Retracing – Healing – Cycles of Repair from Dis-ease to Health

RETRACING BACK to HEALTH — also know as “Cycles of Repair”
(reprinted & adapted from an article on the Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractic Society website)

* Dr. B.J. Palmer – primary developer of the Upper Cervical Specific hole-in-one (HiO) work – wrote about the following information during the early development of chiropractic as an art and science.

Dr. B.J. Palmer - chiropractor developer of upper cervical specific

You may be impressed with the different writing style in which it is presented. Keep in mind that his words are as true today as they were years ago. The laws of nature remain consistent.

“As it took time for the condition …
to change from health to a maximum degree of abnormality …
it takes time to RETRACE … BACK TO HEALTH.”
BJ Palmer

Retracing – Cycles of Repair:

What do we mean by retracing? Primarily it implies going over ground which has already been covered until the individual reaches the point from which he started.

When a patient/client is under chiropractic care (especially a precise individualized approach like upper cervical specific care), it often occurs that he exhibits symptoms that have not manifested themselves for months, or even years. His first impression is that he is becoming worse, or developing some new problem; but he is actually retracing the several stages through which his disease progressed in the making. The symptoms are not new, neither are they an indication of a return to the old problem. These “retracing symptoms” are an indication that his body is healing and returning to normal function.

The question of time is essential in the matter of RETRACING. If a disease has been in progress for a number of years, we should NOT always expect to regain the normal state within a few days. Healing is a PROCESS that takes TIME and your active PARTICIPATION.

Response & TIME Varies:

“As it took time for the condition to change from health to a maximum degree of abnormality, so it takes time to retrace from the abnormal condition back to health.”

The time consumed in the recovery does not always correspond to the time consumed in the production of the disease. As a general thing, however, it may be stated that acute diseases respond rapidly, while chronic pain cases of long standing dysfunction are commonly slower in their response.

Some abnormalities show very extensive involvement of tissues, while others show very little involvement of tissues. In any involvement of tissues, the structures themselves must retrace the various steps through which it passed in assuming its normal condition.

This is well shown by the various eruptions on the skin where tissue gradually changes and becomes abnormal, reaching its greatest degree of abnormality and then returns through the steps that it has covered in its appearance until the skin again becomes normal. This is equally true of those tissues in the body that are not visible, such as disc, ligament, tendon, joint capsule, cartilage, bone, nerve, and various types of tissue in the many organs.

What The Chiropractor Does:

The specific chiropractor is thoroughly trained to detect the abnormal positions of the vertebrae in the spine and abnormal function of the nerves in the brain stem and spinal cord. He is further trained in the precise technique of restoring the alignment & balance of these vertebrae to their normal positions. This adjustment process restores the neurological communication between the brain & body so proper function will return over time.

The question naturally arises in the mind of the client as to why the chiropractor cannot return the vertebra immediately to its normal position and thus immediately restore the tissue to a healthy state.

What actually happens when an adjustment is given? The vertebra is unlocked from its improper range of motion position and returned toward its normal position. This relieves tension and stress from the nerve system and restores the brain-to-body neurological connection. After an adjustment, the ligaments and muscles are given an opportunity to regain, in part, their normal tone, and this permits them to hold the vertebra in a more nearly normal state.

Points To Remember:

However, the spine, and the body in general, is subject to more or less strain during the activities of every day life. Stress is part of life, and it is possible that the vertebra may recede toward its old abnormal position, thereby necessitating another adjustment.

Keep in mind that tissues (ligaments, joint surfaces, tendons, etc.) may need to be rebuilt in order for the vertebra to hold its normal position.

In addition, these tissues that have perhaps for years assumed an abnormal condition, due to the gradually increasing pressure upon the nerve fibers and other structures, must be allowed time to return to normal condition through the various stages they have passed in the production of the abnormality.

This rebuilding and repair of tissues all takes time, and patience becomes a cardinal virtue, based on the knowledge that all is progressing as it should.
** See principle #6 of the 33 chiropractic principles: “There is no process that does not require time.”

