Blog 8: Retracing, types and characteristics
Updated: May 25, 2021
Retracing is a phenomenon experienced during the body's healing process under UC Specific care. While the physiological reactions involved in the healing process are numerous and complex, retracing can generally be divided into two types. It's also important to be able to identify the characteristics of retracing as a patient so you can differentiate a healing process from continued symptomology as a result of incomplete or incorrect adjustments.
In my Facebook Live session this week, I made the analogy of retracing being like putting back together a very complex Lego set after having taken it apart. While I don't know anything about Star Wars, I do know that there's a Millennium Falcon set (those are the good guys, right?) that is quite large and advanced.
Let's say that when that set is complete and functional that that is representative of a fully healthy, functional person. Now let's say that a 12-year old kid is tasked with taking the toy apart piece by piece using the manual. The kid doesn't really want to take it apart but he obliges -- much like our bodies really don't want to fall into a dis-eased state but slowly, they succumb. So for most of the process, the kid takes the set apart with ease but at several steps things may slow down as he takes apart complex areas. He may need special tools to reach into tight spaces for a light. Or he may have trouble taking stickers off certain pieces. These snags may happen ten or 12 times throughout a process that is already time-consuming in general. But finally, a couple of days later, the Falcon sits on the living room floor completely torn apart piece by piece.
Now, the kid is given instructions to rebuild it and he does so eagerly. However, this time it won't take him two days to put it together like it did to take it apart -- it might take him four or five hours, partly because he's excited to get to play with his toy again but also because he's been through the process in reverse and remembers how to get through some of the trickier steps. While some of these tricky areas may still slow him down a bit, others he may work through without any slow-down at all until finally, his Falcon is back and ready to take on the Death Star.
Our health is very much the same way. In most cases, we can remember being healthy, functional and pain-free at one point in our lives. However, over time we became increasingly sick -- like our Millennium Falcon being destroyed piece by piece. And just like the Falcon resisted being taken apart when it presented challenges for his child-Grim Reaper so do our bodies present momentary resilience against disease until the problems are so great that we're overwhelmed and our Falcon falls apart.
When the UC Specific adjustment occurs, the neurologic, physiologic and biomechanical compromise is removed and the body begins a healing process. The body goes back, repairing injuries and pathways in reverse order. This is analogous to the child putting his toy back together rather quickly. He may hit some "turbulence" on the way back as he repairs the "tricky steps" and this process is what we call "retracing". But what form does this "turbulence" take? Read on.
Retracing takes a couple of different forms and begins immediately post first-adjustment, assuming of course, that the adjustment is performed correctly and completely. One of these can be thought of as healing retracing and that tends to happen in the "background". This involves re-adaptation of the muscles, remodeling of the spine and regeneration of tissues involving Davis' Law and Wolf's Law for example. This type of retracing is generally felt off and on during the first couple of weeks and then intermittently for as long as the body is in repair, which in most cases is at least a couple of years. It can take the form of muscle soreness, feelings of relaxation, vertebrae popping as motion is restored into the spine, discomfort in areas of old injury or infection, pulsations and other "weird stuff". These sensations can last from minutes to a few days with varying intensity. And is largely the result of the structure of the body changing, which as I said above happens immediately post-adjustment.
I know you might be thinking, "Oh my! It's going to take two years to get well?" Yes, the healing process takes months to years. However, that's not the process patients are interested in. They want to know how long it's going to take for pain to go away. And thankfully, that happens rather quickly -- usually within days to weeks. And this symptomatic retracing is the kind that is most commonly represented in UC Specific office charts.
Let's say a patient comes in with a chief complaint of headaches for the last 10 years. After being adjusted, the headaches go away completely right away. And if the patient is relatively young the background retracing will be minor or may not even be perceived at all. However, in my office I find that about two and a half months into care, the patient will come in and tell me, "I haven't had a headache since I started care but I've had one headache over each of the last two weeks -- not as intense as before but still." Of course, by then I've spoken to them at length about symptomatic retracing but since they've gotten used to not being in pain, when it comes back momentarily, it's concerning to them. This phase will last two-three weeks and then the headaches or whatever the symptom was that brought them to the office will clear again. This is symptomatic retracing and has been observed in UC Specific chiropractic since the days of B.J. Palmer in the 1930s.
As I said above, in my practice it happens about two and a half months into care. Why it happens like this, I've never been given a great explanation. The only thing I can think of is that every 80-120 days, we have completely new red blood cells and it's blood that repairs and regenerates tissue. Again, it must be emphasized that a person may come into a UC Specific office at age 40, having felt sick for the last 20 years. However, just like the kid in my Lego example put his spaceship back together much quicker than he took it apart, repair under UC Specific care will happen at warp speed compared to the degenerative process. And symptom relief happens even faster -- sometimes even instantaneously.
However, this is all contingent on the UC doctor actually clearing the patient. So let's get into characteristics of retracing so that you know the difference between retracing and continued symptomology from not being properly adjusted.
The first characteristic of retracing is that it's accompanied by very obvious, positive changes. So while you may feel sore and tired and feel strange sensations off and on the first couple of weeks under care, you should also experience less pain or total resolution of your chief complaint along with increased cognitive function, more energy, more flexibility, and better sleep and mood, for example. In some cases this initial retracing can hit patients pretty severely but regardless it should always be accompanied by positive changes. If this does not happen at the start of your care, it should be a red flag that you're not getting cleared properly.
The second characteristic of retracing is that it's intermittent and dynamic -- it happens off and on throughout the body. If you started care two months ago lets say and noticed that one side of your neck became tight and you're constantly dizzy, and you're still feeling the same way two months later, that's not retracing. That's being adjusted incorrectly. While retracing may create some discomfort for the patient, it doesn't last more than minutes to days and comes and goes. Think of it as "unfamiliar sensations in unfamiliar places" because the sensations whether good or bad are usually new and unfamiliar to the patient. These are all great signs that the body has responded and on it's way back to optimum function.
The last characteristic of retracing that I want to focus on is that it happens on a schedule. This is particularly noticeable with symptomatic retracing. While healing retracing happens during "rest phases", symptomatic retracing occurs at those two-three month "repair" intervals as described above, like clockwork.
So, if you've been under UC Specific care for a year or six months or even three months, and you haven't noticed a progression in your ability to hold adjustments, then you're not getting cleared -- I don't care what your doctor tells you. Even the sickest, most difficult patients can be cleared and hold adjustments. And at that point you're within your right to ask questions of your practitioner. Because you're either being adjusted incorrectly or incompletely. And while you can experience relief this way, it will likely be marginal, plateau after a few months or totally non-existent. So keep in mind the characteristics above to help you identify retracing. Apart from adjustments that hold progressively longer, the most important one, is the first one -- it should always be accompanied by symptom resolution, usually very quick and definitive.
I write this as one patient to another. I was a challenging patient for all of my UC doctors. From this I learned the pitfalls of our analysis so that my patients don't have to go through the same frustration of not holding and not responding as quickly as they should. And while all of this may sound critical of others, I know as practitioners we are all in agreement that we want our patients to hold and get well. That is the point of UC Specific care and retracing is the hallmark of it's healing process.