I chose the intersection of epidemiology and anthropology because it directly pertains to my future career as a chiropractor. Chiropractic is still a health-based profession similar to that of traditional doctors, although chiropractors are inherently different in how they go about treating their patients which makes them polar opposites of traditional medical doctors. Since chiropractic is inherently different and not as well-known to the average layperson, it carries with it its own subculture in America that anthropologists would find quite interesting. The field of Chiropractic operates under the philosophy that the majority of health issues any individual may be experiencing is a result of a dysfunction in a patient’s body’s self-aware, self-healing, and self-regulating mechanisms. The root cause of this dysfunction is a miscommunication between the body’s central nervous system and the rest of the body. This miscommunication is caused by what is called a subluxation: a vertebra that has lost its position relative to the vertebra both above and below it, which consequent puts compression on a spinal nerves immediately as they exits the holes in the spinal colum and causes neurological interference. As we are biologically inclined students, we know that those nerves carry signals to the brain called afferents (such as S.O.S signals from other tissues or organs for help) and they carry signals from the brain down to the effector organs called efferents (this is the self-healing reply that the Brain sent back down the spinal cord to help alleviate the original S.O.S. signal). If a bone is subluxated and a spinal nerve is compressed, then either the S.O.S. signal is not being sent to the brain and the suffering organ continues to suffer or the signals from the brain back down the spinal cord to the proper effector organs to assist the original suffering tissue will be lost. In any event, if an individual is subluxated then everything from the immune, gastrointestinal, respiratory and endocrine systems to the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, urinary, integumentary and reproductive systems can also suffer. You’ll have noticed that there isn’t a single system in the body that is not monitored, regulated and influenced by the central nervous system. It is this principle that chiropractors operate under and is why they can treat more than just neck and back pain.
This medical subculture is a very simplistic yet powerful approach to health and it centers all of its practices on this specific epidemiology. There are separate practices, techniques, systems of analysis for the spine and central nervous system individually and the whole of the world knows very little about it. This is why when viewed from an anthropological epistemology, it is a separate culture entirely.
With regards to working with a healthcare professional such as a chiropractor, holding an anthropological view point is crucial. The goal of a chiropractor is to adjust/fix vertebral subluxations, take compression off of the spinal nerve, open up communication between the central nervous system and allow the body to utilize its own self-healing abilities take over from there. After a vertebral subluxation has been properly adjusted, the chiropractor goes about educating the patient on ways to prevent the vertebra from subluxating once more as it has proven to be a weak point in that person’s body. This patient education might include topics such as exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back to properly hold the spine in alignment, turning from processed foods to more organic fruits and vegetables, promoting proper posture when standing or sitting, etc.
Something that really amazed me was the Tribal Jazzman video, in which the narrator describes how he had gone out of his way to help the family he was staying with in the squatter settlement. They had described their want for a shower and some days later the narrator had gone and built a shower out of two-by-fours for a family living in a home held together by cardboard and other structurally unsound materials. To his amazement, when he returned he found his shower disassembled and the wood had been put toward other uses in the home. It is at this point the narrator makes an important point about what he thought the family needed as opposed to what the family truly needed.
Patient treatment for a Chiropractor is no different. If I’m working for a doctor that is treating a father of a family of 5 who is a bus driver, then it is important to take into consideration that the patient might not be able to get into a gym to do the proper exercises. If the patient is a garbage man, then the chiropractor has to be understanding in that unilateral dominance of strength will occur when lifting the garbage cans into the truck and so the patient might not heal as fast. Even a single mother working 3 jobs coming in to get her child treated may only be able to pay for the treatment, but the purchase of organic foods might be out of the question. In any of these cases, it is crucial for a healthcare professional to not impose their ideals or rules onto patients but to understand that culturally the patient may be restricted from taking the necessary steps to ensure their health.
“Medical Antrhopology” –Tribal Jazzman Scholar, Episode #26,” YouTube video, 7:55, posted by “TribalJazzman,” Feb. 18, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjDPwF9uV58.