Gradual Retracing:

It can thus readily be seen that there is a gradual retracing in the position of the vertebra from the time when it attains the maximum degree of misalignment, to the time when it returns again to normal.

There is also a retracing in the condition of the tissues that are supplied by the nerve fibers impinged. They have gradually attained a maximum degree of abnormality (from partial LOSS of proper communication between brain & body) and must return towards health and better function through those various stages by which they progressed in the attainment of that abnormality.

Not only is there retracing so far as the vertebrae are concerned and the tissue cells affected by the subluxation, but there is also a retracing in the symptoms exhibited by the patient.

Various Stages:

Different stages of the dis-ease give rise to different symptoms, and as the dis-order reverses itself, symptoms which were present, perhaps years ago, may again occur.

If the vertebra is being returned rapidly toward its normal position, an entire series of symptoms may develop at one time and the person consequently will believe his is getting worse.

As a matter of fact, the outlook is particularly bright at this time, and the client should realize this fact. Naturally, it he does not understand the condition, he will assume that he is becoming worse and may stop chiropractic care entirely.

It cannot be made too emphatic that this is the very time when he should continue with chiropractic care, because the results are being obtained which will do the greatest good. The cycles of repair are in full swing as evidenced by temporary discomfort of healing. Sometimes this stage of healing is called the Principle of Restoration, and we must understand that pain and symptoms are a normal part of the healing process.

Congratulations! It Must Be Retracing:

It is immaterial whether the disease is one of long standing or an acute condition. There must be retracing in the position of the vertebra AND in whatever structural or functional change has occurred.

Naturally, if this is true, there must be a retracing in the symptoms. In acute cases they may be so slight in degree that they pass unnoticed.

Finally, every chiropractic client/patient should realize the necessity for continuing with chiropractic care, even though you cannot note the progress made from day to day, or even though you believe the condition is worse. The living body has an innate intelligence within it providing the constructive energy to heal and restore structure and function.

It is essential for this period of retracing to be passed through, and do not allow any temporary discouragement to preclude the ultimate health which will be yours if you continue.
Don’t give up on the vitalistic healing capacity you have inside you!

*B.J. Palmer’s work, built on the foundation of chiropractic vitalism he received from his father D.D. Palmer (the Founder of Chiropractic), was revolutionary in its scope, profoundly simple to explain, yet physiologically accurate (and decades ahead of the science of his time), and universally useful in its application for the healthcare concerns of humanity.

**Please read my thots about Vitalism, Life, and Health in my blog: “33 principles of chiropractic summarized as 7 axioms.” It is my practical application & summary of Stephensen’s 33 Principles of Chiropractic from his “Green Book” – the 1927 Chiropractic Textbook
Dr. Jason W. Blackkettervitalistic Upper Cervical specific Chiropractor

  1. J. Scranton says:

    This is very interesting information doctor. Is the reason you have to get adjusted quite a bit initially similar to why when someone gets braces and they have to have them on their for 2 YEARS?! And then still have to have a retainer after that? Is it like the same kind of ligaments hold the spine bones in place, or out of place, like they do your teeth and you have to get adjusted more often so your spine bones go back out of place? This is pretty cool info.

    • Thanks for the question, J.
      Also, I’d like to borrow your analogy about braces on your teeth needing time to adjust and hold. Yes, the ligaments holding your teeth in place need a lot of time to strengthen and heal and get used to their new position…so do the bones in your spine! Spinal adjustments should start holding longer as time goes by and the ligaments become stronger and the bones stay set in their new alignment.
      And I’ll also suggest your spine and nerve system are infinitely more important to overall health and function than having a pretty smile.

    • Majeed says:

      I have bad back problems and now my neck won’t stay in place. I dont know what to do. My chiropractor keeps putting it in place, but within a day its out again. I hurt so bad, can you help me please?

      • Since you are not responding well, there could be several things happening:
        1. it is possible you are doing something to mess up the adjustment, so ask the doctor what you can do to help keep things in place better
        2. or your body may be healing and this takes time and patience
        3. but more than likely, you may not really be getting adjusted properly
        (sometimes a general manipulation or mobilization works well, but for many people this approach just doesn’t hold or last long)

        It is very important for you to understand that not all chiropractic techniques are equal.

