Articles by JCS
Erin Brockovich & Chiropractic
JC Smith, DC
Erin Brockovich is a hoot, and if you haven’t seen this movie about this courageous woman, you ought to do so. Although the movie itself had nothing to do with chiropractic directly, the truth of the matter is this movie would never have happen if it weren’t for Erin’s real-life chiropractor who introduced her to the movie’s producer, another patient.
For those of you who haven’t seen this Academy-winning performance for best actress, starring Julia Roberts, it deals with her arduous and successful fight to expose PG&E’s poisoning of a little desert town in southern California. Although not an attorney herself, Erin’s tenacity and passion overcame her own lack of professional skills, skepticism by her own boss, and the multitude of PG&E attorneys who opposed her. In the end, the law firm she works for won over $300 million in damages for chromium poisoning that caused cancers, miscarriages, and other horrible health problems for the few hundred residents of Hinkley, California.
As I watched this movie, knowing the chiropractic connection, I wondered what would happen if Erin’s chiropractor were to offer a similar albeit different situation to the same movie producer. Rather than folks being harmed by chromium poisoning and the cover-up by PG&E, what if her DC had told this producer of the harm and cover-up by the medical world about unnecessary and ineffective back surgeries that affect ten of thousands of people each year at a cost of over $50 billion annually?
Perhaps, you may think, that a situation of failed back surgeries based on a false, disproven disc theory and the lack of informed consent to patients about the benefits of chiropractic care isn’t reason enough or as unequivocal as chromium poisoning. Maybe you think living a life in constant back pain, disabled from work, living on drugs or a morphine pump, and having your entire life turned upside-down isn’t as bad as dying of cancer like some of the folks in Hinkley. Maybe it’s not as dramatic to some, but to me and to the thousands of failed back surgery victims, it is just as bad if not worse.
What makes it worse is the lack of honesty by their own trusted back surgeons who know damn well that 97% of back pain is due to mechanical problems with the spine, and not their beloved disc problems. Add to this con-job are the insurance companies who know the research that states “Surgery has been found to be helpful in only one in 100 cases of back problems,” like the federal government’s own guideline admits, yet these greedy cost-plus insurance programs have no qualms about paying for these unnecessary and ineffective back surgeries for one big reason: The more they pay out, the more they can charge in premiums, so there’s more money for everyone.
Add to this list of conspirators the thousands of public hospitals who know these facts, yet relish back surgeries due to the huge amounts of money they stand to make too. After all, if you were a hospital administrator, wouldn’t you want a case that brought in $10,000 to $40,000 instead of a chiropractic case that averages $800? Is it little wonder why these hospitals refuse to allow a chiropractor on staff despite the overwhelming superiority of manipulation to surgery? It would just take too much money out of their pockets to do the ethical thing and follow the federal guideline that recommends manipulation before surgery.
Maybe the tragedy of failed back surgery syndrome isn’t as flashy a story as toxic poisoning, nor is it as likely to be a class action suit someday since tens of thousands of patients spread around the country are involved instead of one small town like Hinkley, but the end result is just the same—wasted lives caused by greed and deception.
Maybe ten or twenty years ago this scam wasn’t as well known before the plethora of research on low back pain began that has disproved the disc theory and shown the efficacy of manipulation. But today that’s just not the case. Whether it’s studies like RAND, Manga, Meade, AHCPR, or the DoD’s own chiropractic demonstration project, to name but a few of the many research studies of late, the facts today are well-known and beyond debate that chiropractic manipulative therapy (CMT) is best for the vast majority of back problems.
Even our medical nemesis, Richard Deyo, MD, in his latest NEJM article on low back pain admits that 97% of back pain is of mechanical origin, although he certainly gave CMT short shrift. It’s just too hard for these medical men to admit chiropractors have been correct all along, and they just have trouble giving credit where credit is due, even in light of their own research that shows it! I guess it just sticks in their craw, as they say down South, to admit their hatred has been unwarranted.
Imagine if these events inspired a movie producer to make an exposé called “Erin Brockovich, Chiropractor” and revealed these unseemly deceptive acts by greedy surgeons, insurance companies and hospitals. Imagine the outcry if Americans knew these unnecessary back surgeries were based on a false premise and perpetuated on them simply due to greed. According to recent studies by medical spine researchers like Boden and Jarvik, disc degeneration is prevalent in 46 to 93% of all adults, yet they have no back pain. Equating back pain to disc degeneration or abnormality, they believe, is totally coincidental and equivalent to comparing it to having grey hair—in that, everyone has it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the cause of the problem.
Imagine the anger of patients if they were to know manipulation is best despite the voodoo diagnosis they got from their surgeon—“If you’re stupid enough to go to a quack to get cracked, don’t come crawling back to me when you’re paralyzed.” As odd as that sounds, it’s told to too many patients still today. Indeed, Jim Crow, MD, still thrives on the fear of many ailing folks looking for a solution to their intractable back pain.
