Shoes Determine One’s Physical Makeup

By: Will Tickel, DC

For over quarter of a century now my wife, Dr. Pam, and I have practiced what I have come to fully recognize as vitalism as opposed to mechanism. For years, the talk was about “straight” versus “mixed” Chiropractic. Both of those terms have, in many ways, been a curse to our profession. They need to leave our lexicon.

In the least, “straight” and “mix” place the emphasis on what the Chiropractor does, not what Chiropractic is. This somehow seems to be mechanistic in concept. But that’s a topic for another paper. I simply mention it here to perhaps help another vitalistic practitioner. Recently, a new patient arrived in our practice, following years of care under what he was proud to report as a “straight” practitioner. The patient then went on to ask me how he could handle those people he tries to refer to Chiropractic, but who often respond, “I don’t believe in Chiropractic.”

“The issue,” I responded, “is not whether they believe in Chiropractic, but whether they believe in the self-healing, vitalistic nature of the human body.” The issue, as I stated it to the patient, is “not what the Chiropractor does or does not do, but rather what is the body capable of doing.”

Something which we find helpful in our attempts to free the vitalistic nature of the human organism is the application of foot orthotics in practice.

As the Twig Is Bent, So Grows the Tree

Whether it’s aiding the body in compensating for and coping with surgical intervention, such as joint replacement, providing some needed comfort for the recreational runner or boosting the competitive athlete’s game, flexible orthotics can be life changing.

As the biomechanical foundation, the foot is a major player. It is to mechanics or structure what the upper cervical spine is to neurology or function. To my mind, function determines structure. This is particularly evident when a foot deviation is unilateral, e.g., one pronated foot. When the reflex relationship of the feet to the entire organism is considered, foot biomechanics—sensory awareness and afferentation—becomes a crucial step in the healing or restorative process, as well as in the maintenance of health and prevention of disease. Kinesiology supports the concept. For a healing perspective, custom orthotics greatly aid the body’s adaptive or adjustive capabilities. Philosophically, they support the concept of vitalism.

Orthotics can play a vital role in the realm of prevention and wellness, also. This is particularly true when a season of adjustments do not balance the structure, thus allowing the body to become unstable, paving the way for early degenerative change and probable surgical intervention down the road. Throughout our history, Chiropractic has led the charge for prevention and wellness. Principled Chiropractors have had their eye on correction of the interference as a prerequisite for a quality life.

Personally, I had the distinct privilege in my career of assuming a 34-year old practice in rural Illinois, a “boondocks” suburban town outside Chicago, called Sandwich. It was a practice filled with story after story of successful recoveries from debilitative sickness and disease, ranging from what had been diagnosed as terminal illness, permanent disability, sterility, and birth trauma considered to be non-recoverable. We found ourselves doing a great deal of listening and learning, as the patients brought their stories to us, generally during what they called “maintenance adjustments.” They’d say, “Mrs. Nelson (the name the lady Chiropractor was known by) took care of the problem in about twelve visits. Then she told me once a month for the rest of my life.” The patients often prepaid for cards that held ten visits that were punched on each subsequent visit. Of course, we honored all those cards when we assumed the practice.

It was a practice built on results, in an era when there was no insurance. The patients paid from their own pockets. And, yes, it was a wellness practice that sprung from those results. The referrals were direct. It was, incidentally, long before the term “wellness” became a buzz word. It was accomplished back in the day when hospitals were still known as the disease treatment facilities that they remain as today, despite adopting the moniker of “Health Care Facility,” “Wellness Institute,” ad absurdum.

Principled Chiropractic contained the vision long ago. And it still does. Some called it the big idea. “Get the big idea,” they’d say, “all else will follow.” The father of that slogan, BJ Palmer, originally had said “Get the idea and all else will follow.”

The difference between vitalism and mechanism is not in what you do. It’s in what you profess. Either the body is the healer or you are. It is as simple as that! Isn’t it time, Doctor, that you considered the foot in your analysis? Ample research of scientific as well as anecdotal nature substantiate the efficacy of soft orthotics, encouraging you to look into the shoes. Who knows? Some extremity work on the foot may even be in your future. The podiatrists certainly aren’t interested. Physical therapy in its mechanistic approach won’t touch the issue. It’s something to think about.

Dr. James William Parker was a 1946 Palmer graduate who popularized the notion of therapeutic communication among Chiropractors. One of Dr. Jim’s favorite sayings with regard to practice success was, “Don’t let the size of your shoes determine the growth of your feet.” Obviously, he was speaking of vision.

About the Author

Dr. Will Tickel practices in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife, Pam. He is the author of two books on Chiropractic. A third book, a memoir, entitled Stirrin’ It Up! is in the editing stages. He is a “Parker Chiropractor of the Year” who is available for talks, specifically on the communication of principle. Dr. Tickel can be reached at