Simon Stanley gets a thorough tune-up at Saigon’s American Chiropractic Clinic.
Dr Tim Gallivan closes his eyes. He’s concentrating hard as his fingertips carefully examine my spine. Occasionally he applies pressure here and there, skillfully testing the position and flexibility of each vertebra.
“I see with my hands,” he explains. “And you’ve got a fixation right there.” He’s locked on to a spot on my upper back. “Take a deep breath in,” he says. “And release.” As my body relaxes, he pushes briskly yet precisely down onto the affected area, releasing the locked joint with a wonderfully satisfying pop of escaping gas. I have to catch my breath for a moment. It’s as if a knot deep in my core has been untied, a knot I didn’t know was there until now.
“I’m going to treat the entire spine because the body works together. This is the foundation and what affects the foundation affects everything.”
I’m rolled over onto my side, one knee raised, my arms wrapped around my torso. He leans in to pop another locked joint. “You’re doing well,” he says before repeating the procedure on the opposite side. “Now let’s take care of that writer’s neck…” Deep breathe in. Crack. Wow.
While Dr Gallivan’s chiropractic adjustments worked wonders for my minor yet niggling back complaint, Dr Wade Brackenbury, the American Chiropractic Clinic’s (ACC) founder and chief practitioner, explains that managing acute and chronic back and neck pain is their speciality.
“The vast majority of our patients have one of four things wrong with them. It’s a repeating scenario.
“The most common are herniated discs and degenerative diseases or impingements in the spine. Almost everybody comes to us with bodies that have distortion or asymmetry.
“They’re generally depressed, they’re on all kinds of medicine, they’ve been in pain for a really long time and they’re not getting better.
“So we take them through a course of chiropractic care and chiropractic manipulations; these are our first line of attack. As soon as they start to respond to that we put them into a physiotherapy programme.”
Despite the name, ACC deploys a range of techniques and services, including acupuncture, laser therapy, ultrasound and computer controlled spinal decompression – they even offer lifestyle advice and personal trainers – whatever it takes to stop the pain and promote long-term health.
“We focus on curing the problem,” says Dr Brackenbury. “We don’t focus on being philosophically chiropractic. We figure out what would be the best, the shortest, the most effective and economical route to get that person better.”
Developed in the late 19th century, chiropractic medicine revolves around the manipulation of the spinal joints (although other areas of the skeleton can be treated), to release tension, improve movement and reduce pain.
“The bones get locked up,” says Dr Brackenbury. “Each spinal segment is like the link in a chain, it allows motion while allowing the spinal nerves to move through it.
“If we sit too much or we don’t exercise, certain parts of the spine will start to lock up and certain links stop moving. So those links become longer and several small segments join together and lever against the others. Then you get inflammation, pain and degeneration.”
Since opening in 2006, ACC has grown to become one of the leading specialist foot clinics in Southeast Asia, treating thousands of cases of flat feet each year. Despite affecting what Dr Brackenbury estimates to be over 50 percent of the population, it’s a problem severely under-provided for in Vietnam.
“A lot of it is environmental,” he says. “Many Vietnamese people walk around in flip flops or on hard surfaces, often in bare feet. [But] the human foot was designed to walk on changing surfaces. In the last hundred years or so, we made everything hard and flat and so that pounds the arch and eventually it flattens out.”
He goes on to explain that the condition is also linked to poor nutrition, resulting in weak or underdeveloped muscles in the base of the foot. “In Asia, it’s often due to a lack of protein in the diet.”
How can you tell if you have flat feet?
“You can just see it. When a person has a flat foot, we can see an angle; the ankle rolls inwards.
“The angle translates into rotation and this is what damages the joints. From here you can develop knee pain, then back pain and degenerative changes.”
Flat feet can eventually skew the entire skeleton, particular if the condition begins at a young age.
Children make up a large percentage of ACC’s work in this area. Their tissues and fibres are considerably more flexible and malleable than an adult’s, thus putting them at increased risk. One of the oldest and most effective treatments for kids (and adults) comes in the form of a shoe-insert, commonly known as a foot orthotic.
Produced in ACC’s own state-of-the-art foot lab using digital 3D modelling technology and computerised milling tools, these custom made footbeds can be placed inside shoes or attached to sandals. They instantly raise the arch and promote healthy development of the foot.
“We know that if we catch a kid with flat feet before puberty, and we put them in a foot orthotic and do nothing else, as soon as all of their bones begin to seal, usually between eight and 12 years [of age], the foot will start to become rigid and they’ll have a normal arch.”
Dr Brackenbury agrees the treatment is like a brace for teeth.
“About fifteen years ago, my wife’s [Chinese] nieces and nephews all had very flat feet and so I made them foot orthotics and started treating them.
“Every single one of them that we treated now has perfect feet in adulthood. But those that we couldn’t treat are already suffering with pain in their 20s and 30s.
For the team at ACC, what they’re doing is more than just business. Having studied in Korea and China before establishing a successful clinic in his home state of Idaho, Dr Brackenbury felt he had more to give.
“I realised that I had this mission to come back to Asia. Not necessarily just to come out and make it, but to actually do something where we could be useful to the people.
“I came out to Vietnam and I liked it. They definitely had a need for us – there were no chiropractors. I’ve now seen 23,000 patients, personally, in 10 years. Most chiropractors see less than 10,000 in a lifetime.”
Unfortunately, while a lack of awareness of ACC’s non-invasive style of medicine prevails throughout Vietnam’s public healthcare system, many sufferers of chronic back pain are being led to believe that expensive surgery is their only option.
“Just a couple of weeks ago we had a kid who was 15 years old,” says Dr Gallivan. “He came in to ACC shaking, because a doctor had told him that if he didn’t get surgery he’d be paralysed.
“He was crying. His mum was crying. Two days after we treated him he was doing great.
“Surgery really has its place,” adds Dr Brackenbury, “and it’s a great blessing when you need it. But for a lot of back problems it’s not a good solution.”
Throughout November and December, ACC is offering free foot scanning plus up to 50 percent discounts on foot treatments to all AsiaLIFE readers. Mention the magazine when making an appointment.