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A different approach to traditional healing

A patient with a stiff right shoulder, sitting on the edge of an examination table, raised his right arm to his right ear. He didn't have any difficulty doing so, but his arm didn't go any further back than his ear, as his left did. Tsuyoshi Kumagai, a chiropractor and chairman of the Fatigue Recovery Association, checked the range of motion of the patient's scapulas for a few seconds, and said, "You have a problem with your left ankle."

News photoTsuyoshi Kumagai, a chiropractor and the chairman of the Fatigue Recovery Association, speaks at his offices in Tokyo on Aug. 26. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Yes, he said, "left," not "right."

Kumagai then put a brace on the patient's left ankle, wrapping the ankle and heel and securing it with Velcro to align the ankle and asked, "How is it now?"

The patient could now easily stretch his arm further than he had been able to before. The whole process took only three minutes.

Kumagai sometimes adjusts a patient's balance with only a brief touch of his finger on the patient's calf. Of course, Kumagai doesn't have either divine spiritual power or the hands of god. He practices his self-developed chiropractic methods, a combination between Oriental medicine and Western medicine-oriented chiropractic. Unlike evidence-based Western medicine, his methods don't present medical evidence. But his confidence in his practice and his commitment to the outcome are reflected on his business card, which says "10-minute orthopedic practice for ¥30,000."

The concept of his treatment is the same as standard Oriental medicine, which aims to improve the natural healing power inherent in the human body. What is unique about his method is the treatment. His treatment primarily focuses on the neck and the ankles, two crucial points of a human body. The neck is the point where a lot of important structures are, including the vagus nerve, and it is the point to fix autonomic nerves that are responsible for the functions of several organs. The ankle, meanwhile, is the base, or foundation, of the human body that physically supports the whole structure, and is also the place to fix the muscles and bone alignment of the feet, he said. His treatment is to manipulate the bones and muscles of the neck and ankles to the correct positions to improve blood circulation through the entire body.

"There are several important spots between the neck and the ankle, and they correlate to each other since they all are connected together in the body," Kumagai explained in an interview in Tokyo. "Once the top and the bottom of a body, namely the neck and the ankles, are fixed into the right positions, the other spots in between start working automatically to place themselves into the right positions."

In treating a stiff right shoulder, a chiropractor usually treats the stiff spot or the scapula. However, that only mitigates the pain briefly and doesn't address the source of the pain, he said.

The other unique thing about his treatment is that his methods and techniques can be shared with other practitioners.

Since conventional chiropractic treatment and related techniques are largely dependent on practitioners' experiences, the techniques and procedures cannot be shared, Kumagai said. Even if a rookie chiropractor somehow were to learn a veteran's procedures, it is difficult to know if the obtained techniques are effective, because the rookie practitioner exercises the procedures on different patients, rather than the patients treated by the veteran.

Kumagai's success came with the discovery of commonalities among patients for particular complaints such as back pain, swollen knees or stiff shoulders, regardless of the sex or age of patients. He systematized effective techniques and procedures for those complaints and gathered them in one manual, so that any chiropractor can use them on any patient.

Today, Kumagai's fame has spread nationwide, and he and his association not only draw chiropractors, but also masseurs, orthopedic practitioners, acupuncturists and moxa-cauterizers from all over the country to learn the methods.

"My methods are highly versatile, so the treatment is applicable to patients visiting any clinic," he said. "And those practitioners can use my methods in combination with their existing treatments."

Currently, Kumagai runs five clinics in Tokyo, in addition to one in Osaka and another in Niigata Prefecture, and the association runs operations nationwide in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sendai, holding seminars and offering courses to teach the methods to others.

The organization functions as a training institution, or a vehicle to share and spread Kumagai's methods, to produce "certified instructors," which now number more than 600 nationwide, he said.

This series has been prepared in collaboration with Enjin Co., which produces and operates a video website, kenja.tv, specializing in profiles of up-and-coming Japanese entrepreneurs.