Spinal health also determines exercise form and bodily function. The simultaneous contraction of large muscle groups requires nerve signal efficiency that is possible only if the mechanism of transmission and propagation - the central nervous system - is free of subluxations and impediment. Without a healthy spine and nervous system, adaptive adaptation to exercise can not occur, and the body becomes susceptible to injury, illness and disease.
Central nervous system health is almost never discussed as a matter of public interest, and spinal health is often trumped by the latest "get-big" routine in bodybuilding circles. This should not be so, for spinal and central nervous system health are determinants of quality of life.
To promote awareness on this critical issue, I recently conducted an interview with renowned chiropractor Dr. Dennis Lee. Dr. Lee runs an extremely successful chiropractic practice, and he has an unwavering and evangelistic enthusiasm for helping people improve their lives through the promotion of proactive medicine. Dr. Lee's prevailing attitude is: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In this eye-opening and revealing interview, Dr. Lee tells us why chiropractic is critical to athletic success and a long and healthy life.
Here is chiropractic expert Dr. Dennis Lee, in his own words.
[ Q ] Dr. Lee, thank you for taking the time out of your extremely busy professional life to do this interview; I know that it will be of great benefit to all. Let's start off by telling people a bit about you. What is your educational training and background?
Dr. Lee: Chiropractic is a four-year program, and for that a minimum of three years of university has to be done. They do like you to have a degree through university, however, myself, I was one of the fortunate ones that did three years of kinesiology and sports therapy, and from there I applied into the program and was accepted into the program. So for me it was seven years, but usually it is a minimum of eight years to complete the full course load.
Now, chiropractic is a little bit different from the medical profession. The medical profession does an MCAT - a test to see if you are able to do the program - whereas in chiropractic they go more by the individual to see if the individual is right for the program and not generally just based on grades like the MCAT.
Although, McMaster University is a little bit different. McMaster University does do a similar selection process as our schools - the MCC - by learning more about the individual, as opposed to just their scholastic marks.
Overall, myself, three years in sports therapy, followed by three years of general science and chiropractic philosophy and knowledge, followed by a final year of internship. I also went to China for half of a year to study acupuncture in Beijing at the China-Beijing International Acupuncture Training Institute.
[ Q ] Why did you become a doctor of chiropractic?
Dr. Lee: When I first went into university my
goal was to be a teacher - I wanted to be a health-care teacher. My first experience with chiropractic was when my grandmother was diagnosed with rheumatory arthritis, and she started to visit a chiropractor.
I did not understand why at the time, because I did not know much about chiropractic. The more I learned about that, and the more I spoke to my professors about that, the more I became interested in chiropractic.
I found that I could use chiropractic, which is a philosophy that I had believed in - natural health care and a proactive method - and I thought I could use that to also further my teaching as well - to be able to teach people about the benefits of living healthy lifestyle and taking measures now to prevent future injuries.
[ Q ] That's a good approach. How long have you been running your practice at this location?
Dr. Lee: I have been working in Toronto for the past several years. There are certain dynamics of Toronto - certain mental, physical, and chemical stresses - there were certain elements of the city that were really bogging me down mentally, emotionally, as well as chemically with the smog and everything, and also physically as well.
So, I decided to before I became too comfortable in Toronto I was going to move my clinical practice to Waterloo.
I moved to Waterloo at the start of January 2004 and I have been here for the past eight months. My clinic has been open now for the past eight months, and I'm getting a good response from the public. They are starting to understand and be aware of this process of being proactive and managing your lifestyle, and so far things have been going really well.
[ Q ] So when you assess a person, what goes into that assessment when they come into your clinic?
Dr. Lee: Well, the first thing we do is a complete history. We have to find out exactly what the problem is, what caused it, when it first started, if this is the initial episode, or if this is something that has been reoccurring over the years. You also have to find out if this is something that started insidiously, or was it an acute injury - did they slip and fall? Was it a motor vehicle accident?
