My Journey into Upper Cervical Specific Chiropractic

I have a confession to make… it hasn’t been “my” choice completely in how I journeyed into upper cervical specific chiropractic. Throughout my journey in chiropractic, I’ve always felt a presence help guide me. If the path through life is analogous to a hike through a forest, something has tapped me on the shoulder along the way and said, “why not try going this way.” I grew up in a chiropractic family (My dad, brother, uncle and cousin are all chiropractors) and thought I understood what chiropractic was. Chiropractic had always been associated with the neck and back, but only helpful when you are in pain. I understood that nerves could be impinged upon, but mostly only affected the muscular system. Chiropractic wasn’t for the whole body. I have since realized I was living on an ice cube on the tip of an enormous iceberg. The principles of chiropractic are far-reaching and its concepts are beneficial to all, no matter the condition, symptom or disease labeled to an individual.

When I first moved down to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Florida, I thought I would try and take up surfing. It seemed easy enough in the eyes of a kid from the Midwest. I was way off! Surfing during those first couple of weeks basically just involved me foolishly and ungracefully falling on my face. Repeatedly. After a week or so of contorting my neck as I fell in the water, I began to develop a hoarseness in my voice. At the time, I didn’t connect any dots between my surfing traumas to chiropractic. I just chalked it up to a simple cold or reaction to the large amount of saltwater I consumed from wiping out. I thought it would clear up in a week or so on its own. After two weeks, it did not change, in fact, it got worse. My voice would eventually go out completely in the middle of talking and I lost the volume I carried in my voice. 

Thinking it’s time to do something about it, I went over to our clinic in the hopes that there was something they could do. My clinic experience involved a student doctor pushing some tender spots on my mid-back and neck, placing a vibration machine on my back, shaking my hand and sending me out the door. After about two weeks of being adjusted, no real progress occurred. I’ve always been leery of medical doctors, so sticking with the natural route I went to the local health food store. There I picked up some oil of oregano. Again, no change in the hoarseness, except now my breath smelled like a pizza. A little frustration began to set in, and I decided to just stop thinking about it. A couple of months passed by and I went home for Christmas break. 

Back home, I had my dad adjust me. I laid down on the table and he began to go through is diversified technique. This consisted of three adjustments to the mid-back, a lumbar roll left and right with finishing cervical adjustments to the right and left. After the cervical adjustments, I felt a small release occur in my upper cervical neck and actually noticed a small change in my voice. My dad was as surprised as I was! For the rest of Christmas break, I had my dad adjust my full spine every couple of days to see if we had finally found the magic bullet. The problem with this plan was that it was very hit and miss. One adjustment it felt better, after another, worse. I decided to give my body a rest for a while and went cold turkey on the adjustments and remedies.  

  A couple more months went by and it seemed like this thing was here to stay. After the next quarter, I went home during school break and decided it was time to go see a medical doctor. I went to a HEENT doctor who diagnosed me with having nodules on my vocal cords. From his perspective, these nodules were brought on by acid reflux that was coming up the esophagus and bathing the vocal cords in the stomach acid. This caused the cords to produce the nodules as a protective response. I had experienced heartburn before, maybe once every couple months or so when my eyes were bigger than my stomach, but never thought that it was enough to produce these nodules. He prescribed me a strong dose of the little purple pill, Prilosec, for a month to see if that would induce any change. After a couple of weeks on the pill, I did notice a change in my voice. I noticed some side effects to my GI system also. I don’t think it is appropriate to go into the details, let’s just say they weren’t enjoyable. After running through my prescription, I headed back to the medical doctor for a follow-up. He did notice that the nodules decreased in size and my vocal cords looked to be healing up. The HEENT doctor didn’t recommend that I stay on the pill due to the side effects. He recommended I just watch my diet by cutting out coffee, alcohol and highly acidic foods. Coming from an Italian family, I wasn’t quite ready to give up my spaghetti with tomato sauce, red wine and coffee. Why had others enjoyed “acidic” foods for thousands of years and not had this habitual problem? Something just didn’t add up. 

