To Dr. David Shifman and his associate Alan Uretz, Ph.D -- who is trained in Chinese medicine -- chiropractic medicine is more than just adjusting someone's spine; it's a multi-faceted approach to health where prevention is the key.
"I almost think of myself as a wellness coach, rather than just a (chiropractor)," Shifman said. "Health -- especially as we get older -- is multi-faceted. It's eating well, it's exercising, it's posture, it's nutrition and it's chiropractic. We try to work with the patient in terms of prevention, which (most doctors) understand is the key to health."
Shifman said if he just treats patients for pain control, and doesn't teach patients strategies for keeping healthy, "I'm really selling that patient short. I always tell people that 'getting you out of pain is the easy part. Keeping you healthy; that's the part that really takes work.'"
Shifman said that not only does he employ traditional chiropractic techniques, he has three massage therapists on staff, as well as an acupuncturist.
But he also believes that chiropractic medicine and traditional medicine need to work hand-in-hand. He said he often refers patients to regular orthopedic specialists and neurologists, and gets regular check-ups himself.
In the past, the medical community sometimes took a dim view of chiropractic medicine, as some chiropractors offered treatments for conditions that were really beyond their ability to treat.
"I think of myself as a gatekeeper," Shifman said. "People come to me with a problem, and if I find something that's beyond my scope of practice, I refer (the patient) out."
"I believe (chiropractics) has a very important niche in the health care industry," Shifman said.
He said he limits his treatments to ones that "have been substantiated and proven to work, and I don't mean just with anecdotal evidence."
While Shifman acknowledges that chiropractic medicine can't cure cancer, "do I believe that chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage therapy would help a patient stay healthy and keep their immune system stronger while they're getting chemotherapy? Without a doubt."
But he said he believes his treatments must be "adjunct to, and not a replacement for" traditional medicine.
Shifman says the AWC is fairly conservative in its treatments, especially when it comes to Chinese medicine.
"We use (Chinese medicine) for remedies that have been proven to work," such as acute pain control, Shifman said. "Nobody really knows why acupuncture works," Shifman said. "There are a lot of theories out there, but the point is that acupuncture does work."
Uretz -- who is only at AWC one day a week -- said even though he is trained in it, he rarely, if ever, uses traditional Chinese herbal medicine.
"Many patients in this country who are seeking treatment from Chinese medicine are probably already using prescription pharmaceuticals and other supplements, and it can be a little confusing to throw Chinese herbal methods into the mix," he said.
In some cases, Uretz said there is a risk of drug interaction, so he prefers to largely stick to acupuncture and other methods such as electrical stimulation.
"Herbs in their raw form require compounding by the patient, and are unpleasant tasting to ingest, so there's little compliance for American patients for these raw herb formulas," Uretz said.
Uretz said Chinese medicine goes well with chiropractics as they are both methods that "stimulate the body, and coax it into healing or awaken the body's own healing mechanisms," and neither depend on traditional pharmaceuticals.
Uretz became interested in Chinese medicine after he took up Tai Chi Chuan (commonly known as just Tai Chi), an ancient Chinese martial art that has many health benefits.
"I recognized so many benefits in it myself that I became interested in other aspects of Chinese culture and health culture," Uretz said.
Trained at Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago and at Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Guangdong, China, Uretz is now senior instructor and internship director at MCOM.
The medical community has also criticized chiropractors because they often keep their patients coming back for continuing treatments.
"I look at it this way," Shifman said. "Once you start exercising, you don't exercise or eat well for a month and just stop."
He said that often he will give a patient a few treatments for pain, only to have them return a year later with the same pain. Often, patients come to Shifman with pain that's work-related. Shifman said once he's treated a patient for pain, he teaches them ergonomics, posture, strengthening and stretching exercises, as well as proper lifting techniques to try and keep them healthy and able to keep working.
He said his goal in treating a patient is prevention, and that there is normal "wear and tear" on the body that needs to be addressed before conditions get worse.
Shifman said he believes that people should look at it the same way they look at going to the dentist.
"You don't wait to go to the dentist until your teeth are rotting out. You get routine care to keep your teeth healthy," he said.
Shifman's chocolate lab, Reese, often accompanies him to the office. A bulletin board in his office is covered with pictures of his patient's pets. Shifman said that due to over-breeding, many dogs have specific genetic defects such as back and hip problems that can benefit from chiropractic treatments.
He said Reese has hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the tissue) and has been helped by a veterinarian who does chiropractic adjustments on animals.
So next year, Shifman will begin six months of training in Racine, Wis. to learn how to do adjustments on animals.
"I'm an animal lover ... I see how chiropractics have helped people, and I know it will help animals," Shifman said.
Unfortunately, Shifman will not be able to offer those treatments in his Grand Avenue office, as his office is simply not set up to handle animals, and there are certain licensing issues involved. Instead, he will offer those treatments out of a veterinarian's office one or two days a week.
Shifman decided to become a chiropractor in a roundabout way. In the early '80s, Shifman was in an auto accident in Florida that left him with serious back pain. After a year of traditional medical and physical therapy that was unsuccessful, a friend recommended that he turn to a chiropractor for relief.
Her chiropractor helped me a lot," Shifman said. "It took about a year, but she really did a good job on me. I wasn't happy with what I was doing, so I investigated chiropractics and decided I liked it, and I liked what it stood for," said Shifman, who was previously an optician.
That prompted him to move to Chicago and begin training at the National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, where he graduated in 1993. After working in a Chiropractic center in Oak Lawn, Shifman bought his practice in River Grove in June of 1999.
"We're well-known, liked and respected in the community, and we have a very friendly and open office," Shifman said. "We're on a first-name basis with most of our patients, and I think most people enjoy coming to us. I believe that when people are healthy and pain-free, they're happier."