This will help us judge which direction to go. We also try to find out a complete medical history, family history, what kind of lifestyle and job they do, what kind of things antagonize their condition, relive it - in this way we get a better clinical picture.
When we go through the physical exam we go through very important postural check, a reflex and nervous check, as well as blood pressure and different things. Then, we also move on into range of motion - how are the joints moving, how are the areas of the body moving - and from there we usually can find out quite a bit. If necessary we go for orthopedic testing to find out exactly - specifically - if there are certain tissues, tendons, muscles that are inflamed, and that's what orthopedic tests are for.
The last thing we do is muscle function testing. I believe that no muscle works by itself and that all muscles work in synergy with each other. There are certain movement patterns that one can do objectively to check out if the muscles are working properly or not. And, you have to find out how their firing pattern is.
Are the muscles working in a good sequence where you have the big muscle working and the smaller muscles aiding, or do you have a situation where the smaller muscles are doing the work and the bigger muscle is shut down?
And, this is what we try to do with a muscle function testing. We find out how the muscles are working, how they are working in synergy with one another, and, if they are not, how can we re-teach and re-educate the muscles to work properly? If the muscles don't work properly together and certain muscles are overworking and others are not working enough, you are going to get an imbalance.
When that happens, that under worked muscle that is getting weak and inhibited - and what's going to happen is, because it cant do its job, it's going to ask the muscle above, below or next to it to do the work - and then that's going be overworked, and this just gets worse and worse, and the pain starts to spread.
So what we do here is a lot of muscle function testing to find out how the muscles are working in synergy with one another and how can we return the balance back in there.
[ Q ] Why do you think that chiropractic is an essential medical treatment that should be included in everyone's health care management plan?
Dr. Lee: Well, there are so many stresses in everyone's lives, whether they are emotional, mental, physical, or chemical stresses, and most of these stresses are easily controllable.
You should be able to do things to alleviate these stresses. For example, with mental or emotional stresses you could do tai chi, yoga, meditation, hobbies, or counseling. You could treat chemical stresses by watching your diet - what you take in - and also supplementation with antioxidants will decrease the amount of harmful stress on the body.
As well, staying clear of things like excess pollution, foods that are high in hormones, or genetically altered foods - things like that will decrease the chemical stresses, and then overall is the physical stress.
We need to try to get people to be a little more active. It is a very sedentary lifestyle that most people live, and when they do have injuries they do not understand why. The thing is, when you're young and you do not have these pains it is because your body is in good health - you have to try to maintain a health because if you do not maintain it you're going to lose it. Trying to regain that health is always more difficult than maintaining it throughout the years.
What we try to do is we try to teach you how to unload physical, mental and chemical stresses, because again these are the controllable stresses.
By unloading these stresses your immune system no longer has to worry about fighting these stresses, and then it does its job of - let's say you get a virus, or bacteria causing you an infection, or a cold - you may not have symptoms from these viruses and bacteria, or your symptoms will be far less because your immune system is working at 100 percent. And that is what we are trying to do - to strength the immune system through the release of physical, chemical, and emotional and mental stresses.
[ Q ] What do you think are the benefits of chiropractic treatments and for the athlete and the average person?
Dr. Lee: Well, what chiropractic does is we try to - first of all, the philosophy of chiropractic is based on the direct relationship between the nervous system, your spine and your bodily functions - so in that case everyone can benefit from chiropractic.
With regards to the athlete and the average person, we do have to realize that the athlete's far more active and therefore probably requires a greater maintenance of their spine due to the stresses that they place upon themselves through their physical activity.
But overall, what we try to do as chiropractors is increase mobility and flexibility, as well as increase the strength and endurance of muscles, and what we do with that helps the joints to be able to bathe themselves in synovial fluids so that they stay healthy and mobile, to decrease the chances of things like degenerative disc and degenerative joint disease - osteoarthritis.