As Robert Mendelsohn, MD and author, once said, “Anyone who has a back surgery without seeing a chiropractor first should also have his head examined.” While I agree with his sentiments, the reason so many people do succumb to back surgery is simply because they’ve been lied to by greedy surgeons. Considering the US does four-times more back surgeries than the UK, it makes one wonder if Americans have genetically-weakened backs, or perhaps they’re being mislead by unethical MDs. You be the judge, but I think it’s the latter reason. I think what AH Maslow, PhD, once said is appropriate here: “If your only tool is a hammer, everyone looks like a nail.”
Imagine the anger from business owners who pay high rates for workers’ comp insurance, not knowing that DCs are the best solution to the epidemic of low back pain, the leading and most expensive on-the-job injury. Instead of being able to send their injured workers to chiropractors, their WC insurance companies refuse to allow DCs on these panels of physicians, thus railroading them into costly back surgeries. Don’t forget the perverse motivation of the cost-plus system that rewards insurance companies with higher premium rates, the true motivation behind their discrimination.
They also seem unaware of a recent study of 1,000 WC lumbar surgeries. Berger reported this study in Surgical Neurology 54(2) in August 2000. It was done due to the poor results that are so often reported following operation of the lumbar spine in Workman’s Compensation cases. One thousand patients, 600 of who had one lumbar spine surgery and 400 with multiple surgeries were followed post-surgically for 51 and 38 months, respectively. 71% of single-operated and 95% of multiple-operated patients did not return to work more than 4 years after the surgery, even though no neurological deficits that precluded employment were present.
Yet if these surgical victims had requested chiropractic care before their surgery, their medical gatekeeper probably would have denied them care due to bias and greed. Perhaps this explains why in 1999 according to the State Board of Workers’ Comp here in Georgia, the low back injury cases cost the state over $28 million dollars and, of these 2,959 cases, chiropractors took care of only 81 for a total of $79,760 in providers’ fees. Obviously the bulk of these cases and expenses rested with the MDs and PTs who were paid nearly $6.5 million in provider fees. Despite these poor results, injured workers still have to jump through hoops in order to get to the best form of care for their injured spines—chiropractic care.
So, how about a movie about the suppression of the truth about chiropractic care in the United States by the medical cartel, denying patients their freedom of choice and informed consent to know of alternatives, and their right to be treated by the best form of spinal care according to their own wishes and not the wishes of their surgeons? How about showcasing doctors of chiropractic has civil libertarians fighting for Americans’ right to health care equality, overcoming illegal antitrust acts by the AMA, propaganda by the elite media, and institutional boycott by the government? Aren’t these themes capable of a good drama? Sounds like classic Shakespearean to me—“To Bleed, or Not to Bleed, that is the Question!”
Moreover, how about showing how people’s lives and bodies are unalterably changed by the greed and junk science of the medical and insurance industry profiting by their deception and exploitation of the public? If cancer caused by chromium poisoning is worth over $300 million to a few hundred victims, what is permanent disability worth to the thousands of failed back surgery victims?
I recall a young male patient of mine in his early 30s who had 6 back surgeries, including metal screws and plates implanted in his back, and he was totally disabled and still in constant severe back pain before he came to see me as the proverbial last resort. I found was his back pain wasn’t due to any ruptured discs as the surgeons led him to believe, but it was due to his sacroiliac joint dysfunction, which doesn’t even have a disc.
After a few adjustments, his pain was gone, but not before the state of Georgia workers’ comp had spent over $1.3 million on his case, and he is still permanently disabled. His life is unalterably changed—his wife left him, he became addicted to pain pills, lost his self-esteem, and all he ever needed was chiropractic care. He is an example of a victim of this system that doesn’t care as long as they make their money.
If these aren’t strong enough themes to warrant an interest by Hollywood, we could always throw in a little sex to heighten their interest! Especially if the chiropractor looked like Julia Roberts or even the real Erin Brockovich! Yeah, now that’s the ticket!
Somehow we need to get this message to the American public that they’re being sold a bill of goods about the cause and correction of this epidemic of back pain. We know it, the researchers know it, and I daresay even the medical doctors know it’s true. Now if only the media understood this sham, we could see a huge shift in public awareness overnight.
As the researchers have proven, and what we need the media to get across to the public is the fact that “you don’t slip discs, but you do slip joints!” Considering there are 137 spinal joints, it’s easy enough to understand why manipulation of these joints works so well! The sooner the public realizes the medical myth about “slipped discs and pulled muscles” as the main explanations for back pain and the dire consequences of being a victim of this sham, the sooner this epidemic will be helped with proper spinal care. The facts are clear: spinal manipulation is in, and back surgeries are out, but the system still profits too much to let the truth be known. And that’s the rub!
Besides, people don’t know how good they can feel until they’ve been adjusted! All we need is a PR campaign built on that premise, and we’d have to hold back the crowds! To me, folks who’ve never had their spines adjusted must suffer like those who’ve never been to a dentist—just imagine the epidemic of toothaches, gum disease and yucky smiles if it weren’t for dentistry and toothpaste. If we could accomplish the same in regards to preventing back attacks and NMS disorders with chiropractic care and spinal exercises, we might achieve our rightful place in the minds of Americans as their primary providers for the epidemic of back, neck and headaches conditions, and to just feel good! Yeah baby, now that’s the real deal!