Watching your Back By Amanda Vogt CHICAGO TRIBUNE May 15, 2005 Chicago Tribune: “Watching your Back” Actors to Doctors, Chiropractor Dr James Stoxen DC, Makes Believers of Patients Less than two years ago, Chicagoan Robert Johnson almost died during surgery to repair two herniated discs in his back. The surgery was aborted after Johnson’s blood pressure […]
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Chicago Tribune: “Watching your Back” Actors to Doctors, Chiropractor Dr James Stoxen DC, Makes Believers of Patients
Less than two years ago, Chicagoan Robert Johnson almost died during surgery to repair two herniated discs in his back. The surgery was aborted after Johnson’s blood pressure plummeted dangerously, most likely a result of the amount of morphine prescribed to manage his pain, he said. Afterward, the 56-year-old elevator inspector, out of work for the first time in 36 years, was disheartened and still so crippled with pain, he said, he “just moaned and cried and crawled about like a snake.” Then a friend referred him to Chicago chiropractor James Stoxen.
After 3 1/2 weeks of intensive deep-muscle massage treatment, Johnson was able to switch from morphine to hydrocortisone. Seventeen months later, he’s back at work, medication free. “That man [Stoxen] works miracles,” said Johnson, who now sees Stoxen just once a week.
“He never gives up on you.”
Stoxen, with his Southwest Side practice, Team Doctors, at 6432 S. Pulaski Rd., has gained a reputation as a go-to guy. He said he has treated more than 1,000 champion athletes, and he is the tour doctor for many entertainers and theatrical groups, including the Back Street Boys and cast members from the Broadway musical “Wicked,” playing in Chicago.
Katie Adams, 29, in the ensemble of “Wicked” and the Glinda character’s understudy, first saw Stoxen last year, when she was in town touring with the “Urine Town” cast.
“He’s much more than a chiropractor. He knows muscles and dancers and how strenuous it is to contort your body,” she said. “I think of him as a physical therapist or a touch doctor, because he can tell where you’re hurting by touch. He really knows his stuff and is thorough. He doesn’t just adjust you and send you on your way. And he goes that extra mile. He’ll call you after to see how you’re feeling. When I need fixin’, I call him.”
Next month, he will travel to London and become the first chiropractor to address the prestigious Royal College of Physicians on his brand of treatment.
Stoxen has long been drawn to sports medicine. After becoming certified as a chiropractor in 1986, he entered his father’s chiropractic practice and joined the American Power-lifting Federation and
the World Arm Wrestling Federation as the groups’ first chair of sports medicine.
He became fascinated with how biomechanics, the interactive workings of the body’s muscle, bone and tissue, affects the performances of athletes. From observing athletic performances, he said, he figured out that poor foot mechanics are at the root of most athletes’ injuries in the lower back and lower extremities. An incorrect stride or stance causes a chain reaction of abnormal wear through the body’s frame that can result in lower back pain, he said.
“Everything’s connected, and if you have a weak link in the frame [body],” it shows up as chronic pain or injury in the foot, leg or lower back, Stoxen said. “It’s like a pulley on a weight machine. If it’s out of alignment, it’s going to grind against the frame.” Many people with lower back problems, Stoxen said, walk while rolling their heels inward instead of over the arch. This forces the calf muscles to work overtime to try to correct the misalignment, he said. Unable to adjust for the poor mechanics of the feet, the calf muscles weaken and become spasmodic; the knee cap begins to grind along the outer groove, Stoxen said, adding that eventually the misalignment moves up the spine.
When Stoxen treats a patient, he starts at the foot and works his way up. He massages out muscle spasms and knots until they loosen and the pain subsides. Then he helps his patients correct their poor mechanics and strengthen injured and weakened muscles with strength exercises and, most vitally, lace-up shoes with a stiff, wrap-around heel.
“I rebuild the foot completely by hand,” Stoxensaid.
“When I’ve corrected the frame from the feet up, I have never had to refer a patient to surgery.” It’s a process that can take weeks, months and even years.
But it works, said Dr. P. Dianne Damper, a physician with Anointed Health Partners, an HMO affiliated with Trinity Hospital on the South Side. She said her practice refers dozens of patients with back and foot problems to Stoxen, usually after other non-surgical therapeutic alternatives have failed. “He’s very thorough and very dedicated to his work. And his procedures work,” Damper said.
Not everyone is convinced. Michael Schafer, chair of the department of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, cautions that manipulative therapy is not a cure-all for all patients with foot, leg or lower back problems. Although there is growing evidence that manipulative or chiropractic therapy can help people whose problems are short term, there is no evidence chiropractic therapy can correct chronic or degenerative problems, he said. “Sometimes surgery is the answer,” Schafer said. “Any patient with lower back problems should see a specialist first for a diagnosis.”
A once-skeptical Dr. Robert Goldman, a Chicago neurosurgeon and founder of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, today is a true believer in Stoxen‘s treatment. Through the years their paths often crossed because of a shared passion for sports medicine, so Goldman was familiar with Stoxen‘s work. But he became convinced of its effectiveness after Goldman experienced a complete loss of feeling in his left foot several years back as he prepared to depart Chicago for a business trip and called Stoxen for emergency treatment.
“James came over in the middle of the night and worked on my foot and leg for about five hours until sensation returned,” said Goldman, who still sees Stoxen about once every three months.
“I thought I was headed for surgery, but James opened my eyes. Prior to that experience I never gave much credence to chiropractic care. “Surgery should always be a last resort. And James can help a lot of people avoid . . . the need for surgery.”
Robert Johnson said that when he went back to see his doctor a month after starting treatments with Stoxen, she was so astonished at his recovery that she went to visit Stoxen herself for treatment of a bad back.
“He gave me my life back,” Johnson said. “I have a quality of life now I would have never thought possible just two years ago.”