Patients differ; health care shouldn’t be one size fits all

I am more and more recognizing a general desire of patients wanting true answers to their health concerns.

For this to happen, it is important that patients and health care practitioners alike consider that each patient is a unique individual and that symptoms are rarely isolated from other parts of the body.

This means that within a group of patients with the exact same chief complaint and diagnosis, each patient may have different causative factors behind the symptom and therefore will receive a treatment plan unique to that patient. This is accomplished by considering the entire health picture of the patient.

The nervous, hormonal and circulatory systems, organs and other tissues of the body are not separate from each other.

Rather, the human body works together like a very well-oiled and finely tuned machine. When a symptom shows up, it is a sign that somewhere else in the system is off-balance. Symptoms are the body’s way of clueing you in to find the root cause of an imbalance. When symptoms are ignored, the body talks louder and louder until we are forced to listen.

Consider 10 patients showing up at a medical office with a chief complaint of elbow pain, and all are diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis, which is more commonly known as tennis elbow or elbow tendinitis.

The elbow is not an isolated structure within the body, which is why treating only the elbow is usually not the best treatment plan. The elbow joint is made of bones, cartilage, synovial fluid and tendons with surrounding connective tissues like fascia and ligaments. It is also connected directly to the wrist and shoulder joints. This may seem as obvious as “the neck bone is connected to the back bone,” but there is more to it.

While structurally if one joint becomes impaired in its ability to function optimally, and other joints and surrounding connective tissues may also be impaired, there is usually more to tendinitis.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider one possible way tendinitis may be associated with other imbalances deeper in the system. Upon taking a complete “review of systems,” the practitioner realizes the patient’s digestive system is compromised — symptoms like acid reflux, excess gas or bloating after eating with alternating diarrhea and constipation.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, this weakened digestive state leads to “blood” deficiency. “Blood” in TCM has several primary functions, one of which is nourishing the soft connective tissues of the body, especially tendons.

However, determining there is a digestive weakness is not the ending point. It is important to ask the question, “Why is the digestive system suffering?”

Possibilities may include, but are not limited to, intake of improper foods, excess stress, a generalized weakened root source of energy and excessive worrying.

A simplified beginning treatment plan to address the elbow pain for this patient is demonstrated below:

■ Acupuncture will help alleviate pain and increase blood circulation.

■ Structural analysis and treatment from a Rolf Structural Integration practitioner or licensed massage therapist.

■ Nutrition guidelines to strengthen the digestive system.

■ Life coaching or behavioral health to learn tools to manage stress and worry less.

Our health is not meant to be plugged into a one-size-fits-all system of matching specific symptoms to specific treatment protocols.

As a patient, it is important to take responsibility for your own health and know that covering up your symptoms or ignoring them will only wreak further havoc in your system.

One of the best ways to take charge of your own health care is to ask your health care practitioners to look deeper for answers to your health concerns.

Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine. Learn more at, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.


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