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Exploring the field of Chiropractic Medicine

Dr. DerHartonian at her office in Glendale, California.
Dr. DerHartonian at her office in Glendale, California.

When considering professions in the medical field, it’s easy to lean towards the well-known branches of medicine: general surgery, cardiology, pharmacy, etc. Even as I searched for an internship this summer, my main intention was to find an experienced surgeon or pharmacist to work with. As I expanded my search, however, I looked into chiropractic, a field I had never been exposed to before. Interested in learning more, I started  a mentorship with Dr. DerHartonian, an excellent chiropractor who has been running a private clinic in Glendale, California for many years.

Throughout the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. DerHartonian and helping out in her office. I gained invaluable experience in basic patient care and learned the importance of patient education. I also discovered quite a bit about the field of chiropractic medicine and physical therapy. Most importantly, working in a chiropractic clinic helped me realize just how important it is to maintain proper posture and sit with a straight back! (The doctor made sure to remind me of this, every five minutes or so.)

Before working with Dr. DerHartonian, I knew little to nothing about what a chiropractor actually does. The only knowledge I had on the profession was that it involved treating back problems. But in reality, chiropractors do a lot more: they help with pain in nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These kinds of health issues can arise from a wide variety of causes.

A majority of the patients that come to Dr. DerHartonian for therapy face shoulder, neck and back problems, usually due to accidents or bad slips and falls. On average, these patients come two or three times a week for treatment. Some others, however, face constant neck or back pain and tension (as a result of unnatural curvature and pressure of the nerves associated with the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae). Problems of this sort derive from long-term pressure on nerves due to posture problems, unhealthy sleeping tendencies, or even unevenly-distributed weight during pregnancy. On my very first day, Dr. DerHartonian told me that this problem is growing rapidly, and she attributed the increase to the modern American lifestyle.  

In a time dominated by all sorts of technology, it isn’t surprising that a large majority of the population has become accustomed to inactive lifestyles. Many adults spend hours at work sitting in front of computer screens, only to come home and relax by watching television or lying down (or both). Nowadays, even kids and teenagers spend all day staring at phones, tablets, and television screens. But how is this related to chiropractic?  

When sitting for extended periods of time, constant downward pressure on the human spine inflicts a lot of internal damage, and the effect is emphasized for people who slouch or lean back (or in general, those who have bad posture). As a result, serious back problems are becoming more common, and will probably continue to develop in America’s population.  

However, through manipulation and physical therapy, chiropractors help relieve patients of  any pain or physical pressure. I had the opportunity to observe Dr. DerHartonian utilize “electric muscle stimulation,” a technique used to relax muscles and block pain using electric impulses. Dr. DerHartonian also employs a wide array of other kinds of therapy: ultrasound diathermy, in which waves of high frequency generate heat that relax the muscles that they come in contact with; hydrotherapy and cryotherapy, which consist of external heating or cooling of any painful regions; infrared therapy, in which all kinds of internal pains are treated with infrared light emitted through several pads; traction, in which simple force is used to stretch or compress discs in order to relieve pressure on the nerves; chiropractic manipulation, during which the doctor manually applies a controlled force on any restricted joints; neuropathy, a treatment utilized to restore lost sensation in the arms or legs, and even more!

The building where Dr. DerHartonian runs her clinic.

To be honest, I made my fair share of mistakes while working with Dr. DerHartonian. Whether it be stapling the wrong forms together, misplacing a paper or two, or accidentally calling two new patients mother and daughter when they were actually close friends (which was both embarrassing and funny), I realized just how much importance is placed on organization and accuracy, regarding both papers and time, in a doctor’s office. Regardless of the blunders, I learned more than I could have ever imagined.

Dr. DerHartonian truly was an incredible teacher. Primarily, the doctor showed me how the clinic was managed. With the help of the doctor’s daughter, Natalie D., who has been helping out her mother since she was a kid, I mastered the ins and outs of the office. Occasionally, I would create new patient files or type up documents. I cleaned the therapy rooms and prepared various tools for Dr. DerHartonian to use. I was even lucky enough to interact with the patients by answering phone calls, setting up appointments, taking patient histories, and measuring blood pressure – all thanks to Dr. DerHartonian’s thorough instruction and training. But along with the routine tasks, she took advantage of any time she had in between appointments to give me a brief anatomy lesson or explain how certain medical devices functioned.

However, I wasn’t the only one who the doctor attempted to teach; one of Dr. DerHartonian’s main priorities was educating her patients and explaining exactly what she was doing and why. She told me, “Making sure that my patients know what’s going on is my professional philosophy. Physical therapy is very time consuming, so it’s important that the patients know exactly what they are there for, so that they can properly care for their bodies.”  

The kinds of health issues addressed by chiropractors can be quite intrusive to everyday life. Having constant pain due to nerve pressure is no joke, as such a condition can dramatically alter one’s quality of life. And after many weeks of keenly watching Dr. DerHartonian as she worked with patients facing all sorts of pain problems, I have come to realize just how underestimated the field of chiropractic is. Joint, muscle, nerve, or bone pain can seriously intensify the difficulty of everyday tasks. Therefore, it is immensely important to properly care for your bones, muscles, and nerves by staying active, having proper posture, and getting treatment by a chiropractor if necessary.  

So, as Dr. DerHartonian always reminded me, make sure to take care of your body, and always “keep your back straight!”

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