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The Tones of Health

By John Ohm

D.D. Palmer, the originator of chiropractic, described chiropractic as an art, science, and philosophy “founded on tone.” We’ve all heard of sympathetic fight-or-flight activity or “sympathicotonia,” which is a shift in the nervous system toward a heightened stress pattern. In the natural rhythms of life, sympathicotonia corresponds to the normal day-time rhythm of life, but it can become heightened or exacerbated due to acute or chronic stressors in life. There is also the night-time rhythm in Nature, where our nervous systems down-regulate into the familiar parasympathetic state which is called “vagotonia.”

When applying the framework of tone to our concept of health and wellness, we often hear that chronic, sympathetic fight-or-flight activity can lead to a susceptibility for dis-ease. The chiropractor’s work with the nervous system in this case is about alleviating that heightened tension pattern in order to achieve balance, allowing the stress-state of the nervous system to release. The same applies in the opposite scenario. If an individual is in a chronic “vagatonic” state of parasympathetic activity, this can lead to a susceptibility for dis-ease, where the goal remains the same—to bring the nervous system forward into normal balance and normal tone, or “normotonia,” which is Nature’s harmonious and ideal rhythm.

D.D. Palmer’s focus on subluxations, or vertebral misalignments, led to his idea that they caused changes in the nervous system’s tonal expression, either toward a sympathetic or parasympathetic state of function. This could then result in alterations in a corresponding organ’s cellular function in the body. If an individual presents with chronic sympathetic or parasympathetic activity in the nervous system, the important goal in chiropractic is to bring him or her forward into a state of normotonia and health.

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