Wellness War 

You'd think that it would be difficult for chiropractors to dismiss a new theory of healing through spinal adjustment as quackery. You'd be wrong.

About four years ago Dr. Julie Orman opened her chiropractic office amidst the bookstores, coffee shops, and yoga studios on Oakland's Piedmont Avenue. Orman practices a holistic style of chiropractic, known as "Network," one that blends well with the bohemian-bourgeois vibe on Piedmont. Orman decorated her office, a refurbished Victorian home, in a soothing, healing motif: soft carpeting, pastel colors, scents of citrus.

Just down the street from Orman's new digs is the office of Dr. Bruce Del Fante. Unlike Orman's warm sanctuary, Del Fante's office is square and drab. The words "auto accidents" are painted on the front window just below an orange-yellow neon sign that reads "Chiropractor." Inside, a coffee table covered with dated sports magazines dominates the waiting room. Del Fante's been on the avenue since 1986, so when Orman moved in, he walked down the block to introduce himself to his new neighbor.

"I asked her what type of chiropractic she practiced," Del Fante recalls. "And she said 'Network.' I had never heard of Network."

To give Del Fante a quick lesson, Orman placed her colleague face down on the adjusting table and raised Del Fante's heels to his buttocks, then brought them back down. No surprise there: leg measurements are standard procedure. But then Orman moved her fingertips along Del Fante's spine, searching for what she called the "rapport" in his body. Orman used the tips of her thumbs to make a few soft "contacts" near the base of Del Fante's spine -- and then she was done.

"Afterward," Del Fante says, "I thought it was kind of funny. I thought, 'What the heck was that?' I could barely feel it. In fact, I didn't feel anything." What Del Fante received was not a routine chiropractic adjustment, but a Network adjustment. Procedures like this will, its practitioners like to say, change the world one spine at a time.

Network Spinal Analysis, or NSA, was developed in the early '80s by a chiropractor named Donald Epstein who decided that almost anything can be healed with a few well-placed taps along the spine. When accurately placed, those taps release spinal muscular tension, Epstein teaches, and that, in turn, releases the true source of one's ailment -- emotional tension.

The effect of this release of emotional tension can be epic. Network patients are known to dissolve into tears during adjustments, recalling traumatic childhood experiences or, just as easily, visiting blissful regions of the soul. Patients commonly compare the experience of undergoing Network adjustments to the heightened state of consciousness reached by ingesting mind-altering drugs. And practitioners say their healing technique knows no bounds: crippled children have walked; brain tumors have shrunk; eyesight has returned.

Network offices have flourished within liberal-minded bastions like the Bay Area and Boulder over the last ten years, but destinations in between are now beginning to fill in as well. Thanks to Epstein's tireless globe-trotting, Dr. Orman is now one of about three thousand chiropractors practicing Network in the United States. Another five hundred or so work abroad.

Not everyone considers the Network experience a fresh breath of healing, however, and the loudest choking sounds are coming from fellow chiropractors. Each state has a regulatory board charged with licensing chiropractors, and some states have balked at licensing NSA practitioners. Wisconsin's board of examiners, for instance, has refused to certify practitioners of "non-force" adjustments, and Colorado asks patients to sign waivers that acknowledge Network as an "unproven procedure." In California, where more than one hundred Network chiropractors work, and see thousands of patients every day, the practice hasn't even appeared on the regulatory radar.

Back on Piedmont Avenue, Dr. Del Fante remains skeptical of Network's true healing capacities and fears its growing popularity might provoke a backlash. "If you think doctors hate chiropractors now, woo-hoo," Del Fante says, shaking his head. "They would really hate Network."

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