None of us like the idea of functioning below our potential. But most of us will not seek medical help because we get winded climbing two flights of stairs, or because our necks and shoulders feel tense at the end of the day, or because we don’t feel refreshed when we wake up each morning. We tell ourselves once the Holidays pass we will stop eating all the sweets, or once the kids get back to school we’ll get a healthier routine again, or this will be the summer that we’ll get into great shape. But the more we put off addressing signs of diminished function and well-being, the more likely we are to form habits out of unhealthy behaviors, and bad habits have the further effect of disinclining us toward taking action, creating a vicious circle of bad habits, inactivity, and down-spiraling health. Over time we move in the wrong direction along the Continuum.
Then one day we are bent over, hauling wet clothes out of the washing machine, as we have done hundreds of times before, when suddenly we feel a shock of pain shoot through our lower back, causing our knees to buckle. Or we present for our annual physical and are told that the steady weight gain we’ve been warned about over the last 2 or 3 years has caused our blood pressure or our blood sugar levels to go too high. We hear words like hypertension or diabetes mentioned and we become frightened, leaving the doctor’s office confused and anxious. What is happening is the problem facing the majority of Americans over the age of 35. Our bodies are functioning at progressively lower levels: our muscles have become weakened, our joints stiff, our circulation and immune systems sluggish, our sugar regulating systems out of balance. Inflammation caused by the extra fat we have been ignoring on our bellies is ravaging our body systems at the cellular level. And lower function has finally begun to give way to injury or disease. Our level of health has migrated (gradually, dangerously) to the sick end of the Continuum.
By the time a person is sick (obese, diabetic, hypertensive, etc.) he or she has likely been suffering a downslide along the Health Continuum into lower and lower levels of function and health for years. People who have become habituated to a low level of function have a much harder time addressing the broad issue of their overall health because bad habits shape our lifestyles and are therefore very hard to break. In order to move toward the healthy end of the spectrum, consistent effort over time must be made, disrupting not only patterns of behavior but people’s lifestyles. Because of this, doctors find that it is easier and sometimes wiser from a business perspective to simply treat the injury or disease at hand. A chiropractor, for example, meeting with a patient who strained her back lifting clothes out of the washing machine, may find it easier to treat the back strain, make the pain go away, and attribute the problem to “getting older,” rather than attempt to take on the underlying issues of de-conditioning, obesity, poor diet, etc. The patient leaves after a few visits feeling better, the back mostly returned to its ‘normal’ state of low grade stiffness and occasional discomfort but no longer in pain. She has not been taken to task for having acquired some bad eating habits, putting on weight, or not exercising. The doctor can expect to see her again in 3-6 months for the next episode of pain which will require a couple of more weeks of treatment. Eventually, she will become a ‘chiropractic patient,’ someone who comes in for monthly or even weekly treatments with which she is better able to manage her bad back.