17 November Reply

    Thanks so much for your prompt reply. I’ve done a juice cleanse to make sure I wasn’t storing up any toxins. Thanks for the link. I need to go a different direction. I appreciate all you do for your patients!

  • Chloe
    Posted at 21:39h, 24 November Reply

    can this cure my covid my neck is killing me from all this coughing

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 19:38h, 26 November Reply

      Nope, diet, sleep, meditation and supplements can cure covid. You have two separate problems. Best to treat them as such.

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