CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The military is increasingly enlisting chiropractors to provide alternative pain management treatment.
“It’s just another tool in the toolbox for medical care,” said Reggie Clifton, who arrived at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa in July, becoming the first military chiropractor in the Pacific.
He is one of only three civilian chiropractors at overseas military medical facilities, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The other two are at the Baumholder and Vilseck U.S. Army health clinics, both in Germany.
The Defense Department also is recruiting a chiropractor for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Chiropractic care in the military has been a long time coming.
Although President Bill Clinton signed into law the Permanent Chiropractic Benefit for Military Act in October 2000, the military has been slow to implement it, according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report.
Sixty military clinics and hospitals — out of 232 military treatment facilities worldwide — are authorized to provide chiropractic care.
Chiropractors treat patients suffering from musculoskeletal problems, chiefly back pain. Many chiropractic treatments involve manipulation of the spine and other joints to bring them back into alignment, under the theory that spinal joint misalignments interfere with the nervous system and result in pain and a weakened immune system.
The treatment has been controversial since it was first used in 1895, and in its early history, it was denounced by the medical community as quackery. But it has since earned a niche as an important alternative treatment and therapy.
“I can honestly say that I have not had any pushback at all [from other doctors],” Clifton said. “We’re all keeping people fit to fight.”
“It’s a much-needed specialty,” said Navy Cmdr. Bryan Bost, head of the Okinawa hospital’s Department of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Chiropractic Services.
Clifton, who followed his father’s footsteps as a chiropractor in 1987, is no stranger to the military, having run a chiropractic clinic at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
“When I graduated from school, I never thought I’d see the day chiropractic care would come to be accepted so well by the medical community,” he said. “I thought it might happen well after I retired.”
Clifton, once a traveling doctor for drivers and pit crews at auto racing tracks throughout the Midwest, likened providing chiropractic care to servicemembers to working with athletes.
“I believe their workout regimen and their day-to-day work regimen is actually harder than professional athletes,” he said. “There are few breaks in the military. You don’t have an off-season.
“And the injuries are the same — the chronic pain and sprains brought on by carrying heavy weights on long marches and runs, not to mention all the stress that comes with being in a combat situation 24/7 year round,” he said. “It changes them biomedically — how they move. Their center of gravity changes.”
But Clifton’s hands-on chiropractic care is not for everyone. His patients must be referred to him by their primary care physicians, and Tricare — the major insurer for servicemembers and their families — will cover chiropractic care only for patients on active duty.