In chiropractic practice, patients may sometimes undergo a phenomenon known as 'retracing' or a healing response. Could you explain what retracing involves and how it is related to the healing process? It's often described as a re-emergence of previous pain, symptoms, or even memories and emotions during the course of treatment. Some practitioners also label this as the "healing reaction response." Providing specific examples could help in understanding this concept better....
A patient starts to recover their health after a series of chiropractic spinal adjustments but, on a particular day, feels pain. This could manifest in any body part; in a specific case, it was the wrist:
"Have you had any prior issues with your wrist?" inquired the doctor. "Yes, I broke it a few years ago at the very spot where I now feel pain." "You're likely retracing," noted the doctor. "The area never fully healed and is now completing the healing process. The symptoms won't last long." Another instance of retracing occurs when a spinal adjustment triggers a flood of childhood memories.
Why Does Retracing Occur?
It seems that the body's tissues retain a "memory" of the traumas, accidents, and injuries they've endured. As injuries are often accompanied by feelings of panic, shock, anger, or hysteria, the patient undergoing retracing may sense these emotions "resurfacing" as the physical injury starts to heal.
Retracing isn't always dramatic. At times, it manifests as a simple urge to take deep, satisfying breaths while receiving care. During these moments, there might be a release of psycho-physical energy, although it might not be accompanied by any conscious memories. Yet, retracing could be occurring in such cases.
Retracing is Real
Retracing is undeniably real. It shouldn't be dismissed as imaginary, unreal, or a placebo effect. Retracing experiences are genuinely intense, both physically and emotionally. In such situations, recognizing the experience as part of the healing process can be challenging. Patients undergoing an especially intense retracing pattern may feel as though they've suffered a severe setback or may even fear worsening.
Although retracing experiences usually last a brief duration and often pass relatively quickly, patients have been known to discontinue their care due to them. During this period, it is crucial for the patient to communicate what's happening to the chiropractor. Patients who terminate their care due to retracing symptoms may deprive themselves of a full recovery.
Other Healing Arts
The chiropractic profession and other healing arts have long acknowledged the phenomenon of retracing, often using different terminology. For instance, Craniosacral Therapy (CST), developed by John Upledger, D.O., utilizes the terms "unwinding" and "somato-emotional release" to describe this phenomenon. Upledger's understanding is based on research into body energies and the role of connective tissue in body structure:
Based on our experience, it seems that body tissues, especially connective tissues, possess a memory. When an injurious force occurs, the impacted tissue undergoes a change. It potentially retains the energy from the impact. An elevated level of kinetic activity or higher entropy is established in the affected area. The human body either disperses this energy and returns to normal, or it somehow isolates the impact energy and confines it, much like it confines the tubercle bacillus during the dormant phase of the disease. Once the energy from the injury is effectively contained, the body adapts to this area. Energy (electrical, magnetic, prana, Qi, or your preferred terminology) is then directed to move around this area rather than through it.... Often, upon discovery of the original injury, the repressed emotional components of the somatic injury are concurrently released.
Various forms of bodywork such as Rolfing, shiatsu, and massage therapy also recognize this healing phenomenon. Practitioners have observed patients undergoing "flashbacks" as they release long-held energy in their bodies.
Homeopathy has organized the observations of Constatine Hering, a homeopathic researcher, as Hering's Law, which regards retracing as part of a three-part healing process.
According to this law, healing unfolds: 1) from the interior to the exterior; 2) from the most vital to the least vital organs; and 3) in the reverse order from when the symptoms initially appeared.
A parallel to the retracing phenomenon is recognized in psychotherapy and labeled progressive abreactive regression or PAR.
This PAR phase is seen as a step toward healing and wholeness. As individuals "advance into new behaviors and accomplishments... [they] introspectively grapple with fears and dysfunctional patterns that need resolution." PAR naturally occurs in human development as part of growth at all levels. An illustration of PAR is when an individual, after a long-awaited promotion, begins to struggle with feelings of inadequacy.
Retracing and Medicine?
Retracing seems to be common in bodywork and therapies that focus on balancing the body's energies and reducing stress.
However, it seems less prevalent in standard medical practice, potentially due to medications' tendency to suppress disease and mask symptoms. As seen, this can be perilous.
An intriguing example from Oriental medicine demonstrates this: Oriental medical theory associates the skin with the bronchi and lungs because both aid in breathing. If a skin condition is suppressed, according to the theory, it may move deeper and affect the lungs and bronchi. In reality, many children who suffered from asthma were treated with cortisone for skin conditions like eczema during infancy. The cortisone suppressed the skin condition, driving it into the lungs and bronchi, manifesting as asthma.
A Need for Further Investigation
Numerous questions about retracing remain unanswered. More research is imperative to comprehend this healing phenomenon better.
Call Dr. Pisarek at Advanced Healthcare at (416) 633-3000 or click here to send him an email to learn more about pain retracing!
1. Stephensen, R.W. Chiropractic textbook. Davenport, IA: Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1927, pp. 98-99.
2. Upledger, J. & Vredevoogd, J.D. CranioSacral therapy Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 1983, p. 251.
3. Coulter, H.L. Homeopathic science & modern medicine. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1980, p. 24.
4. Stein, A. Comprehensive family therapy. In R. Herink (Ed.) The psychotherapy handbook. New York: New American Library, 1980, pp. 204-207.
5. Kirschner, D.A. & Kirschner, S. Comprehensive family therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1986, pp. 18-19.