April 16, 2012
Even though the injury happened when he was a young athlete, Dr. Richard Leone remembers how frustrating it was that the physicians couldn't eliminate the feeling he had that someone was stabbing him in the back with a knife.
"They didn't know what to do with me. They could only medicate me," he said. "I said, 'The medications are not solving my knife. I want someone to get the knife out of my back.'"
However, Leone said his pain ended once he started going to a chiropractor.
Fast forward and Leone now has been a chiropractor for 44 years. He owns Back and Joint Pain Institute in Tacoma. But even after all this time, he is still moved by that pain he felt years ago.
While he doesn't have cutting back pain anymore, Leone has seen patients with the same pain he felt. The problem is that some of these patients can't be healed by typical chiropractic methods.
But rather than just sending these people off to have expensive back surgery, which may or may not eliminate the pain, Leone decided it was time to upgrade his practice with new methods of treatment and new technology.
"The ability to help these people is a new challenge," he said. "There's a tremendous need out there. It kind of breaks my heart when I see some of these cases out there. You only have one time through this life."
The Back and Joint Pain Institute has three decompression tables and Leone plans to add two more. The office also has one MLS Laser, but Leone also plans to add more of these machines in the future.
He said this technology has helped the Back and Joint Pain Institute to reach a 90 percent success rate.
And Leone is not the only chiropractor that has decided to invest in new technology.
"A lot of practices, like mine, are looking toward as much help from technology as they can get because we want to be efficient," said Robert Hayden, spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association and owner of a private practice in Georgia. "We want to get people healthy as fast as we can."
Hayden said that while there are some chiropractors who may have resisted technology, the threat of health care reforms and Medicare requirements have moved things forward.
"That really forced a lot of practices to embrace technology that they really were not comfortable using before," he said.
When doctor Leone started practicing, surgery was the typical method prescribed for fixing a herniated disk.
But now, Leone and other chiropractors, have been able to use decompression tables to move disks back to their normal positions between two vertebrae.
Spinal decompression therapy is able to slowly release pressure inside a disk and create suction to pull the disk back into place.
While it's not necessarily an easy process, Leone said patients benefit from the treatment because it doesn't require any downtime — and it doesn't pose the health risks that come with any surgery.
But perhaps Leon's biggest argument for decompression is that it's improving his patient's health. He said there are many cases in which surgery doesn't address the real problem.
"That's not going to help," he said about trying to find quick fixes through surgery. "That's like, if you have a rock in (your) shoe every day and you take ibuprofen to not feel the pain. When that wears off, you will still have the rock in the shoe."
Hayden said he originally invested in a decompression table to help treat his own spinal stenosis. But he soon found success treating patients.
"Decompression is not a new concept, but the decompression tables have really taken off in the last 10 to 15 years," he said. "That technology has advanced."
The other form of technology Leone and other chiropractors are investing in is laser therapy, particularly the MLS laser.
"The use of (cold lasers) I think is going to proliferate," Hayden said. "That's cutting edge technology a lot of us are using."
Laser therapy is typically used when injured areas often become tight and spasm. Leone said many doctors have worked to find a way to release that spasm.
MLS laser therapy features different wavelengths and different emission modalities, which make it a more effective laser for stimulating parts of the body that have tightened and are spasming.
"Your body heals itself," Leone said. "The only thing doctors do is help your body heal."
Laser therapy also is a useful tool for patients who can't undergo decompression therapy, including those who have had back surgery.
Hayden said there are a several technologies available to chiropractors that weren't on the market just a few years ago, including new forms of electric therapy, digital X-ray machines — and even a device that can take an X-ray of a finger and from that calculate the bone density in the person's spine.
With technology advancing so quickly, both Hayden and Leone have their sites set on devices that will hit the market during the next few years.
"Some of this is driven by a desire and a need to keep patients happy," Hayden said.
One of the problems facing chiropractors is the stereotype many people have about chiropractors' limitations.
"Chiropractors have been affected by the explosion of technology like every other business has been," Hayden said. "People still have an image of a chiropractor adjusting a spine and extremity by hand, which we still do. But I think they are totally unaware of the adjunct therapies we use and how we do them."
This is not to say every doctor needs every device on the market. Rather, Hayden believes it depends on the chiropractor's practice and patients.
Hayden said that when he was starting out, he needed to distinguish himself from the rest of the chiropractors in his area. So, he began investing in particular equipment.
"That helped to define my practice, not only to separate it from other practices in my area that weren't using that technique, but it also defines the patients I will see," Hayden said. "I'm saying to myself, from a business standpoint, I need to toot my own horn that we have these technologies and treatment modalities."
The problem for Leone is that he doesn't have time to meet with medical doctors to tell them about the treatment methods which are available at his institute. But because education is key, Leone decided to hire a new employee to specifically meet with other doctors.
Leone also hosts two open houses a month to make the general public aware that there are more options than the traditional chiropractic methods.
However, Hayden said it's important that when chiropractors are investing in and using new technology, they don't get caught up in the "quick fix" mentality.
"We live in a fast paced society where there is kind of an aspirin mentality," Hayden said. "People want to take an aspirin and have it go away. Sometimes these things take time."