From a philosophical level, however, what chiropractic does is we release nervous interference. If you're out of posture muscles are overworking and it will cause the spinal joints - the vertebrae - to come out of position. When that does happen, the inflammation due to the muscular activity or the joints being inflamed, or the joints themselves impinging upon the nerves, will cause a decrease in nervous function. What that will do is ultimately decrease your immune system's ability to fight off injury, illness and disease.
So we try to decrease the amount of physical stress placed upon the body so that your immune system is able to worry about other things, such as injury, illness and disease, and not worry about the physical stress place upon it.
[ Q ] Interesting. How would the treatment of an athlete and the treatment of a non athlete differ?
Dr. Lee: Well, the main thing with an athlete and non athlete is first we have to find out what specific activities they are doing, and we have to develop the body based on that.
For instance, if you are an endurance athlete, you have to train your muscles to be able to be aerobic and handle the endurance of the task or event. Or, if you are not an endurance athlete and are a sprinter, you have to cater the treatment, as far as muscular wise, to be for quick bursts of energy and not so much for aerobic energy.
Also what we try to do with regards to treatment is to find out what muscles are overworking - each tasks overworks a muscle.
When you overwork a muscle it has two effects: it makes that muscle overwork and get tightened because it's doing too much work, but it will reciprocally inhibit the muscle that is opposing that action.
What will happen is that the muscle opposite will start to weaken, so we have to find out which muscles are being used over and over again, and offset that by starting to stretch out the overworked muscle, and the opposing muscle we have to start to strengthen, because if you are doing the same thing over and over, that opposing muscle will get weaker and weaker.
For example, if you are doing something that always works the bicep, you will reciprocally inhibit the tricep, so you will have an overworked bicep and weak tricep. So, depending on what your activity is, we will cater that way.
So, we'd have to start stretching out the bicep muscle, because if it overworks it's going to get tighter, and we have to train the tricep muscle to be able to balance that out again, so that there is not an imbalance between one muscle and another. If you have balance, your body likes that. When you are out of balance, that's when aches, pains and sprains creep up. That's in regards to the athletes.
With regards to the average person, most people, especially today, have jobs that are repetitive motions, or repetitive posture. Again, with that you have to find out what you are doing repetitively, which muscles are overworking, which ones are being inhibited, and design a personal exercise program based on that to bring the balance back.
[ Q ] How important is spinal health to quality of life and function?
Dr. Lee: Well, it is very important. It is not only spinal health, but it is your posture.
If you just walk through any mall right now you'll see that the younger the child, the straighter their posture is, and the less pain they have. And, as each year goes on you can look at other people throughout the mall and you will notice that people, as they age, get more and more postural constraints. And, finally, when you get to the teen years you'll see that they usually stoop forward at the pelvis and sort of have a hunched back in the upper back area. It is because they do not maintain spinal health throughout their years.
It is very important that people understand that this is something that is not automatic, that you're not going to have proper posture and spinal health throughout your whole life. It is something that we do have to make a goal to attain it, and then you have to maintain the spinal health.
Every day we do things that are causing postural stress on our body, and we have to offset those postural stresses by doing stretches, exercises, as well as keeping a flexible and mobile spine by doing adjustments. By doing this you're going to be taking the stress off, maintain proper posture, and you will notice that some of these aches and pains, sprains and strains will start to diminish because you are in proper posture.
Once you out of posture you put so much stress on the skeletal muscular system that aches and pains become the norm. If you don't combat these things what ends up happening is that other muscles will have to take up the slack for these muscles that are overworking, and then the next thing you know, the pain starts to spread.
What we try to do is teach people that this is not something that is just a quick fix. We want people to do a lifestyle change. We want to get people active. The goal at our clinic here is to teach people how to be proactive instead of reactive.
The current medical system right now is 100% reactive. People are told not to do anything until the pain comes and then go seek help. That's being reactive to the situation. When you are reactive you have already waited too long because the pain has occurred. Once the pain has occurred, and the damage occurred, it is always harder to get back to where you were, then to be proactive, doing things now to prevent in the future.
