Reflections of a Chiropractor, Dr. U. Peter Christensson
By Elena Dalla Massara
Why do we fall ill, and how can we cure what ails us? For centuries, Man has studied himself and Nature to prevent and heal aches and pains, founding treatments on different notions and ways of understanding life and how it functions.
In ancient times, disease was considered a form of punishment inflicted by the gods. Doctors were healers, medicine men or shamans, and it was only with Hippocrates and his Corpus Hippocraticum that mythology, religion and magic were abandoned. With the Greek scholar, more than two thousand five hundred years ago, came the birth of medicine as a science, founded on the knowledge of Nature (physis). A science that in the studied by Hippocrates and his students combines two interpretations of Man and of life.
Hippocrates and his school taught students to arrive at the truth through observation and experimentation, but the empirical observations should be considered within a larger scientific picture, able to make sense of the varied phenomena observed. For the physician of Kos, this was the only way to gain a body of knowledge that was universal and scientific. At the same time, however, the human body is animated by a vital force which acts to bring harmony where there is disharmony, thus guiding the body towards recovery.
After Hippocrates, the schools of thought became two. On one hand, the rationalist school, founded on reason, on an analytical and mechanistic method which defines universal theories, considered as valid a priori, deconstructing the human body into systems: the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, the digestive, muscular, nervous, circulatory systems, and so on; on the other, the empirical interpretation, based on experience and on verification a posteriori, on a synthetic theory based on the concept of vitalism, which considers Man as something more than the sum of his parts: a Man who is body, spirit and soul.
And these opposing theories adopt different ways of interpreting disease and deciding on treatment.
According to the rationalists, whereas health is the absence of symptoms, disease consists of the alteration of one or more systems, and treatment methods are dictated by disciplines and laws external to the body. Treatment is based on the opposition between disease and remedy, recalling Aristotle's contribution to the law of non‑contradiction, whereby the same thing cannot be and not be at the same time, therefore the same element cannot be both disease and cure. Inflammation, for example, is treated using its opposite, anti‑inflammatories; pain is treated using painkillers, and tumours are made to regress using anti‑tumour drugs. The efficacy of the treatment is decided beforehand, using theories applied to everyone, which define what can be healed before treatment takes place. For the empiricists, on the other hand, our organism is a system in constant evolution, in continual dialogue with the surrounding environment and with its higher Self. It is subject to its own laws, and is able to react to stimuli and find the needed remedies inside itself. Health is a dynamic balance, whereas disease is a disturbance of the body's life force, generated by multiple causes which are not only physical, but also linked to our emotions, our soul, and our spirit. Treatments are therefore linked to remedies and practices which stimulate a process of physical, spiritual and emotional reaction. There are no universal solutions, or remedies which are the same for everyone. Each symptom should be interpreted as unique, and its treatment unique as a result, because the combination of factors which caused the problem to emerge is also unique. And the treatment itself acts on similarities, where the disease lies at the root of the remedy, according to a natural process of construction, crisis, and solution involving similar elements. The efficacy of a certain cure is not known beforehand, but emerges afterwards, through the accumulation of experience over time, which is then handed down to help in the next similar (but not identical) cases which arise.
Reason and experience throughout history
The history of these two great schools of thought is thousands of years old, spanning all the centuries up to the modern day, where the two theories exist in opposition to each other. Many scholars and thinkers have embraced one or the other, using them to build their theories and scientific practices. The Galenic school can be considered the pinnacle of ancient rationalism, despite containing a number of empirical aspects. Around the year 150 A.D., Galen used Aristotelian theory and Euclidean geometry to formulate a medical science based on analytical and demonstrative methods. He also studied the writings of Hippocrates, leading him to create the theory of four elements which make up organs, systems and living tissues, and to consider disease as an imbalance in the relationship between the body and its external environment. If truth be told, the physician of Pergamon was mostly in agreement with the empiricists as far as diagnosis and treatment were concerned, and agreed on the importance of observation, both direct (autopsy), or that handed down (history). He did, however, believe that the refusal of causal theory and of anatomy made empirical medicine a "diminished science", more akin to a therapeutic technique.
Galen's theories remained current until the modern day, when – maintaining the same demonstrative approach and foundation on causal relationships – they were reformulated in mathematical, physical and chemical terms, thanks to Isaac Newton's theory of infinitesimal calculus, Descartes' analytic geometry, or – in the medical field – Marcello Malpighi's discovery of the capillaries, and the link between arteries and veins. With the nineteenth century came Positivism and the concept of exact science, which to be defined as such must be founded on observation and direct experience, and be measurable and objective. From Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories to the birth of new disciplines such as psychology, anthropology and sociology, Man and Nature were dissected and catalogued in each and every aspect. Today, the medical field continues along this same path of analysis, diagnosis and treatment, isolating symptoms, exploring chemical, mechanical, biological and genetic causes with ever greater zeal, convinced that behind every disease lies causes that are the same for everyone, that can be analysed in isolation, separate from the patient's broader life context (in a laboratory, on experimental animals, in controlled environments).
Empirical medicine, on the other hand, has been following the teachings of Hippocrates down through the centuries, according to which it is natural for the body to seek balance and healing, in keeping with the principle of homeostasis – compensation and movement towards harmony. Many illnesses are actually attempts at healing: an abscess, for example, is the body's way of encapsulating the infection and isolating it from the rest of the body. There is no need to intervene, rather we should be permitting and facilitating the natural course of life.