  Back at school, we started to learn a little more chiropractic philosophy. Our teacher would always say things like, “Get the big idea!” and “It’s as simple as that!” throughout the quarter. The problem was, I didn’t get the idea, big or small. I got the concept that there is an Innate Intelligence in all of us that helps our body regulate, but I still thought I knew more than this “Intelligence within.” After the 3rd quarter we were done with philosophy and at the time, so was I. With chiropractic philosophy in my rear-view mirror, I could learn what was important to chiropractic, the adjustment. Our school teaches something called the “Palmer Package.” It includes Thompson, Gonstead, Diversified and Palmer Toggle Upper Cervical technique protocols. Every technique is taught equally, but Palmer Toggle was taught more like a history class. It was presented with the mentality that “this is what they used to do, but we’ve moved past it.” When I got through toggle upper cervical, I also put it in my rear-view mirror. We next learned Thompson and Gonstead techniques. They were taught with a little more detail but were brushed aside as being too time-consuming in terms of subluxation analysis. Finally, we learned Diversified. This is the technique that is most recognizable to patients and fans of the TV series “Two and a Half Men.” This technique requires the least amount of analysis and is the easiest to learn. 

Now that we started to learn the techniques, it was time to put them to the test. The first 6 months of learning the adjustment was an experimental process. I got pretty confident in knowing that I can move bones if I had to, but it seemed very unrewarding. I was doing things anyone could do by lying on their back and by rotating left and right, make things “popped.” Who needs a chiropractor for that? Where was the validity of our profession? Not to mention, with all the “practicing” we would do on each other, my voice got even worse. My concept of chiropractic changed drastically when Dr. Kale rolled into town. 

I first heard Dr. BJ Kale talk at an event put on at our school in about my 5th quarter. It was a free event, and anything free to a student is worth it! At first, I didn’t know what to think of Dr. Kale. He came to the stage with this fast-talking, southern drawl and explosive personality that caught me off guard. He also walked and talked around with an atlas vertebra in his hand and spoke of “BJ Palmer Green Books” and “Knee-chest” like it was common knowledge. Who was this guy? The passion of his message was thought-provoking, to say the least. It actually caused one of my professors to walk out in the middle of the talk. The big idea: that the true and greatest vertebral subluxation occurs in the upper cervical spine, between the occiput-atlas-axis. An upper cervical subluxation puts pressure on the spinal cord at the brainstem level, resulting in body dis-ease. This was a very eccentric idea to me at the time. I began to ask myself some questions: Why have I never heard of this Knee-Chest thing? What is the difference between the upper cervical specific technique compared to what I believed was “traditional” chiropractic? If the Knee-chest technique was so beneficial to chiropractic, why was it not taught in school? Who really was this BJ Palmer guy? I left that talk with more questions than answers and that definitely intrigued me. 

I went home that night and started looking for green books on eBay (I didn’t know at the time that our bookstore actually carried them). I found a good deal on a small collection of green books and began to read them. After a few pages of the first book, I felt lost in a foreign world where grammar didn’t exist, sentences were a page long, random words were in all capitals and chiropractic now became chiropracTIC. But I read on. And on and on. The more I read, the more I learned. The more I learned, the more questions I started to ask myself. The more I asked, the more I would seek out understanding. Which would only cause me to read more in the attempt to answer more questions. Until it started to click. One of the greatest things about learning more and more about the philosophy, art and science of chiropractic is that it forces you to constantly adapt and evolve. At that point, a locked door was now unlocked, but I didn’t know how to turn the handle and open the door. I also was afraid of what was behind it. But I knew that I didn’t want to be subpar in my profession or in life. 

  I decided to enter Dr. Kale’s program, The TIC Institute, to learn more about Knee-chest technique. I and two other students joined the program at the same time. We decided to carpool our way up to Mt. Pleasant, SC to Dr. Kale’s office. The first thing done when we got there was we had scans done on our neck from the NCM. This was the first time I was actually exposed to the NCM. In school, they talked about the NCM and even showed it to us, but they never put it to use. Scans are done first because a “pattern” must be established before being adjusted. That was the first sign to me that I was in the right place. I always felt there should be some type of objective tool or measurement utilized to indicate whether a person needed to be adjusted or not. Here it was!