        I’d suggest you find another Chiropractor who will be more specific with the adjustment.
        For example, we use specific x-ray analysis of the upper cervical spine to see several things:
        — the exact nature of the misalignment,
        — the shape of the bones and condition of the spine and discs,
        — how to adjust safely & effectively,
        — and to measure the joints themselves so each adjustment is tailor-made for the individual based on the facet angles

  2. I am glad to see that you continue to write inspiring relevant information. If anyone hasn’t read the “7 Axioms of Chiropractic” article by Dr. Blackketter yet I highly recommend it. I read it when I was in school and it opened my eyes to start thinking a different way. Taking a very interesting and unfamiliar topic like retracing and translating it into a relatable and relevant topic is great.

    “Healing is a PROCESS that takes TIME and your active PARTICIPATION.” A well-stated sentence. Active patient participation is vital to achieving health.

    • Thanks for the kind remarks, Doc.

      People often want a quick fix of all their problems (and I can’t blame them), but sometimes there is long term damage that must heal before normal function can return.

  3. Connie C. Khan says:

    This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

    • Mouna says:

      Thanks Dr. ! I agree with you; let’s keep putting the truth out there to as many people as possible; let’s be world-changers! What kind of things do you do in your practice to help people understand this concept?

  4. Easy recipes says:

    I’ve recently started a website, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time…

  5. Thanks Doc! I have enjoyed reading the information here. Retracing is a sometimes difficult concept for patients to understand, but you broke it down to an understandable level. Thank you for the work you are doing! Dr. Shelly

    • Dr. Shelly Trevens,

      Thanks for the kind words in your comment. Sometimes people (and even us Upper Cervical doctors) need to be reminded about the healing process…it takes time and patience, but can be very exciting and rewarding.

      Keep up the great work in Watertown / Boston! The people in your area are certainly fortunate to have you and your husband serving them.

  6. Chris says:

    Great post on retracing. I hope that is all I am experiencing.

    I jumped head first into the bottom of a playground structure while playing TAG with my daughter nine months ago. In the course of going to the ER and seeing three neurosurgeons I learned that I have congenital cervical stenosis in a portion of my spine, and two bulging and one herniated disc in the same location in which I am moderately narrow. All three neurosurgeons focused on this area and told me I did not need surgery right now but would most likely need three level cervical fusion in the future.

    I also learned that I had an atlantoaxial subluxation at C1-C2. All three neurosurgeons said I’d probably been like that for some time and it was not causing my main symptom, which is an off and on heaviness and weakness in my legs. They blew off that suggestion as well as the suggestion on seeing an upper cervical chiropractor.

    My symptoms have been the funny feeling in my legs, some off and on tightness in my arms and occasional hand coordination issues with my hands while typing or writing, tightness in my neck, especially on the right side, pain at the base of my skull, headaches in the back of my skull, and off and on pressure at the back of my eyes and occasional eye twitching. The leg issue though is the main issue and has bothered me all but 14 days this year (2012).

    As mentioned, the surgeons didn’t think the subluxation was causing my leg issue. After 8 months of things not getting too much better I became convinced that the subluxation was causing a lot of my symptoms. In addition, the headaches and pain in my skull was getting worse. I also started to get dizzy on several days right before seeing a UPC. I decided to give Upper Cervical a try based on the recommendation of a friend.

    I started going to one four weeks ago. Two days after the first adjustment my legs and arms tightened up so much that I thought I was becoming paralyzed. I drove to the ER but didn’t go in. After calling the UPC, they told me to come back up on day 3 to get checked out. They ended up doing another adjustment based on the checks.

    Again, I didn’t feel too good until about day 9 after the 2nd adjustment. From day 9 to day 14 I felt decent and had one really good day. During this time I had two visits to the UPC on day 7 and day 14. Both times I was told that I was holding. Day 14 to day 21 I didn’t feel good at all.

