Of Crisis, Maintenance and Wellness. What’s the difference?

A few weeks back I was speaking before a group about my favorite topics, chiropractic and health. During the talk, I had an epiphany! For some time I have been advocating for our practice members to adopt a more wellness approach to their health and encouraged them to move away from the crisis approach that is so ingrained in our society by the prevalence of emergency rooms and fast acting, symptom relieving drugs.

It’s easy to differentiate between crisis care and maintenance/wellness care. Crisis care is when you “fix what is broken.” You respond to an episode that is painful, or life threatening. You wait until something happens and then you go to the doctor to address the event. Heart attacks, strokes, accidents are examples of these kinds of crises. In a chiropractor’s office crisis looks like acute low back pain, stiff neck, sciatic pain. These patients say they “slept wrong, lifted something or threw their back out.” These patients usually want some quick relief, as we all would, but they don’t really consider the benefits of longer and better management of their skeletal system. When confronted with the idea of some kind of care plan that looks like maintenance, they respond with, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately they are determining the state of their health by the absence of pain or absence of crisis.

But how do we distinguish maintenance from wellness? Again maintenance seems like it is easy to define and understand. You do some proactive things to keep yourself operating in good shape. You do a little exercise, you kind of watch what you eat and you get chiropractic adjustments to “tune you up” and to keep yourself loose. That might be maintenance in a nutshell.

To describe wellness has been more difficult. It is often interchanged with maintenance, but somehow it is different. We have said that it is pursuing behaviors that will increase our survivability. But that is a mouthful and what does it really mean? How do I relate to wellness behaviors? How can I describe it so that someone can see there is an important difference between maintenance and wellness?

This is the light bulb that went off in my head during my talk a few weeks ago. Everybody gets the idea of auto maintenance, but let me share my new word picture for this concept.

I just bought a new car. I really like this car. I pulled out the owner’s manual and I follow the recommended service schedule. I do the routine lube, oil and filter stuff. I check to make sure the tires are inflated to proper air pressure, and I occasionally wash my car and I fix things that need fixing without delay. I understand that this maintenance plan will allow me to have a few more years of service and enjoyment from this vehicle than if I just did the bare minimum and addressed the inevitable crises that come up when tires need changing and mufflers need replacing etc. Eventually though, I will need to replace the car in about 10 years. As time goes by, I become less satisfied with my car and I look forward to replacing it. This is maintenance.

In the wellness scenario, it goes something like this. I just bought a new car. I love this car. It pleases me to see it, drive it and take people around in it. It’s a quality machine, and well designed and manufactured. I read the owner’s manual, tinker with the controls and the gadgets so I become better acquainted with the operation of the car and all the systems. I follow the recommended maintenance schedule to a “T.” But I do more than this. I subscribe to automotive magazines and I learn of accessories that have been designed to enhance my driving pleasure and the performance and power and economy of my car. I find that the manufacturer has put better than average tires on this car, but there are even better tires that will smooth out the ride even more, reducing vibration and increasing mileage and increasing grip on the road surface. I make sure I have season appropriate tires on my car at all times. I change them early. I do nothing that will void my warranty. I love this car and if possible, I will care for it as if it is the last one I will ever own!

Think about your body now,and your organs. It is the last you will ever own, and while some organs can be replaced, many cannot, and usually the replacement parts are not as good as the original “genuine GM (God made) parts. It behooves us to think then in terms of more than maintenance and to apply our lifestyle behaviors toward wellness. To this end, I will try different food plans, I will vary my exercise program, mixing in cardio with strength, and adding yoga for flexibility, I will consult with a naturopath for non-drug therapies, I will consider meditation, I will get enough sleep, I will associate with positive and affirming social groups and I will make sure I am regularly adjusted by my chiropractor. I love this body and I will care for it as if it is the last one I will ever own!