Lasting Pain Relief May Not Come In A Bottle
“The majority of my patients first come to me for pain relief,” notes Dr. John Ballam, “a common complaint that can be surprisingly complex. And most of them are on some form of medication for their pain—popping pills almost like they’re popping vitamins.
“Often they’ve been first to an urgent care center,” he says, “where they may have been prescribed muscle relaxers, pain relievers, even steroids—all of which come with side effects. And even if they have come to me first, they’re usually taking over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen or some other anti-inflammatory drug.
“The problem is, the medications just mask the symptoms; they do nothing to fix the source of the pain. Furthermore, the medications bring their own complications, and even common over-the-counter medications carry a risk of stomach, liver, or kidney issues.”
Dr. Ballam acknowledges that it’s a normal reaction to reach for pain medication as a short-term fix for an injury or sudden back problem. “What’s of greater concern are the patients who come to me with a long list of medications they’re taking. In those instances, I know that their overall health is a complicated case. And I also know that any issues they’ve got going on—such as back pain—potentially could be related to many other health issues.”
A DIFFERENT KIND OF RELIEF
“One of the amazing things about chiropractic care,” observes Dr. Ballam, “is that its impact extends beyond the back pain or original issue that brought the patient in. I’ve seen it so many times: I’ll be working on a patient’s back pain, which is improving, and the patient will pull me aside and say, ‘Dr. Ballam, ever since I’ve been seeing you, my heartburn has gone away and I haven’t changed anything. Is that chiropractic?’
Free Posture Assessment
“A posture assessment,” says Dr. Ballam, “is an invaluable tool in chiropractic care. It provides a baseline against which to evaluate future problems. That is why,” he says, “we offer a free digital pos-ture assessment and free consulta-tion to assess imbalances and risks.”
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“The answer is ‘yes,’ in a way. In my experience, working on the spine and correcting structural issues often enables better whole-body function. It’s not that I cured their heartburn,” says Dr. Ballam, “but by working on the spine, the body is now able to function at a more optimal state.”
By the time patients come to see him, notes Dr. Ballam, they’re looking for a more holistic form of relief that may not involve medication. “It’s quite common to see my patients come off medications—not because I take them off, but because by treating the underlying issue, the need for medication starts to wane.
“There are times,” he acknowledges, “when I will recommend anti-inflammatory support—which is certainly preferable to medication that simply masks symptoms. But I tend to lean towards nutraceuticals rather than pharmaceuticals wherever possible.”
Turmeric, high EPA fish oils, celery seed, and Boswellia (commonly known as frankincense) all provide time-tested anti-inflammatory relief, he says. “Educating patients on these alternatives is an important part of what we do when treating pain.”
THE CHIROPRACTIC APPROACH
“Pain is an interesting symptom,” Dr. Ballam notes, “because when someone has a back issue, pain is usually the last symptom to arrive and the first symptom to go away.”
Dr. Ballam’s comprehensive process includes taking a thorough case history, which includes discussion of what medications patients are taking and what they’ve already tried. His physical examination includes posture pictures, using the nervoscope for temperature readings at the back, orthopedic assessments, and X-rays. Once he feels like he’s found the problem and confirmed it’s one he can correct, the real work begins.
“The number one cause of pain in the patients I see,” says Dr. Ballam, “is inflammation. And it’s not always a bad thing; in an acute situation, inflammation helps individuals heal from sudden injury. Problems arise from chronic inflammation—which is too much of a good thing, since the inflammation becomes detrimental and causes problems.”
SMALL MOVEMENTS, BIG PAIN
Chronic inflammation, in fact, observes Dr. Ballam “is often at the root of back pain that arrives suddenly. Some acute back problems, of course, are the result of injury. But more often, sudden back pain usually comes from picking up something light, or from an awkward motion—and not the heavy things. Many of my patients hurt themselves in the shower—not from a slip and fall or big movement, but from doing something normal like shampooing their hair or shaving their legs.
“One patient is a classic example. She just reached across her desk to grab a stapler,” says Dr. Ballam, “and that reach and pull was enough to set off her back.”
Extreme pain brought her to urgent care, worried she might need surgery, he says. “But anatomically, her injury revealed a very familiar pattern. There are three specific parts of the spine that play a role in this pattern, and usually all three are involved. These are the pelvis, the fifth lumbar (L5) joint, and the very top of the neck. When all three are compromised at once, it can cause a sudden—and extremely painful—back spasm. It’s not one event that causes the problem,” he explains. It’s a lot of little micro traumas that add up over time. And then, you can simply reach for a stapler and your back will go out.”
Dr. Ballam recalls another seemingly sudden, extreme case, that showed the same pattern in the spine. “This was a man who felt his back twinge at the gym. He first tried to keep the muscles warm, continuing to exercise and even sitting in the sauna. But his muscles tightened up even more! He actually passed out from the pain and ended up at the emergency room with a possible head injury from the fall, and passed out again as they were trying to discharge him!
“His case,” recalls Dr. Ballam, “was one of the worst back-pain cases I’ve ever seen—yet he had just the same L5/pelvis/upper neck misalignments pattern I’ve described. We practically had to push him down the hallway in an office chair and he could barely stand up to have an X-ray taken. But at the end of that first visit, he was able to walk down the hallway.”
That example illustrates one of the most satisfying aspects of his work to Dr. Ballam. “Cases like these typically respond very quickly to chiropractic care; patients may go from a 10 on a 1-10 pain scale to a 5 on that same scale in just the first treatment. “It’s hard for medications to boast those kinds of results.”
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