I like to use the analogy of dentistry - because dentistry is the only health care practice out there that really promotes prevention unlike any other. And what do they do? They teach you do brush and floss. Why? Not because you have cavities or gum disease - but to prevent them in the future. Anyone will tell you that once you get cavities and gum disease it is always harder and more expensive to reverse it than to just buy some floss, toothbrush and toothpaste to prevent it in the future.
And, that's what I mean by being proactive. Unfortunately, the system right now is reactive. It's not designed to tell people to do the proper things now. So, unfortunately, people start getting tight muscles, and out of posture, and then things like hip and knee replacement surgeries are the norm, whereas if they were taught at an earlier time in their life to do things to maintain their health, they wouldn't have to do that. Unfortunately we are in a reactive system and its not changing right now.
So we need the public to be more aware of that. Instead of blaming McDonalds and other things for obesity and that, get out there, get active, and do more things.
What that does is create a system where the doctors best interest is in you being healthy, and not being sick.
Whereas here, unfortunately, the system is backwards, its reactive, the way people make money is by you staying sick and being ill. So, being proactive is the main goal at our clinic, and it is what we want to spread to the population.
[ Q ] As a professional, what are some of the most frequent reasons that people experience spinal problems?
Dr. Lee: The number one reason is postural strength. We have to realize that throughout evolution we were creatures that were quadrupeds and we become bipeds. So by being bipeds we have to develop postural muscles - muscles that work consistently to keep us in an erect posture.
And, what happens is reciprocal inhibition - meaning that if you use one muscle you inhibit another muscle - that's what happens with postural stress. If you are always standing up and you are always using postural muscles even while sitting and they are overworking all of the time, that's not only going to overwork that muscle but its going to inhibit the opposite muscle and that's going to put you out of balance.
If this imbalance keeps on going and no one does anything to offset that, that's why you see as people age they get more and more forward with posture, hunched back, or hyperchyphosis in their upper back, because they have these postural stresses - these normal daily things bring it about, and its not that they are any more active or anything, its just that naturally, posture and gravity weigh you down in one direction.
Unless you start to strengthen muscles that offset that, you will always be going in the same direction. At a certain point you can make changes by doing certain physical activities - chiropractic adjustments - to straighten you out, however if you wait too long - and unfortunately we live in a reactive society and people wait too long - if you wait too long and your bones start to change, there is little you can do about it.
In dentistry if you wait too long with your teeth you always have the benefit of being able to get dentures. However, once your spine starts to change and you get degeneration, you are stuck with that spine for life. And that's why I want people to be proactive, because once degeneration starts to set in and once the bones and discs start to change you can't change it back.
So it's about getting the proper balance in your spine and muscles and maintaining that throughout the years, and that will help you reverse the ageing process. But if you don't do these things and you wait until your 40's and 50's and getting aches and pains, and then decide that "this is the time I'm going to take charge and do it" you will have good effects still, but you'll be maintaining the position that you are from. You might be able to regain a bit of flexibility and strength, however, any skeletal changes that happen are permanent.
[ Q ] Given your focus on lifestyle change, how is it that you think we can help society to prevent injury, illness and disease?
Dr. Lee: The first thing that we can do is we have to get to the young kids out there and educate them on certain things.
First, we have to start with education on common illnesses, for instance the common cold. If we started teaching kids today about how colds are manifested, how not to lick your fingers, to not eat without washing your hands, don't itch your eyes so much, do not allow the opportunity for the virus to enter your body, we'd be surprised with how much that would help with health care costs.
As kids are educated they will be empowered with this information as they grow older, and they will tell it to their young kids as well. And what will happen is when you have your everyday sniffle or sore throat, you aren't running to the doctor of the emergency room and overtaxing the health care system. As you are empowered with information you will say "I've had this cold before, I will take vitamin C, some garlic, plenty of fluids, plenty of rest and I know it will be gone within the next three to four days."
However, people are not being empowered with this information, so unfortunately our emergency rooms and doctors offices are being overburdened with simple things like common colds and different kinds of viruses that really don't require the utmost medical attention - this is draining our health care dollars.
