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Hands-on help ... Oamaru chiropractor Rob Brydges. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

When Rob Brydges was an 11-year-old living in England, he remembers his father lying on the floor with crippling back pain, wondering how he would support his family if he couldn’t do his plumbing job.

A month after visiting the chiropractor, he was back at work.

“It just sat there in the back of my mind. Because I’d seriously thought about going into medicine, but then was just drawn to becoming a chiropractor instead.”

Mr Brydges has been working through Oamaru’s Health 2000 premises for the past four years, after moving from Alexandra with wife Sue and children Grace (13) and Mosstyn (11) in 2016.

Prompted by the coming shifting of the Health 2000 premises, he has recently opened his own chiropractic practice within the newly opened collaborative space The Oamaru Clinic in Wear St.

Originally from London, Mr Brydges gained his chiropractic qualification from Bournemouth Chiropractic School in 1991, and practised in the United Kingdom for the first half of his career.

“There’s some interesting contrasts being in Otago to there. Ironically, we’re much more integrated or collaborate much more freely in the UK with the mainstream medical profession, and so I’ve experienced that slowly developing here.

He believed a big part of the future of healthcare was developing better collaboration between professionals.

“Chiropractic is the third-biggest healthcare profession in the world … It’s thought of as alternative or complementary, but really it’s quite a mainstream practice, particularly for the treatment of mechanical disorders like neck pain or back pain.”

Otago was a rewarding place to be a chiropractor “because of the amount of farmers and other people doing very physical jobs” who have “very real” injuries to their lower backs and necks.

“So that has always been a particular focus of mine, dealing with acute and severe painful injuries and helping people to rehabilitate.”

Mr Brydges said there was a misconception that chiropractic was all about “cracking bones and manipulation”, but there were a variety of techniques.

“Many of the more holistic complementary practices that are around now, including kinesiology and various other forms, had their origins in chiropractic.”

Osteopathy and chiropractic could be quite similar or quite different, depending on the practitioner.

“It would be like saying what’s the difference between two martial arts that look similar.

Retired Oamaru osteopath Bob Arnott had referred a lot of his patients on because of their similar treatment styles, he said.

“Some osteopaths are very similar, and some chiropractors are very different.”

Mr Brydges said chiropractic was not the appropriate treatment option for everyone, and he was eager to work with and refer to other local health providers.

“There’s a kind of, by default, an integrated approach, and it happens because everybody has their own scope … it really varies, what a patient needs.”

People tended to “self-select” who they see for treatment of a health problem, and might not want their medical practitioner to know that they’re going to see someone else.

“We try to encourage more, that it’s OK for patients to tell their GP that they’re coming to the chiropractor, and … if they give permission we tend to report to the GP,” he said.

Q If you could offer people one piece of advice to help improve their life, what would it be?

It’s very difficult for me to give a short answer. One piece of advice is really to develop a much better understanding of how your body works. To identify the problems we know that you’re very likely to have in your life. To identify and treat before they’re a problem, or whilst they’re a minor problem. Particularly back pain. The statistics aren’t very good … if you’ve got one episode of back pain, you’re going to have another episode. Treat it while it’s a smaller problem.

Q What’s one thing people might not know about what you do?

I can treat people without using manipulation, particularly unusual problems like jaw problems. Everyone’s got a unique nervous system, in a sense. So you have to match the style of treatment to suit the person, rather than the other way around.

Q Any misconceptions about your industry?

I tend not to pay too much attention to those, but from what I hear from people it’s that chiropractic treatment is excessively physical and hurts, and really quite the opposite is true. The treatment is matched to the person, and that’s what we spend a lot of time in our continuing professional development to keep learning how to do that. And respect someone’s autonomy – what their needs are.

Q What do you like about your job?

Talking about real things with people all day, and helping them. Sounds cheesy, but, alleviating suffering. And having the skills to do that is very fulfilling.

Q How does chiropractic work?

The injuries or the problems I deal with mostly involve the spine. If you injure, traumatise your spine, a lot of the pain or symptoms that you experience is related to the joints of the spine no longer moving normally. My job is restore normal function to the spine. And that’s all I do, because the spine’s a unique system in the body, in that it can only heal itself if it moves normally. And my job is to restore normal movement so the body can heal itself. But, in a licenced healthcare profession, that means identifying and diagnosing what the problem is and then applying the right treatment.