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A period of adjustment Students learn about the spine, and patients feel the relief

Spring's balmy temperatures propel people into motion, from spring cleaning and garden ?work to bike rides or the year's first tennis and golf games.

Sometimes, though, there's a ?backlash, in the form of lower back ?and neck pain.

Steven Zajac, coordinator of clinical services at D'Youville College's Department of Chiropractic, says in his 33 years as a chiropractor he has seen more injuries from raking leaves — a relatively mild form of exertion — than shoveling snow or even vehicle crashes.

"Raking is a repetitive motion disorder, and people are not as careful as they are when they are shoveling heavy snow," says Zajac.

But no matter what the cause, D'Youville chiropractic students would like to get their hands on those aching backs in the D'Youville College Chiropractic Health Center at 2900 Main St., across from Bennett High School.

Students, supervised by faculty members, use hands-on manipulations, also called adjustments, to realign and restore mobility to the spine and other parts of the body. In addition to gently applied pressure that causes the classic cracking sound in the spine or neck, chiropractors may also use tables with movable sections or guide patients into beneficial postures using wedges and blocks. Chiropractors say that adjustments enhance or restore the function of the nervous system, improving overall health.

The chiropractic clinic "is one of the best-kept secrets in the area," said longtime patient Joe Basil Jr., who is a director of NextPoint LLC consulting firm. "They do a nice job, they're accommodating, and the students are there to learn."

Basil, 59, met Dr. John Taylor, an instructor at the clinic, when both were playing hockey. After seeing Taylor help out an injured player during a game, Basil asked Taylor if he could see him professionally, and Taylor told him about the clinic.

"I have been playing hockey all my life and I figured that's just what happens, your lower back aches," said Basil. But after a complete workup at the clinic and treatments, he said, "My back hasn't felt this good ever."

Basil says in the years he has been going to the clinic, he has been treated by five interns. "They're all learning. Some of the interns are a little hesitant at the beginning of their term there, but by the time they get to the end, you can see the difference in them, and they are pretty effective and efficient at what they do."

In addition to the main clinic, students work at Erie County Medical Center, at the Buffalo Spine and Sports Institute in Amherst and at a clinic at D'Youville that is open to students, faculty and staff of the college and members of the National Guard from the Connecticut Street Armory.

The National Guard soldiers, as well as clergy members, Buffalo police officers and firefighters, are treated for free at the clinics. Many HMOs and health insurance plans cover chiropractic treatment, as does Medicare. The clinic may reduce its fees on an income-based sliding scale, says Zajac.

Without reductions or insurance coverage, an initial consultation costs $20 and follow-up visits, which will generally include back and neck manipulation, cost $15. Each X-ray view costs $10.

Brandon Mancuso, 30, a Cheektowaga native who will graduate this weekend from D'Youville with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, says he enjoyed working in the clinics because of the wide range of patient problems.

"At ECMC, you see a lot of different cases than you would see at the clinic on Main Street," Mancuso said. "We dealt with people with cerebral palsy and Parkinson's as well as low-back and neck pain patients. You see the gamut."

The D'Youville program is one of only two in the state. D'Youville and the New York Chiropractic College, based in Seneca Falls, are two of just 15 programs in the country accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education.

The New York Chiropractic College also operates a local clinic staffed by students who are supervised by instructors. Peter VanTyle, vice president of institutional advancement at the New York Chiropractic College, said at the college, "We want to introduce our students to real-world conditions, so we send them to do their clinic rotations in the New York Chiropractic College clinic in Depew," as well as clinics in New York City, Rochester and Seneca Falls. New York Chiropractic College students work with patients in Veterans Administration hospitals in Canandaigua and Buffalo.

Because clinic treatments are done by students under the supervision of faculty members, Zajac says, "We advise patients that our process does move slower. It is an academic institution and we do have students that are learning. But on the positive side, I always tell the patients that they will get probably one of the best physicals and histories they will ever get — very thorough, very complete." New patients do not get an adjustment on their first visit unless they are in pain, says Zajac.

Neither Mancuso nor fellow graduating senior Juliana Marciniak, 26, of Buffalo, considered a chiropractic career when they were younger. Marciniak earned an undergraduate degree in sports medicine at Canisius College, then worked as a secretary in the office of a North Tonawanda chiropractor. "I saw the business side of it, and noticed that everybody seemed to love their chiropractor," she said. After an internship at the chiropractor's office allowed her to see him work directly with patients, she says, "I was sold from that moment on. I fell in love with the profession."

Marciniak also plans to start her own practice after graduation, in a new wellness center linked to a North Buffalo gym where she has worked for four years.

Mancuso also came to the profession in a roundabout way. He earned his undergraduate degree in finance from the University at Buffalo, but was unhappy with a job in the field. "I have a passion for exercise and eating well," he said, so he took some tests at UB's career resource center that indicated that he might be suited for a career as a chiropractor.

Shadowing a couple of chiropractors opened his eyes about the profession, Now, he could not be more enthusiastic about starting his new career. "Chiropractic allows me to make a living teaching those philosophies that I believe in," he says. He plans to open a practice adjacent to a gym in the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical campus.

Zajac points out that spinal manipulation for health has been practiced for thousands of years, although the chiropractic profession is a relatively young one. It was started in 1895 by Daniel D. Palmer of Davenport, Iowa. The first decades of the profession were marked by conflicts with the medical establishment – conflicts so severe that for decades the American Medical Association barred cooperation between its members and chiropractors. That ban was overturned by a lawsuit settled in 1987.

Most patients go for their first chiropractic treatment because of word-of-mouth referrals, said Zajac. "A relative, neighbor or friend will make the referral. We are seeing more referrals coming from the medical community," he says.

"When I started practice 30 years ago, there was very little clinical research to demonstrate objectively that chiropractic works; it was purely anecdotal," Zajac said. "That's all changed now; there are multiple grants that exist for chiropractic research and we now have evidence that says, yes, what we do works and here's the evidence that says so. Especially in today's health care arena, that's totally necessary."

email: aneville@buffnews.com