A Different Kind of Doctor

26 Aug

I’ve never been to a doctor’s appointment where there was no waiting room (or wait for that matter), no scale, no needles, and the doctor was wearing Nike shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, until I had my first chiropractic appointment with Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance.

For me, chiropractic had always existed somewhere in the realm of alternative therapies—some kind of cousin of acupuncture, massage, and (in my mind) Pilates. I thought it was some age old practice… “chiro” sounds like a Greek word and I’m sure the Greeks had to get some adjustments before the Olypmics and whatnot.

But, Dr. Callahan informed me that Chiropractic actually originated in Davenport, Iowa, toward the end of the 19th century.

I was close.

Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance

Dr. Spencer Callahan of Bayview Optimal Performance

I made an appointment with Dr. Callahan because the right side of my lower back had been in so much pain. My dad, an avid (translation: insane) triathlete sees Dr. Callahan regularly and swears that his regular adjustments are the reason his times have improved and he is virtually pain-free. I was in Fairhope for the weekend and got a Friday morning appointment.

When I arrived to the one-room office on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Bayview, I was expecting…Well. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. I think I was hoping for a massage table, incense, soothing music, and all the accouterments of a masseuse (because aren’t chiropractors just really good massage therapists?), but the space was just a room with industrial carpet and lighting, a standing desk, built-in bookshelves, a few chairs against the wall, some of Dr. Callahan’s gorgeous prints of Fairhope hanging up, and the chiropractic table in the middle of the room. I sat cross-legged on the table.

“So, what’s going on with your back?” Dr. Callahan asked me.

“Ummm. It really hurts. Right here.” I pointed to the lower right side of my back.

“Ok.” He pulled out a yellow legal pad and proceeded to ask me a series of questions that (I thought) had nothing to do with my back.

“How much water do you drink every day?”

“I’m not sure. A lot?”

“How’s your diet”

“Terrible. I love Oreos.”

“Have you ever dropped something heavy on your foot.”


“Have you been in a motor vehicle accident?”

“Yeah. Once…like six years ago. I was fine.”

“Tell me about that.”

Ok…I told him the details of a car accident I was in—I was driving to Atlanta or Athens to perform in a dance group and our car got ran off the interstate and the car was totaled. I wasn’t injured, just tired and shaken.

“Were you sore afterward?”

“Oh yes. And tired.”

“Mmm hmm. So, I know it seems like it has nothing to do with your back right now, but what do you know about fascia?”

“Connective tissues?”

“Exactly. It’s like a spider web that connects all of your muscles. And like a spider web, if you disturb one thread, it shakes the entire web. If you cut a few threads, it can completely damage the whole web.”

I considered this. So apparently, a car accident five or six years ago might or might not have messed up my fascia so that today my back was hurting. It made sense. Sort of.

“I can treat your symptoms, but that won’t really do much. We are going to get to the root of whatever is causing dysfunction in your body.”

Dr. Callahan punctuated this statement by asking me to sit in a chair across from him.

“Ok, the first thing we are going to check is your breathing. A lot of problems are caused by people just not breathing well.”

I rolled my eyes in my head a little bit. I’m a dancer, an athlete, a (sometimes) yogi…surely I know how to breathe properly, right?

Turns out, my breathing was part of the problem.

Dr. Callahan continued with his diagnostics. I had to walk around the office, balance on one foot, try to hold my ground as he pushed my right shoulder forward and pulled my left hip back, and a series of other tests that made me feel like I was doing the Presidential Fitness Exam in elementary school again. It was like having to do the flexed arm hang…as an eight-year old, you think you’re pretty invincible until your P.E. teacher makes you hang from a pull-up bar and you can only do it for 2 and a half seconds.

Some Bayview Optimal Swag!

Some Bayview Optimal Swag!

I laid facedown on the table and Dr. Callahan pressed different spots on my back.

“OW,” I couldn’t help but yell several times.

“I’m really not pressing that hard,” he told me.

You had me fooled Spencer.

To distract myself, I asked him some questions. He grew up in Fairhope, graduated from Fairhope High School and went to Iona College in New York for a poli-sci bachelor’s. Instead of heading toward Capitol Hill, he played soccer on a traveling team and after a torn ACL, found chiropractic to be the only thing that truly helped him recover. He attended four years of chiropractic school at Life University in Atlanta, and moved back to Fairhope to start his practice.

Finally, he ascertained that some of my problem was breathing, some of it was tightness in my psoas muscle (the deep muscle that basically runs from the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis—a powerful and singular muscle, the only one that connects the leg to the spine), and something in my feet.

“Do you wear high heels a lot?” he asked, while moving my foot around.

“Yes. For dancing.”

“So you do physical activity in the worst shoes possible?” He asked.

“Something like that.”

“Congratulations. You just had your first adjustment.”

I didn’t feel anything.

“Are you ticklish?”


The next adjustment involved me laying on my side in the fetal position and Dr. Callahan pressing his fingers into my ribcage.

“I’m adjusting your diaphragm. Breathe.”

It’s hard to breathe when someone is playing Beethoven’s Fifth on your ribcage, but I did my best.

I laid facedown on the table and Dr. Callahan raised part of the table directly under my hips. “I’m going to let it drop and adjust your sacrum back into place. It’s crooked.”

Who knew?

He later informed me that he did an adjustment on my neck. I didn’t even realize that it happened—he gently turned my head to one side and the other and that was that.

We went through a few more adjustments and it was time to run through the diagnostics again.

I breathed better! I could balance better on one leg! When Dr. Callahan tried to push my right shoulder forward and pull the left hip back, instead of almost falling over, I held my ground! My back felt a lot better and I swear I grew an inch. Now I felt like we had moved from the flexed-arm hang in that Presidential Fitness test to the Sit-and-Reach, which I always DOMINATED because I could touch my toes in elementary school. Not that a chiropractic exam is a test or a competition, but I was excited by my progress.

He also gave me a little nugget of wisdom I’d never heard—apparently the chronic muscle knots in my back are a result of processed food (I can’t help it! Oreos are so good!). He said the chemicals irritate the liver and gall bladder because they are hard to process, and since those organs share similar neurological pathways with joints and muscles, the irritation in the organs can cause muscular tension. Another case for kale!

“Come in Monday morning before you leave if you can, I’ll make sure everything is good and do a few more adjustments before you head out.”

Sitting in my car outside, I sent a text to a friend.

“Getting chiropractic adjustments is my new favorite thing.”

Anytime I’m in Fairhope, I will definitely be stopping by Bayview Optimal Performance to get adjusted. I’m jealous of the people who live in Fairhope (like my dad) who can take advantage of the benefits of regular adjustments from Dr. Callahan and guess I can add chiropractor to my rolodex of alternative practitioners (next to my acupuncturist, my hypnotherapist, my holistic health coach, and my massage therapist). We only get one body, so might as well take good care of it, right?

Dr. Callahan is also an amazing photographer...I have one of his prints in my living room!

Dr. Callahan is also an amazing photographer…I have one of his prints in my living room!


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