A gentle touch: Chiropractor Brian Dickert provides alternative care with network spinal analysis
Brian Dickert was 16 years old the first time he set foot in a chiropractor’s office. Desperate for relief from daily migraines that prescriptions didn’t stand a chance against, he was willing to try just about anything. So when the first thing the doctor said to him was “I’m not going to do anything for your headaches,” Dickert was taken aback.
The chiropractor he visited focused on overall health and wellness, and how the spine’s condition and connection with the nervous system affected the rest of his body. A skeptical teenager who’d been in physical pain for two straight months, Dickert was wary of the treatment. But immediately after the first session he said he experienced a whole new range of motion in his neck and back, and when the pain that had persisted for eight weeks subsided hours later, he was sold.
“It turns out my spine wasn’t in alignment, and needed an adjustment,” Dickert said. “I couldn’t explain it, but I started feeling different in my motions. And, my headaches started getting better.”
Decades later, Dickert is one of the only doctors in Charlottesville practicing network spinal analysis (NSA), a specialized chiropractic method that uses precise, low-force touches to the spine to assess spinal integrity and eliminate tension. The NSA philosophy, developed by world-renowned practitioner Donny Epstein, is that gentle pressure not only realigns the spine, but it cues the brain to make healthy changes. He teaches that treating a symptom allows the body to resume previous habits, but long-lasting wellness requires a “reorganizational approach.” Chiropractors like Dickert and Epstein essentially hope to work themselves out of a job—NSA helps the body develop natural strategies for dissipating stored tension, ultimately resulting in a sustainable, self-regulating spine and nervous system.
For local masseuse-turned-painter Lee Alter, who was one of the first massage therapists to come to Charlottesville in the 1980s, the connection between mind, body, and emotion that NSA fosters is what keeps her coming back for regular treatment. She’d been seeing a “regular chiropractor,” until she inexplicably felt drawn to Barracks Road Shopping Center.
“I had a feeling I was supposed to go to Rebecca’s Natural Food one day,” she said. “I got there, and Brian was doing a demonstration. I just knew I needed to see him.”
With more than 20 years of bodywork under her own belt, Alter went into her first session with an open mind. But even as a believer in alternative healing methods like massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic, she wasn’t sure what effect the treatment would have on her.
“Nothing hurt when he worked on me, whereas with the other chiropractor, sometimes you feel pressure that’s not comfortable,” Alter said. “I didn’t feel anything like that at all, which made me think, ‘Well gee, maybe this isn’t going to work.’ But it was the complete opposite. It totally worked.”
A nagging pain in her left hip subsided shortly after her first session with Dickert, but relief from physical pain aside, she said she experienced something new when she left his office.
“I noticed that I felt very grounded,” Alter said. “There’s this thing in bodywork, a correlation between certain areas of your body and emotions. I felt pretty good on an emotional level when I left there.”
As for my own experience in Dickert’s office, I too was skeptical. I’m a habitual back-cracker with perpetual soreness in my shoulder blades, but I’ve never felt compelled to pay someone to snap, crackle, and pop my spine for me.
I settled myself face down on the massage table in Dickert’s office, unsure of what to expect. Seconds after the tips of his fingers seemingly did little more than brush against my neck and top vertebrae, he said he found an area of tension, noting that I carry a lot of stress in my upper back and shoulders. I nodded, intrigued by his ability to detect that by simply touching my spine—through two layers of clothing, no less. But what he looks for, he said, are not areas of tension, but openings, or areas of the nervous system that can be accessed for the greatest change.
After picking my feet up into the air and softly returning them to the table, he said he found one of these openings on the right side of my sacrum, the bone at the base of the spine that connects the last vertebra with the tailbone. I felt light touches along different areas of my back. Sometimes he held his hand in one spot for several moments, but like Alter said, there was no intense pressure. Dickert was acutely aware of my body’s responses, especially after he found an opening and my breath deepened, one of the telltale signs that the treatment is doing what it’s supposed to do.
The whole thing took about 30 minutes, and upon sitting up, my first inclination was to stretch and crack my neck, which was easier and less painful than usual. I can’t speak to the emotional groundedness that Alter experienced, but I understood what Dickert meant about a newfound range of motion.
“You can always do something to make your body better, whether you’re having symptoms of a problem or not,” Dickert said.