The Renaissance naturalism of Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (better known as Paracelsus) introduced chemistry and speculation to the field of empirical medicine. Our organism (the microcosm) and its environment (the macrocosm) interact, formed as they are of the same minerals. Disease emerges when external minerals inflame their internal "twin", and treatment consists of administering the mineral causing the inflammation. His theories influenced the studies of many empirical scientists and doctors over the following centuries, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the teachings of Hippocrates and Paracelsus were enhanced with one particular theory: homeopathy, a system created by Samuel Hahnemann. As opposed to the traditional medicine of the time (which Hahnemann called allopathy, due to its use of remedies which suppressed disease symptoms – "contraria contrariis curantur"), the German physician based his system on the principle of like cures like, whereby diseases were cured using remedies which had triggered them ("similia similibus curantur"), discovering that substances and medicines administered to healthy people at high doses caused the symptoms of diseases which could be cured using infinitesimal doses of the same drug or substance. And the efficacy of a homeopathic medicine increases as it is diluted, until the diluent no longer contains the substance concerned, only its memory. This resulting product is stronger than the substance itself, making the homeopathic medicine more powerful.
Hahnemann's theories link to the subsequent microbiology studies by Louis Pasteur. His observation of the anomalies in the fermentation of beer, vinegar and wine, or forms of rabies, cholera and anthrax in animals, led the French chemist and biologist to experiment with vaccines, based on the concept that "like suppresses like", hence attenuated doses of the virus help to cure and prevent the disease generated by that same virus. The British surgeon and bacteriologist Edward Bach developed the work of Hahnemann and Pasteur, studying the homeopathic vaccines ("the seven Bach nosodes") and subsequently floral remedies, known throughout the world as Bach Flower Remedies. The Birmingham doctor's intention was to provide an alternative to traditional medicine, which considered only the disease itself and not the person as a whole. This led him to establish a method of personality‑based healing, in which the patient is treated not so much based on his or her body, but of his or her character, emotions, and psychology.
The vitalism of chiropractics
Chiropractics takes a similar empirical and vitalistic approach. Founded at the end of the nineteenth century by Daniel David Palmer, it is a medical science which aims to treat neurological injury and the resulting problems. The chiropractor prevents and treats disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the effects that these alterations can have on the functions of the body, and on a person's health more generally. Using a holistic approach which considers all aspects of the patient and not just some, its objective is to support the life force of each and every patient, not only by analysing his or her physical status, but also by considering lifestyle factors (diet, climate and environment, social sphere, emotional and psychological status, etc.).
Quantum mechanics and the medicine of the future
At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the study of the atom and of electromagnetic radiation, classical mechanistic theory was no longer sufficient to explain subatomic matter. A new way of looking at matter was needed, and the German physicist Max Planck was the first to discover that energy exchange between matter and radiation takes place by way of quanta – discrete "packages" of energy, which Albert Einstein then associated with particles (photons). And so, quantum mechanics was born, a branch of science which describes matter as an ondulatory phenomenon, the consequence of a state of energy, of a vital force. Identical particles have different energy states, if they vibrate at different frequencies. Matter cannot be dissected and analysed in each of its parts in a way that is universal and always the same – any such study must be done in a way that is relativistic. The advent of quantum mechanics marked an extraordinary revolution for physics, which began to embrace a vitalistic vision of matter. Quantum mechanics describes the matter as constantly changing, in its relation and interaction with the context and the surrounding environment. It also introduces the concept of a creative energy into its 'exact science', one which emanates a discrete energy, moving and subtle. The same does not occur in the medical field, where rationalist thinking has gained the upper hand, relegating the empirical tradition to the sidelines: a diminished science, in Galen's view, because it is not supported by theories founded on analysis and on standard models which are repeatable and valid for everyone. In reality, it is from this very non‑universality that its strength derives. While the rationalist approach forces our organism to adapt to its abstract and a priori theories, with the consequent risk of not being effective for everyone (as in the case of drugs and treatments approved by the health service, but then withdrawn from the market because they are toxic or not suitable for everyone), or risk curing only one aspect of the problem (such as treating headaches with aspirin, without investigating that symptom as an element of a broader process at work, linked for example to diet, sleep patterns, posture, chewing and dental occlusion, blocked emotions), empirical medicine views symptoms and diseases as occurring due to a series of causes related to the body and to the soul, with no "one‑size‑fits‑all" treatments. The remedy will always be different for each individual, and will adapt itself to his or her micro‑ and macrocosm.
Despite the accusations of being "non‑scientific", empirical medicine is not devoid of any foundation: it does not work by trial and error, but is based on a body of scientific evidence, one which is not analytic and rational but historic, founded on experience built up throughout history, with results monitored every day through the observation and practice of doctors and patients, in a constant process of improvement. What is needed, then, is to embrace holistic vision of life and of medical treatment, one which opposes a reductionist vision, which separates, isolates, and reduces.
While physics has undergone a thorough critical re‑examination, traditional medicine should follow in its footsteps, in order to respond more effectively to the problems it faces, studying and resolving diseases and illnesses in a way that is global rather than sectorial. It is not a matter of conflict, but of tending towards a peaceful and constructive coexistence between a mechanistic and empirical approach, for the good of the patient. Will the medicine of the future be a quantum medicine? Chiropractics is already moving in this direction, with very successful results.
Doctor Ulf Peter Christensson – Doctor of chiropractic, specializing in applied kinesiology and functional neurology. After graduating from scientific high school in 1970 in Hässleholm (Sweden), he went on to study chiropractic in Bournemouth (UK) and Chicago (USA), where he became doctor of chiropractic in 1975. In 1990 he received his professional registration from the Swedish Ministry of Health, and he was awarded a diploma in applied kinesiology in the United States, where he also gained a postgraduate degree in functional neurology eight years later in 1998. After working as a chiropractor for ten years in Rome (Italy), he founded in 1986 the Elva Medica medical centre, that today has its headquarters in Campagnano di Roma.