The proof is in the pudding
By Emily Stifler
I laid on a chiropractic table, on my stomach, and Dr. Jeff Saad cradled my head and neck in his arms.
“Everything’s easy. It doesn’t hurt,” he said, then had me turn my head and dangle my arms off the table. “No big deal, okay? I got you.” He spoke with a confident tone, almost teasing.
I’d never been to a chiropractor and was doubtful and nervous. Saad, a Doctor of Chiropractic, had a reputation for being very effective.
“Just a little pressure here,” he said and put a hand on the back of my neck.Crack.
“You okay with that?” he asked.
I assessed. Everything felt fine.
“Could you do this wrong?” I asked. “Do damage?”
“It’d be difficult, but I suppose so. You don’t pay me for what I do, you pay for what I don’t do, based on a history and examination,” he said. In an effort not to aggravate an existing problem, he watches for symptoms, signs, concerns or trauma.
“This is where your tension headaches come from,” he said, pointing to specific spots on my cervical spine.
I don’t have tension headaches, I thought, still doubtful.
I flipped onto my back, and he bear hugged me.
“Lift your head, give me a big breath, blow it out,” he said. “One more time. Good.” When I let go my breath, he cracked my back.
“How are you doing now?” he asked.
I assessed again. That one hurt…or did it? Maybe it just felt weird.
He joked about rusty hunting knives and surgery, then re-arranged my legs and leaned against me, using his body weight to adjust my lower back.
“Are you having fun yet?” he asked.
“It’s been a great ride,” Saad said about his job. “I enjoy it very much, and I’ll do it ‘til I’m a little old man.”
Originally from Minnesota, Saad earned a degree in human biology at Northwestern University, then a Master’s at Northwestern College of Chiropractic. He’d enrolled in med school but dropped out when he broke his rib on a ski vacation at Bridger Bowl. He went to an M.D. “and he didn’t do a thing,” Saad said. Next he saw a chiropractor who “adjusted, maneuvered and manually pulled together the two separated pieces of bone,” putting them back in place. Saad was sold.
The self-described “resort junkie” practiced in Vail for seven years and also worked with athletes on the New York Mets and the Dallas Stars. Now 41, Saad has been in Big Sky a decade, lives at Moonlight and is here to stay. His 6-year-old son Benji is in first grade at Ophir School.
Before adjusting me, Saad asked about my medical history, did a full assessment and checked my reflexes, just like a Western doc would. I told him about my injury laundry list – knees, back, ankle, shoulders, neck, wrist – and that nothing really hurt now, other than regular aches and pains; I was there out of curiosity, mostly.
That status fit right into Saad’s health mantra: management over time.
“Nothing is good forever,” he explained. “You’re constantly fighting the laws of gravity, injury, athletics. That’s why management over time is the only way. That means getting adjusted, getting massage – over time, five or six times a year.
We can’t protect you from everything, but we can stop a lot of it.” He wants people to understand and protect their bodies because, “it’s yours, you keep it for life.”
Every muscle has a receptor that senses stress, pressure or pain, according to Saad. But “that sensory info can get muddled. When you get adjusted I’m trying to get your sensory, motor, and nervous systems firing so the information is processing properly.”
“You have 26 moveable bones in your spine, and they need to be moving,” Saad explained. “When they’re not, there’s a problem. When it goes for too long, there’s a bigger problem.” That’s where regular manipulation helps.
And it’s all connected, he said: “If your knees are bad, your back starts to hurt. What started out as a primary knee problem becomes a primary back problem. It’s all links in the chain – your ankle, your knee, your hip, your low back, all those joints in your back, to your neck. I can make a case for headaches being caused by big toe pain – over time, not overnight.”
In the world of medicine, “we all have our place,” he said. “I’m not doing surgery on your knees, and we’re not curing cancer. I’m just re-setting the bones and releasing some gasses from the joint capsule.” The divide between chiropractic and Western medicine, has “been a long battle over turf that’s been beaten down over the years. Results are the key to success.”
Still doubtful, I called my father, a pediatrician. He has friends who are chiropractors, has seen a chiropractor several times in the last couple years, and even had a medical student work in his office that was also a chiropractor. He said he’d seen manual manipulation work well for neck and back pain.
But there hasn’t been as much evidence-based research into other aspects of chiropractic because, unlike the prescription drug industry, the profession profits without the research. So while some of the ancillary work chiropractors do may work, much of it is untested in the eyes of Western medicine.
Besides, the point is to help you feel better, he added. If it works, who cares about the research? “The proof is in the pudding.”
Wanting to know more, I called Dr. Jesse Coil, a Doctor of Osteopathy with the Medical Clinic of Big Sky. D.O.’s like Coil have full medical training, plus training in hands-on work.
“Manipulation is difficult to scientifically prove because you are relying on patients describing how they feel after treatment, which is very subjective,” Coil said.
He suggests it’s a short-term fix that can help people feel better. But if “a couple days later you’re sitting in the same position at a desk, the problem returns. Unless you’re fixing the base problem, usually manipulation is a temporary fix.” However, manipulation, Coil said, has never been proven to do any harm.
“There is a place for manipulation and helping correct musculo-skeletal problems, but I don’t think it can replace medicine.”
Saad adjusted my feet, “tightened” my knees, and “reactivated” my muscles. It was a minor session, he said, but I’d needed the overhaul. He’d noticed tightness in my upper neck, my low-and mid-back caused by posture. I’d be sore, but everything should feel good soon. If I needed, I could come back for a 20-minute follow-up.
I was sore for a couple of days – not muscle sore, just a little off. Then when I relaxed, I felt looser, freer and lighter. In a couple of weeks I started feeling like I needed to go back. Like my spine was… stuck. It was something I’ve felt before but hadn’t put a word to – until Saad planted the idea in my head.
So am I hooked? Is my phobia cured? I haven’t been back yet, but I’m sure thinking about it.