Heart-Attack or Rib Dysfunction?

heart attack, rib dysfunction, is my rib out

This blog article is a personal story, and thus a little long.  A couple months ago I was struck with severe pain in the right side of my chest.  There was no trauma or single incident that caused the pain.  It gradually began one day and became increasingly severe over the next couple of days.  Like many of my patients, the only thing that I could recall as potentially being the cause was some hard workouts the week prior to the pain beginning.  This not only caused severe chest pain, but it also began to cause other symptoms that most people would not correlate to a musculoskeletal injury.  I began to have acid reflux, heartburn, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.  Sleep became difficult and work became touch-and-go with pain increasing throughout each work day.  Luckily, because of my training and profession I was about 90% sure of the diagnosis.  However, there was a small part of me that gave some thought to the potential of the pain stemming from the heart.  While my pain was on the right side, all of the other symptoms made me question my diagnosis.  Had the pain been on the left side as well then I would have had more of a questions in my mind and the heart consideration would have been stronger.  However, I was pretty confident that my pain was due to a rib dysfunction on the front of my chest.  So, like a good chiropractor, I made an appointment with my chiropractor and mentor.  Although, because of a family history of heart conditions I also made an appointment with a trusted medical doctor for the following day, should the rib adjustment not prove to be the root of the pain and other symptoms. 

One visit to my chiropractor (some ART and adjustments to the ribs and spine) and the pain was 80% decreased and was isolated to just chest pain, instead of being accompanied by reflux, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.  More treatments and self-care were still needed to fully recover, but luckily my diagnosis was correct and the visit to my medical doctor was not necessary.

To this day, I still marvel at the fact that anyone else in this situation who was not a chiropractor would have probably went immediately to their medical doctor.  And this would have been the right decision as it is never wise to procrastinate on medical care if heart complications are suspected.  However, the unfortunate thing is that they would have went through extensive (and expensive) testing only to find that ‘everything looks good’.  Blood tests, an EKG, an x-ray, and maybe even a stress test would show that the heart is healthy.  They would be told they were fine and sent home with some prescription meds to mask the pain.  So, thousands of dollars later the patient would not be given much direction on how to solve the real problem and would be sent home to just let time heal everything.  Unfortunately, many times ribs do not just ‘fix themselves‘ over time and pain will last until the rib is corrected with a chiropractic adjustment.

I guess the point of this article is to show that there is a place for all health professionals in healthcare.  Medical professionals are fantastic at what they do.  In severe, acute-care situations, we have the best in the world.  However, when none of the serious conditions are confirmed with medical testing, the default treatment should not just be to pull out the prescription pad.  Especially in this situation, where relief of symptoms would not occur until a chiropractor correctly fixed the rib dysfunction.  No health professional knows everything, nor should they pretend to know everything.  In the event that the cause of a patient’s pain or symptoms is unknown, it is never OK to just dismiss their symptoms and assign the best known drug to mask all symptoms.  Just as I would expect any competent chiropractor to refer a patient out of his or her office should they need medical attention, so too do I expect a medical professional to refer to a competent chiropractor, or other therapist, should the root cause of the problem not be discovered with their knowledge base.  My rib dysfunction just reinforced this concept in my mind as this particular case would have cost a patient a significant amount of money and anxiety, and resulted in nothing but a recommendation to take harmful medications.  If your doctor will not be an advocate for your overall health, please take your health into your own hands and seek out a healthcare professional who cares enough to figure out the underlying cause of your symptoms.  While medications can be very helpful in many circumstances and can definitely help modify pain, it is up to the patient to not be satisfied with that as a treatment protocol or way to fix anything.  Having a team of health professionals that you trust is imperative, not only in the medical world, but also in the world of conservative care.  After all, the vast majority of symptoms that you will encounter in your lifetime will not necessitate true medical care.