    My 4th visit was on day 21 and I checked out almost fine, but the UPC felt some tightness in my neck and did another adjustment. I’m now 5 days after the 3rd adjustment and I have felt like garbage ever since the 3rd adjustment.

    The chiropractic experience hasn’t been all roses yet. Like everyone, I was hoping for some immediate relief in my legs, like in some of the testimonials, but I have actually felt worse overall on most of the days since I started. I’m hoping that it is just retracing.

    As for my symptoms, the pain, tension, and headaches at the base of my skull have all been gone for the most part since the first adjustment. They still occur off and on. My arm coordination and weakness issues have been worse. Whereas they used to only occur occasionally, they now occur everyday. I have also had eye issues and dizziness everyday. They weren’t much of an issue before but have been a big issue since. I get extremely dizzy at times and almost have constant pressure at the back of my eyes. I have also had cold sores like crazy, sometimes 4 or 5 at a time, since that first adjustment. I do think however, that my leg issues have gotten a little better. It almost feels like I am relearning how to walk at times, but I think overall my legs are slightly better. Does all of this sound like retracing?

    My wife is very skeptical due to my lower cervical issues and does not like the fact that I am going at all. Thanks for hearing me out. Sorry for the long comment. I plan to give it a try for 3-6 months. Hope to see some improvement by then.

    • Chris,

      The short answer is, “Yes, all those things you are experiencing could very well be retracing or cycles of repair.”

      I’m sorry you’ve been having such a rough time lately, but it sounds like you are absolutely in the right place!! Seeing an Upper Cervical specific Doctor of Chiropractic is not magic, nor is it a “quick fix” of our problems, but it is foundational to your health.

      Re: your wife’s concern about your spinal problems: please don’t worry about any damage being done! UC D.C.s are trained to deliver precise adjustments, without any twisting popping cracking or traction. There is essentially NO risk of negative side-effects (and there is a recent study published to confirm this idea).
      I personally recommend my clients avoid surgery at all costs because the body will never be the same once it is cut open. Fusion of the spine is a life-changing decision with myriad consequences and should only be an absolute last resort!
      The good news is many people respond very well to the Upper Cervical specific approach. They are often able to avoid surgery altogether, heal naturally, and function near normal…even with a history of disc injuries and other limiting issues like stenosis, congenital defects, and head and neck traumas.

      Just be patient. Your body sounds like it responding well to the UpC care (even though we don’t always like the healing process, it is a positive thing). You are going through the process of balancing muscle tone, aligning the spine and pelvis, restoring proper brain-to-body communication, healing damaged nerves, and rebuilding the ligaments and cartilage around each joint in the body.

      All of this work takes time and energy!!

      Remember the importance of resting and adequate sleep as you heal.

      Feel free to send me an e-mail if you have any other questions:

  7. […] a 14 year old kid from wetting his bed. Her body fixed itself (this is called vitalism or the principle of restoration). This process of balancing the spine is accomplished with a precise adjustment of the Atlas and […]

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  13. Irene says:

    I just started this process, going to my 3rd session tomorrow. I’m a little aprenhensive doing this because I’ve never gone to a chiropractor before. The first two sessions I had an emotional breakdown. I’m not sure if this is part of the retracing process or fear of the unknown and I’m actually happy I’m doing something to help myself. I’m just curious, as I go through this, could this retracing unlock suppressed memories. I’ve been “crooked” since I was a teenager, I remember hemming my pants and always having one leg longer, I’m now over 50.

    • Irene, Thanks for writing about your experience. In our clinic we’ve seen patients go through emotional healing from past wounds. The concept of retracing includes the brain and body going back through issues from the past (injuries, traumas, illnesses, etc.) and they can be physical, mental/emotional, or even spiritual/relational. My suggestion is for you to be patient during the process. Everything worthwhile takes some time. You may need to rebuild and restructure quite a few things, especially since your body will be coming back into alignment and balance after being crooked for over 30 to 40 years!
      All the best to you!
      Dr. B


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