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Dynamic Chiropractic – October 10, 1990, Vol. 08, Issue 21

Motion Palpation in Action

By Kenneth R. Stillwell, DC

I was very flattered when I was asked to kick off this new column in "DC" about Motion Palpation, and I look forward to reading future articles written by other doctors about their successes.

Though I am no longer teaching motion palpation, I consider those five years that I did teach one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. During those days I was asked many times what prompted me to get into motion palpation and why I considered it such a great diagnostic tool.

It was my father, who has been a chiropractor for over forty years, who first recommended that I start learning motion palpation. During that first weekend we listened to Dr. Faye explain the rationale behind motion palpation: how to detect a primary fixation as opposed to a secondary restriction. He explained how necessary it was to adjust in the area that was causing the problem, rather than the area of pain or simply because there was a positive orthopedic sign. We learned why a headache could come from the sacroiliac area or why low back pain could be caused by a problem at the atlas occiput junction. Even though chiropractors for years have been stating that we look for the cause of disease, rather than at the disease itself, he related why we get stumped so often and then blame it on the 80-10-10 rationale. I'm not saying that we are one hundred percent perfect even yet, but in my father's words, "since learning motion palpation our results have improved dramatically."

Throughout our lives personal experience has seemed to be one of the great motivators. When I had a stiff neck I went to a local chiropractor who adjusted my neck and upper thoracic area and told me how tight and taut my muscles were. He also told me that if the problem persisted to have him check it again that evening, which I did. Over the course of the next four days I was treated twice daily and the problem kept getting worse. Finally, to the point that my neck was rigid and my right arm was so useless that I couldn't even feed myself, I had my wife drive me to the office of Dr. Ryan in Seattle and he found that the problem was in the thoracolumbar junction, not the neck or the upper back. Within two days the problem had resolved.

Another case that I consider very dramatic was of a Montana chiropractor who, after 20 years had given up chiropractic and sold the practice due to low back pain so severe that he could only hobble 20 to 30 feet at a time. He had been to four or five other chiropractors in his area, neurologists, and orthopedists -- all without success. He heard that a chiropractor in Washington was using a different technique and came to visit him to see if he could be helped. That chiropractor and I worked together for about four days in a row to get the Montana doctor's spine mobile again. Even though we got some diminuation of pain symptoms, the problem persisted. On the next visit we determined that although there was considerable tension, tightness, swelling, positive orthopedic signs, and leg length differential, that the spine itself was moving freely and that the problem must be coming from a different area. That same day we adjusted his foot and in particular, around the cuboid bone. At that point he began to respond and within a very short period of time, was able to walk better without pain, and get on with his life. I saw that doctor approximately one year ago and he has since moved to Washington and started another practice. The experience of helping another chiropractor to be able to stay in practice so that he can continue to help others through chiropractic, I consider a great privilege.

But you see, the process was not a hit or miss proposition. It was a detailed process of elimination to help detect the subtle, mechanical dysfunctions that had initiated the problem. No machines were relied upon because machines are fallible, and they can't really make up for sound judgement. A chiropractor's hands are the greatest asset he has, for he can detect the subleties in not only the joint structures of the body, but in the surrounding soft tissues.

I was also asked many times how long does it take to acquire a good working knowledge of motion palpation. Quite honestly, if you work really hard you'll start to appreciate it with some confidence in about a year and a half. After your first motion palpation course you'll be able to take home some of the tricks of the trade and a good working knowledge of specific areas that interest you.

I fully realize that every one of us chiropractors has many stories of personal successes no matter what technique we use. However, I now have a better appreciation of why one person with a headache would respond well while the next patient with identical symptoms did not. Suboccipital pain and headaches can be caused from the atlas occiput area or T-1 through T-3, or from the thoracolumbar junction or sacroiliac. Low back pain can be caused from a problem in the upper cervical region, or the sacroiliac, or the hip or the symphysis pubis.

Your particular success in helping that patient will be in correctly identifying which one of those areas is involved and in knowing how to correct it. At this point I must thank all the chiropractors and students that took the classes that I taught. Though I was teaching in my particular area of expertise, I learned tremendously from all of you as you helped to broaden my perception of how chiropractic works. Even though I was raised in a chiropractic family, and at age 42 have never yet had a shot, a pill, or an asprin, my faith and knowledge, and philosophy of chiropractic is stronger than it has ever been.

We've all seen people who have had too much to drink and watched them stagger and slur their speech, fall down and get belligerent, vicious, or moody. When the liquor is eliminated these symptoms disappear. Alcohol clouds the nerve system so that the body is not able to react in a rational manner. We've all seen patients in our practice without the use of alcohol demonstrate similar symptoms and frequently a correct adjustment allows the nerve system against to transmit properly again so that the body can react in a rational manner. Hurray for chiropractic!

Thanks to motion palpation to correctly detect where the subluxation complex exists. Now let's all continue our learning and look forward to future article of success in this column. Thanks to all.


Kenneth R. Stillwell, D.C.
Portland, Oregon

Editor's note:

As Dr. Stillwell has indicated in the article above, this is our first "Motion Palpation" column. This is going to be a very special kind of column because the space in it belongs to all motion palpation doctors. We invite doctors everywhere to share special case histories utilizing their motion palpation diagnostic skills and the outcomes. We invite doctors to share their experience of gaining greater skill and confidence as they became more and more proficient at motion palpation and how it affected their patients and ultimately, their practice.

We want to hear about motion palpation, and we want to hear it from you. It's your column.

Dynamic Chiropractic welcomes any DC who wishes to share his motion palpation story to do so by submitting a type-written, double-spaced two page article, along with a color photo and curriculum vitae to:

Dynamic Chiropractic
Motion Palpation Column
P.O. Box 6100
Huntington Beach, California 92646

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