Next, I had a set of upper cervical X-rays taken. I never had X-rays taken of my neck, which was eye-opening as well since my dad is a chiropractor and had been adjusting me my whole life. Not only were X-rays taken, but they were analyzed. This was another new concept for me. There was care and consideration with these films. I was placed in specific positions. There were specific angles and vectors that the X-ray was set to. Then with the X-ray analysis, more specific angles and vectors were drawn on the film to precisely mark the misalignments. 

The X-ray analysis and scans were then presented to me as my unique “thumbprint.” The blueprint of the adjustment was established. Finally, I was ready for my adjustment. Dr. Kale took me to the corner of the room where he showed me a funky looking table. It was lower to the ground than other tables I had seen. It also looked like it was cut in half from a normal length table. He told me to kneel down on a pad in front of the table. Next, I placed my chest on the front part of the table that had a raised section on it. Then, I turned my head to the left and relaxed my forearms on pads that projected out from the side. The next thing I knew, he was placing his hand on my neck right below of head and behind my ear. A split second later, the quickest adjustment happened I had ever experienced. With that adjustment, a loud “clunk” resonated between my ears. I had felt and heard cavitations before with an adjustment, but nothing like this. It not only sounded different, it felt different. There was no pain with the adjustment at all, just a moment of surprise. I was smiling ear to ear as Dr. Kale told me to rest in the next room for 20 minutes. 

It was during the resting period where really astonishing things happened. As I laid there, I started to feel a warm sensation pass through my head, face, and neck. Like there was a warm towel wrapped around my upper body. About 5 minutes into resting, I started to feel the bones of my neck move. They were delicate movements that followed with gentle  “click” sounds. There is an understanding in Chiropractic that the adjustment doesn’t actually occur until the chiropractor’s hands have left the patient. I was experiencing that principle first hand. My post-adjustment scan showed that my pattern had changed. I was no longer in the “stuck-state” of the pattern. The subluxation had been corrected. Here was the final piece of the analysis puzzle. Not only was there objective testing before the adjustment to determine if you needed an adjustment, there was objective testing after the adjustment to determine if you actually were adjusted. 

Now came the real test: Would it help with my hoarseness? I began to speak a few words in the office. And the few words I spoke were there! They didn’t crackle, trail off or require me to strain to get them out. The words I had in my brain came out of my mouth. It was as simple as that. My voice wasn’t at 100 percent yet, but it was noticeably better. The dots had finally connected for me. To say I was “all-in” with learning Knee-chest would be an understatement. Dr. Kale said we would monitor my scans and adjustments over the next 6 months as I went through the TIC Institute program. 

The challenge for me now was to have patience. I wanted to not only learn everything there was about knee-chest immediately, I wanted my voice back to normal over-night. We all want things ‘now’ in our drive-thru, microwave culture, but that isn’t how life is designed. Learning and healing take time. So I made the commitment, mentally, physically and financially to see myself through the TIC Institute program and through my voice condition. 

Through the program, I truly learned the ‘ins and outs’ of Chiropractic philosophy, science and art. Not just in principle but in practice as well. Also over the next couple of months, my voice continually improved. And by the end of college and the TIC Institute program, I was back to my normal self. The end of schooling was only the beginning for me. Before I was a “student-doctor” and now I am a “doctor-student.” I get to share what I learned and experienced with my patients and others in the community. It might sound crazy, but I have surfing to thank for making me the chiropractor I am today.

- Jarek Esarco, D.C.

Dr. Jarek Esarco is a pediatric and family wellness Chiropractor. He is an active member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA). The ICPA is an organization of chiropractic family practitioners dedicated to advancing public awareness and the family wellness lifestyle. Dr. Jarek also has post-graduate certification in the HIO Specific Brain Stem Procedure technique through The TIC Institute. Dr. Jarek is happily married to his wife Regina. They live in Youngstown, Ohio with their daughter Ruby.

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