Secondly, we have to instill to our youngsters today how to maintain a healthy lifestyle by doing stretches and exercises. This is not being given enough. Most kids when they are born have incredible flexibility and are able to do the splits and touch their toes no problem.
However, they are never taught that this is something you will lose unless you maintain. Because they are never taught, they never keep up with it, and by the time they are sixteen and seventeen they no longer have the flexibility that they did when they were six or seven. And again, at that age they are not taught, so by the time they are twenty or thirty it's even worse.
So, our job is to try to educate them on doing simple stretches and exercises two to three times per week to be able to maintain their current levels throughout their years as they age.
I will give you an example of oratoric. If you wait to long you will miss the window. oratorics are inserts in your shoes that help to maintain a healthy arch. From ages zero to five you are rarely on your feet and they are nothing but fat pads, so it's not the best age to introduce oratorics.
However, from age six to nine, ten and eleven, your body is growing exponentially, and it grows based on the imposed stresses placed upon it, which is called Wolfs law - the bones will develop based upon the impulse stresses.
If you were to put a custom made oratorics into the shoe at this age, what you are essentially doing is creating an arch that is ideal for that individual person. And when you do that and put that into the child's shoes, as the arches grow the body says "hold on, we are going to grow around this proper arch", and the bones change based upon the stress, and you can create a healthy arch that will last a lifetime. From age twelve until the end of puberty is the second best time. It is not as effective as the previous one that I mentioned, but you can still make changes to the growth plates, and the bones haven't yet fused and are adaptive to change. So, you can create a healthy arch for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, most people who go for oratorics don't go in until well after puberty and they find out that they already have these aches and pains, and most people are flat footed. If you don't have the arches - the shock absorbing ability - what ends up happening is you get more stress going through your ankles, your knees, your hips, your lower back, and all the way up. Degeneration occurs, and then all of a sudden hip replacement, and knee replacement surgeries become the norm.
Unfortunately, myself, like many others, was informed about this too late, and it wasn't until my early 20's that I decided to get oratorics. So, I do have flat arches that have not developed into healthy arches and I wear oratorics. However, when I remove my oratorics or I don't have them in, my arches are back to where they are - flat arches. So I missed the window to create healthy arches for a lifetime.
And this is going back full circle to what I was mentioning earlier - we have to realize that if you wait to long, changes happen and your are not going to be able to reverse it. If you take the steps early on, you can make changes that will last a lifetime, and prevent degeneration from occurring, which ultimately is reversing the aging process, you are deferring the aging process to a later date because you are doing whatever you can to maintain your current health.
[ Q ] So you mentioned educating the youth and starting these things early. As a professional, what age would you recommend that individuals begin chiropractic treatment?
Dr. Lee: I'd say any time before age ten or eleven is a good time to start. Now, if you are looking for younger children - newborns and such - there are chiropractors out there who are trained with pediatric chiropractic - many clients search out these people because you will get better effects with regards to infants that have inner ear infections or infantile colic. Myself, I don't do pediatric chiropractic but there are many chiropractors out there trained in pediatrics.
I think it's very important that kids try to get in at that time because nothing is more stressful on the spine than the birthing process. If you see where the baby comes out of and how little room there is, if you ever see a babies head or neck when they are born, it is quite deformed, so it is the most amount of stress during the birthing process.
So, you should be relieving the subluxations or the spinal misalignments early on. For those who think that chiropractic is a violent type of maneuver, you have to remember that it is catered to age, size and bone density. So the adjustment that someone would receive at twenty-five is not the same adjustment that one would receive at six months. So people have to be very aware of that.
But it is very important that kids grow up with proper spinal alignment, not waiting to defer it to another time. So any time during youth is a great time to get into physical activities, routine stretching, a simple exercise program, custom oratorics and chiropractic to help keep the spine aligned throughout youth. Because, you know, it is unfortunately also the time that most kids experience falling out of trees, climbing here and there, bumps and bruises and falling off of their bikes.
