I’m not sure when it started, but years ago health care providers started making health education materials available to their patients. My first memory of seeing health education materials was in our family doctor’s office when I was a kid. He had a giant wall of colorful brochures discussing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
At the time, I didn’t know what they were for, but I was always drawn to them because of the bright colors. I used to take out the ones I liked and play with them. That was back before everyone had a smartphone to keep them busy. (Back in the dark ages when no one had any fun.) In hindsight, I’m sure the doctor wasn’t crazy about the fact his health education materials were being used to entertain children instead of educating his patients.
Over the years, patient education materials have come in many different forms. Audios, videos, print materials, seminars, websites, emails, and digital displays have all been used to help educate patients about their health. Different people learn in different ways, so the fact that there are so many different forms of patient education is a good thing.
But have you ever wondered what’s the point? Isn’t your doctor or therapist supposed to know what’s wrong with you? Why do you need to know how your body works? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Health is a participation sport. You can have the best doctors and therapists in the world, but if you choose not to participate in your health, your odds of living a healthy, high-functioning life are greatly reduced. (That’s putting it mildly.)
I’ll give you a simple example. If you didn’t understand the importance of brushing your teeth, or you just refused to do it, the best dentist in the world couldn’t keep your teeth from decaying. You aren’t doing your part. Obviously, the average person understands this about their teeth, but they often don’t understand this about other aspects of their health.
As a chiropractor, I dealt with this problem ALL THE TIME. In a perfect world, the average person would understand the importance of taking care of their spine just like they understand the importance of taking care of their teeth. Unfortunately, that is so far from reality. Most people have no idea how their body works. They don’t understand the role their spine plays in their health.
Getting patients to participate in their care is a constant battle for most doctors and therapists, including chiropractors. That’s why they try their best to educate their patients. An educated patient makes better choices. A patient who makes better choices gets better results. That’s really what your health care providers want. They want their patients to do the best they possibly can.
With that in mind, I thought I would shed some light on a few concepts that patients often misunderstand. This isn’t a complete list, nor am I going to go into great detail. My intention is to overview some often misunderstood concepts and to challenge you to expand your knowledge of how your body works. The end result should be that you get better results from your health care, you feel better, you function better, and you get back to doing the things you enjoy doing.
So without any further ado, 8 Things I Wish Every Patient Understood…
It Takes Participation: All health care requires participation, some more than others. If you rely on your health care provider to do everything for you, you are never going to be as healthy as you could be. In most cases, the things you do for your health are much more important than what your doctor does.
Pain Is Your Friend: I realize that no one wants to be in pain, but pain is NOT the enemy. Pain is there to help you. Pain tells you that something is wrong. Pain keeps you from hurting yourself worse. The real problem is whatever is causing the pain, not the pain itself. That’s why it’s not usually a good idea to only treat your pain without addressing what’s causing the pain.
Pain Shows Up Late: One of the things you will hear health care providers say is, “Pain is the last one to show up and the first one to leave.” Many people make the mistake of thinking that pain is at the beginning of their health problem, but that’s not the case. Pain almost always shows up late. There are many major health problems that can exist in the body long before pain arrives. (i.e. cancer, arthritis, heart disease) Even in the case of trauma, pain shows up after damage has occurred, not before.
Pain Isn’t Everywhere: You may be shocked to know that much of your body can’t feel pain. In fact, your brain does not have a single pain-sensing fiber in it. That’s why brain surgeons can do brain surgery on a patient while they are wide awake! Yes, the skin and bone around your brain can feel pain, but the brain itself can’t. The fact that pain isn’t everywhere, is one of the reasons why the presence or absence of pain by itself is not an indicator of good health.
Healing Takes Time: We live in a microwave world. Everyone wants everything NOW, even when it comes to our health. I can’t tell you how many patients came into my office telling me about a problem that they have dealt with for years, and how they were hoping to feel better THAT DAY, after their first visit. That’s not how the body works. Healing takes time. Even if you take a medicine or get a treatment that helps you feel better, the body doesn’t heal instantly. Please be patient.
It’s All Connected: There is a kid’s song that talks about how all the different bones in the body are connected. The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, remember? Well, there’s a lot more truth to that than most people realize.
Most of the bone and joints of your body are what’s called, “weight-bearing.” Starting with your feet all the way up to your head, the bones are stacked on top of each other. Because of this, you can’t affect one without affecting the others. In a practical sense, this means that a person could have feet problems that are causing their back pain. Someone could have a neck issue that is causing their hip to hurt. It’s all connected. The muscles affect the bones. The bones affect the muscles. The ligaments affect the bones, and the list goes on and on.
Because your body is weight-bearing, many chiropractors will look at more parts of the body than just the area of pain. That’s why many chiropractors will encourage patients to be posture conscious. That’s why they often recommend corrective stretches and exercises in conjunction with spinal adjustments. It’s all connected.
Risk & Reward: Everything you do in life has a potential risk and a potential reward. There is an upside and a downside. Health care is no different. Every medicine you take has both a possible upside and a possible downside. Every surgery you have has both good and bad things associated with it. Even exercise which is dominantly positive has some potential negative sides.
Ideally, when you decide to do something, the potential reward should outweigh the risk. Unfortunately, I have seen that many people don’t make health care decisions that way. They often don’t look at both sides. They just focus on the side that aligns with what they want to do anyway.
If they want to take a particular medication, they emphasize the benefits and downplay the potential side-effects. If they don’t want to go to the chiropractor, they magnify the potential downside and minimize the potential upside. Many times, people look for information that reinforces what they are already thinking, They are far too willing to do something high-risk that they are familiar with vs trying something low-risk that they are not.
Patients who have a better understanding of risk & reward are more likely to start with conservative forms of health care before trying treatments with more risk. Patients who take a more conservative to a less conservative approach to health care reduce their risk of having a significant negative side-effect from their healthcare.
Your Body Heals Itself: If you cut yourself and it doesn’t heal, something is really wrong. If you get the flu and your body never fights it off, that’s a major problem. If you injure yourself and you never recover, something is up. That’s because the human body is designed to heal itself. That’s one of its primary jobs.
In fact, all health care relies on the fact that your body heals itself. The best doctors, therapists, medications, surgeries, adjustments, and treatments in the world are worthless if your body doesn’t participate in the healing process. Sure, there are times when medications, surgeries, and treatments are necessary to aid in the healing process, but if your body doesn’t do its part, none of that other stuff matters.
Ultimately, your body is your greatest health asset. Your activity level, sleep habits, stress level, treatment choices, and everything you choose to put in your body are either helping your body’s ability to function well and heal or they are hurting it. When people start to understand their body’s ability to heal and the significant role their lifestyle choices play in the process, they generally start making better health choices. That’s a good thing.
Final Thoughts: Your body is amazing! It’s your greatest health asset, and it’s capable of more than you probably think. I want to challenge you to learn more about how your body works and to be proactive with your health care. The better you understand how your body works, the more equipped you will be to make good health choices. When you consistently make good health choices you get to feel better, function better, and maximize what your body has to offer. You won’t regret it.