The Chuna Syndrome: Fingering a CulpritLike most people who work extensively with computers and are under a lot of pressure, I suffer from a chronically stiff neck and achy shoulders. Looming deadlines at the newspaper where I work often exacerbate the pain, and by the time I finally hit the send-button to file my story for the day, I'm ready to try anything to find relief.
I have tried many remedies over the years, but most of their negative side-effects outweighed any advantages. The pain of a deep-tissue massage or the sore muscles left by an acupressure session were not worth the temporary relief they afforded. A lymphatic drainage massage with essential oils was painless enough, but the ailments returned as soon as I sat down to compose the lead for my next article. Even the massage lady at my neighborhood public bath took pity on me and gave me extra-long sessions, attacking my tense muscles with hot towels, kneading, pressing and pinching.
Then it struck me: I should get to the root cause of the pain instead of seeking instant relief. I recalled an article I'd read on a type of Oriental medicine therapy that said misalignments of the vertebrae were the basic reason for many aches and pains.
Perhaps the answer to my suffering would be found in Chuna, the Eastern medical treatment whose premise is that misaligned bones, joints and muscles can be put back in their proper places through pushing (chu) and pulling (na).
Optimistic, I arranged for a consultation with a Chuna specialist. At the first examination a digital infrared thermal imaging machine, which uses infrared light to detect minute changes in skin temperature, was put to work on my back, revealing a slight aberration in my right shoulder. A map of the contours of my back also revealed an asymmetry in my shoulder muscles. Well, at least I knew it wasn't all in my head.
At the comprehensive physical examination, Ahn Kyu-bum, an Oriental medicine doctor at Jaseng Oriental Medicine Hospital in Shinsa-dong, Seoul, had me lie facedown on a peculiar-looking bed. After a minute of first pulling on both my legs and then asking me to lift them, one and then the other, he announced gravely, "Your right leg is shorter than your left."
"Actually," Dr. Ahn went on matter-of-factly, "your right pelvis is out of position, jutting slightly forward; hence the shorter right leg and the pain in the right shoulder."
When I was about to ask how it could be fixed, I was told to lie face-down on that bed again. Without warning, and with a loud metallic clank, a small section of the bed under my navel suddenly gave way and I felt a jolt.
"What was that?" I shrieked, afraid that this might lead to a medieval torture session, although I had not felt any pain yet.
"I am using gravity to bring the right side of the pelvis back to the normal position," Dr. Ahn said. He used his fingers to press a few points on my back, then the same section of the bed dropped again. After a few repetitions of this pressing and jolting, he once again examined the length of the legs. He was satisfied with the result, although, still facedown, I couldn't witness it myself.
He then had me move to a plain table and instructed me to get down on my knees by lowering myself to a kneeling position and pushing with the palms of my hands on the table, much like a pose that I had picked up during a brief foray into yoga. Only this time the doctor kept making small adjustments to the pose until my left knee was two to three centimeters higher than my right knee and my right hand was slightly higher than my left. His prescription was simple: "Do seven repetitions of this twice a day." Apparently, my case was a mild one.
Shin Joon-shik, the president of Korea Chuna Association and head of Jaseng Oriental Medicine Hospital, uses a tidy aphorism to sum up the philosophy of Chuna: Fix the bones and the muscle aches will go away. The Chuna therapies that he integrated into a systematic treatment course some 12 years ago involve the manipulation of the bones, joints and muscles, as well as acupuncture and medication.
"About three-quarters of our patients with the five most common types of disk problems remain essentially cured four years after their initial treatments, while only 7.7 percent relapse into the same problems," Dr. Shin said, citing research data on patients at his hospital done by an independent research firm. The remainder either fail to adhere to the course or have inconclusive results, he added.
Dr. Shin's typical course of treatment lasts about six months, with weekly visits to his office for physical therapy and a three-stage medication course. Many patients give up after a couple of sessions, opting for a quick fix through surgery, according to Dr. Shin. Some he sends to surgery. "Not all conditions can be treated effectively by Chuna," Dr. Shin said.
Needless to say, prevention is the best cure. Although about 80 percent of the population will complain of lower back pain and stiff shoulders sometime in their lives, many of these ailments can be prevented by practicing correct posture. Remember what your mother always told you: Sit up straight, don't lie on the couch watching TV and don't sleep on your stomach. To that Dr. Shin adds his own "505 Principle" - follow every 50 minutes of sitting with five minutes of stretching to limber up your back.
As for my shoulder aches, well, we will have to see. I have not stuck diligently to the exercise regimen and I still slouch in front of the computer. But when I am done with this story, I will head for the swimming pool. After all, swimming is also highly recommended for my problems, Dr. Shin told me.
by Kim Hoo-ran