[ Q ] How important is it in your view to go the extra mile and spend time with the client explaining to him or her what goes into treatment and why treatment is neccessary?
Dr. Lee: Well, going back to my original statement where I said that I wanted to be a teacher, education I find is the most important thing. One thing I always found frustrating with the current medical system growing up is I go to a doctors office, I say such and such a thing, they rarely give me the proper diagnosis, they rarely tell me what caused it, what events happened to cause it, how I could prevent it in the future, and instead they give me a prescription and they tell me this will help.
Yet, they never talk about the prescription, they never say this is what it is, this is what the side effects are. Some people are looking for that, but with myself I find that if you give your power to the doctor, it doesn't empower you.
I feel that with education and with teaching people about how these things occurred and how they can prevent future occurrences, and stay strong and on top of things, and make sure that people understand not only anatomically but physiologically what's going on, if you give them that understanding you empower them.
You plant that seed so that they can make a lifestyle change, but unless you do that they really don't know what's going on and they may feel that the anti-inflammatory or muscle relax or, whatever they get, is their only answer. You HAVE to give them the answers by educating them by telling them what to do, how it happened, why it happened, and how you get rid of it altogether. This is how you empower the patient and make a healthy population.
Its not by blaming McDonalds or blaming obesity and this and that - its about giving the education necessary, and its more than just "stop smoking" or "don't eat trash foods" - you have to educate people. Once you empower people, you wouldn't believe how much they will respond.
But, if you don't empower them and you keep the power to yourself as a practitioner and you just give them little bits here and there without teaching them, then you are not empowering them, you are just making them more dependant upon you and your services and medications.
So, I think that the goal is to empower the patient by teaching them what they need to do. This takes extra time, so be it. However, some people are more interested in cramming as many people in during a certain amount of time as opposed to educating them, because it's better for their bottom line. However, you don't empower the patient. And, if you don't educate them, how in the world can they be proactive? They are not going to be proactive because they don't know what they are supposed to do.
A lot of people with osteoarthritis are given anti-inflammatory pain killers, and they [the doctors] are sitting there saying "this is for your arthritis." But no one ever explained to them how this degeneration started, or how they can prevent it in the future. Or, even educate them so that they can tell their young ones and the generation below them what we can do to prevent this in the future.
Unfortunately the way our system is it's a little bit backwards and instead of instilling more physical activity into youngsters they are taking them away from schools because the teachers don't want to spend the time to do physical activities and such. We only have ourselves to blame for the way society is going right now: obesity and other degenerative process are on the rise.
Now, I do believe that medicine and the medical system is very important and neccessary, I also believe that there is an increased reliance in these passive methods, and that being proactive is the best course of action.
[ Q ] You have a very professionally run practice. What other services do you offer your clients and what will you be offering in the future?
Dr. Lee: Well, we offer acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, as well as massage therapy. Traditional Chinese medicine is very important to my practice because I believe that the natural approach is the best. What they do with traditional Chinese medicine is do a diagnosis based on different theories of the Yin and Yang, the five elements, etc.
Through that they can tell if your body is in harmony with each other - if the yin and the yang are balancing. Usually, what you can find through the diagnostic techniques is that the balance is not there. Either someone has too much yin or too much yang. When the balance is out that's when you are susceptible to illness, injury or disease.
What we try to do with our traditional Chinese medicine incorporated in here is internally through acupuncture, between different techniques, is to strengthen the immune system to be able to fight off various injuries, illness and diseases, and we also do nutritional counseling here as well.
[ Q ] How can people contact you?
Dr. Lee: Well, first they should try to visit their local chiropractor. If their chiropractor only does adjustments and not physical rehabilitation, they should do their treatment in conjunction with a fitness trainer or a physical therapist. I myself do both - a fusion of physiotherapy and chiropractic.
We are the Back in Motion Health Center, located at the Westmount Place Mall, 228 Westmount Road North in Waterloo, Ontario Canada. Our telephone number is 519-342-7859 or I can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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