Tuesday, 7 February 2017

What does a chiropractor do … on a Wednesday

Normally Wednesday is the one working day when I spend the whole day in the same clinic … which means I actually get a lunch hour – or more accurately 56 minutes in which to meet with my practice manager, make phone calls, write emails and do the 1001 other things associated with running four clinics and 4 minutes to wolf down a sandwich.

On some Wednesdays I run a specialist headache clinic with two colleagues – an orthodontist (Mark Brickley) and a psychotherapist (Judith O’Hagan) – in which we get to grips with the complicated sort of problems that cause seemingly intractable head and face pain, but which will often respond to a combined approach in cases where no one individual could hope to be effective (http://www.theheadacheclinic.co.uk/index.html). 

Many headaches and migraines come from musculo-skeletal structures (joints, nerves, muscles and ligaments) but if someone is tense, stressed, depressed, clenching their teeth, has an unbalanced occlusion or forward head posture, then they can often undo all a chiropractor is trying to correct within hours … or sometimes even minutes. That’s when identifying the component parts of the problem then treating the mind, balancing the occlusion and preventing the clenching allows the adjustments and exercises prescribed by the chiropractor to start working. Headache clinic days are always great days because you get to work with fascinating people on challenging and interesting patients – I also get to sit down to eat lunch before we start, although this brief period of relaxation is somewhat countered by having to fit three clinics into one day.

This week however, I was not in clinic at all on Wednesday.

Like all regulated healthcare professionals, chiropractors have to complete a minimum amount (30 hours) of continuing professional development every year in order to maintain their professional registration. Even if we didn’t, I would still go to the AGM of the Royal College of Chiropractors … in fact I have been to every AGM since the very first in 1997 (bar last year’s when it was oversubscribed and I couldn’t get a place … so popular and important have they become).

The Royal College of Chiropractors (http://rcc-uk.org) is – and will probably remain – the most important thing that has happened to chiropractic this century.  Much like the passing of the Chiropractors’ Act in 1994, which paved the way to statutory regulation, the setting of minimum educational standards, a Code of Practice and protection of title (when I graduated, anyone could style themselves a chiropractor), the granting of a Royal Charter to the College of Chiropractors in 2012 was a pivotal moment … I don’t think may people yet recognise how pivotal.

For the first time, the chiropractic profession has recognised specialists developing their post-graduate skills though Faculties (of Pregnancy & Paediatrics, Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, Sports & Exercise, Animal Chiropractic and my own area of specialism, Pain).  The AGM always kicks off with the Faculty AGM’s … this year’s Pain Faculty was taken up for the most part with development, as befits the College’s youngest faculty.  

The discussions were wide-ranging: the new NICE Guidelines for Low Back Pain & Sciatica (https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/NG59) again include spinal manipulative therapy and exercise and amongst the few therapies that actually work (good news for chiropractors and osteopaths); however, acupuncture is no longer included – although it will, I hasten to add, continue to be offered as part of our treatment packages despite this. 

I pointed out to the meeting that the entire basis for the decision was fundamentally flawed: acupuncture has many different schools with very different approaches (we use medical acupuncture – also known as ‘dry-needling’ – to treat myofascial pain syndromes) and low back pain and sciatica are not diseases but symptoms which have many different causes, some of which will respond and some of which may not. (http://docmartin99.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/sciatica-is-not-only-condition-thats.html)

What can be said with certainty is that myofascial pain syndromes are an invariable part of almost all low back pain, whatever its cause, and there is abundant evidence that dry-needling is highly effective in treating the trigger points responsible for the pain. The Guidelines therefore demonstrate a failure of joined up thinking … so I got volunteered to write an article for the College’s journal explaining this in scientific terms.

The Faculty also needed a Secretary – and as I was going to clearly be doing some writing anyway … I got volunteered for that too.

And I though I’d got better at saying ‘no’!

The afternoon’s programme comprised the President’s Lecture, delivered by Dr Sarah Goldingay  (http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/drama/staff/goldingay/) – always good to hear from the great and the good outside of the profession – and then presentations from researchers being funded by the College … it’s nice when you listen to old friends speaking and think of them as ‘my ex-squash partner', ‘my MPhil supervisor’ or ‘someone I used to teach’, rather than Professor this or Dr that.

It also made me realise how cutting edge much of what chiropractic is now doing can be – and how it contrasts with some elements of the profession (mostly imports from countries which ought to know better but apparently don’t) who regard the General Chiropractic Council as a nuisance and want to go on delivering care based on benefit to their bank balance using protocols based on 19th century metaphysics.  

I recall an old dentist telling me many years ago when I was still at College that it took dentistry 50 years to move from being an unregulated profession to being fully respectable … we’ve only had 16 years but at least  (unlike the dentists) we have our own Royal College setting standards to which increasing numbers of chiropractors aspire. 

I for one have reached the stage where my most cherished post-nominals (those long list of letters that professional people put after their name to show how professional they actually are) are the four letters ‘FRCC’ (actually I can put these twice because I am both an ordinary Fellow and a Fellow of the Faculty of Pain, but that would be showing off). 

This is for the simple reason that all my other degrees and qualifications are what has allowed me to become a Fellow of the College – and the College stands for the quality, rigour and clinical governance that is, I hope, inherent in our clinics’ daily treatment of patients.