Dr. Phil Maffetone
During our recent Music & Wellness Tour, Coralee and I taught a manual biofeedback seminar. This method helps evaluate and treat brain and body dysfunction, including muscle imbalance, the most common cause of physical impairments. Afterwards, a number of participants—doctors, students and some untrained individuals who also attended—commented that the technique seemed so simple. What some people really meant was it seemed too simple to be a powerfully effective therapeutic tool. But the fact is most people with physical injuries, from those with mild to severe symptoms, have simple causes with equally simple therapies needed to remedy their problems. A smaller group of individuals, perhaps 10 to 20 percent of patients, might be considered “difficult,” meaning they require more extensive evaluations to determine what therapies would best match their particular needs.
Many years ago, I recall seeing a patient in my clinic named Bob. Sitting in the examination room, it was getting painful for me to continue my consultation with him. Hearing that his knee pain, which began innocently four years earlier, was resistant to more than a dozen therapies, was not an unusual history. High tech evaluations, including CAT scans, MRI and extensive neurological tests, revealed nothing. Opinions about the knee problem, which prevented Bob from exercising most days and was always more than nagging even at rest, varied widely. With no clear cause found from assessment procedures, many treatments were nonetheless incurred. It was no surprise they were all unsuccessful. After a cortisone shot accomplished little to no change in pain, two different surgeons recommended more radical care, which Bob turned down.
While Bob is not his true name, this very real patient is an example of how overcomplicated healthcare had become. Today, it’s gotten even worse.
As an emotion, pain should provide an important piece of information in the overall assessment process. But it should not instigate panic in health care professionals, jumping to the conclusion that a serious problem must exist and therefore, more extensive and expensive high tech evaluations. Or, perhaps, my assessment of the healthcare system is too complex—maybe the problem is simply that hospitals, clinics and other healthcare businesses are just that, and primarily in it for the money.
Fortunately, Bob’s case was relatively simple. During our first meeting, with the use of a hands-on form of biofeedback, treatment of a simple imbalance in his calf muscles eliminated about 80 percent of his knee pain. This problem would not have been revealed with high tech expensive evaluations, but rather, through a basic consultation and physical examination. After two more visits, Bob was back to regular aerobic workouts with no pain.
In the nearly 40 years of studying assessment and therapeutic methods, both conservative and radical, I’ve seen literally hundreds of techniques come and go. The ones that withstand the test of time remain, but at any given point, patients and healthcare practitioners are bombarded with so-called “new” approaches. These typically become hype, with most eventually vanishing, only to be replaced by the newest “latest and greatest” methods. The vicious cycle is continuous, often making it difficult for many people to know what’s real.
But there’s an even more simple issue at hand. It’s the big picture, and one that’s the most important aspect of being healthy—lifestyle.
There are basic, common, fundamental needs that all humans posses. Healthy food and physical activity are the foundations of our very existence, and the reasons we are in control of our levels of health and fitness. By following this lifestyle, we prevent the preventable illnesses that have plagued humans for the past few generations. They include heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other chronic problems that keep killing people, often at earlier ages, and significantly reduce quality of life. While high tech medicine has helped us live longer, we’re as debilitated as ever.
While hands-on therapies and dietary supplements have a place in a healthy lifestyle, it’s a lesser one, a supportive role. But eating right and being physically active are the primary factors that help assure our immune system works well, intestinal function is good, brain power is high, muscles and bones stay balanced, and other essential bodily activities are maintained.
More importantly, the body is well equipped to fix itself. For example, whether you garden too much or train too hard, it’s not unusual to feel some little twinge in the back, shoulder or knee. In most instances, the body corrects the problem. In other cases, like Bob, the condition worsens because an unhealthy body is less able to correct itself.
A healthy body will correct it’s own problems much better than an unhealthy one. Not just physical imbalances, but chemical ones too. These include fatigue, poor circulation, high blood fats, poor sugar control and many others. How about depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional disturbances? It’s the same—the body is well equipped to prevent and correct these imbalances—especially when we’re healthy.
How simple is that? A healthy body doesn’t have chronic pain. Nor does it have significant muscle imbalance, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, or a high risk for heart disease. Nor does it have cancer or Alzheimer’s, and the many other common and uncommon conditions.
Most likely every healthcare expert would agree that the foundation of health is a great diet and proper physical activity. But that’s a difficult sell for most patients. It’s too simple, not sexy enough, unimaginative, boring, not fancy, and certainly not “new and improved.” The fact is, the human requirement for food and exercise has been unchanged for millions of years.
While Bob was grateful to be out of pain for the first time in four years, his real journey, now that crisis-care was completed, would be to eat well and train right. This would be a difficult learning experience, but Bob embraced the challenge (the process was made easier when his whole family got on board). In the end, it would not just be that his knee pain never returned, but that his health continued to improve with age, and his children learned many healthy habits.
Having seen thousands of patients over many years, one thing is clear: regardless of the specific field, healthcare has failed in part because it often skips the simple aspects of assessment and treatment thereby missing the cause of the problem. The result is that too often, only symptoms are treated and many conditions linger—and worsen—for years.
But even more important is that too many people are not as healthy as they could be. As a result, the body can’t fix enough of its own problems. By focusing on improved lifestyle—the simple act of eating and exercising well—we can all make significant changes that will help continuously move us toward optimal health and fitness.