Marc Heller, Chiropractor

Today we’re talking with Dr. Marc Heller. Dr. Heller is a long term resident of Ashland, He started his practice over 32 years ago and for the last 22 years has been working with his wife, Beth Heller, LMT, to assist Ashlanders in healing their chronic and acute pain issues.

Dr. Heller is still passionate about his work; he continues to study and teach as well as practice. He also loves the outdoors, including hiking and back country skiing.  We caught up with him today to learn more about his practice and services that he brings to our community.

Dr. Heller, thanks for speaking with us today. Can you start by sharing a little background of how you became a chiropractor and what inspires you to do the work you do?

I briefly studied massage before moving to the Arkansas Ozarks in the early 70s with Beth. I realized that I needed a better way to support my family, and work that really spoke to me. I enrolled in massage school.

Where did this lead you?
My skills and my training were not quite enough to do what I wanted to do. I went to chiropractic school, in Chicago, and graduated cum laude as the Valedictorian of my class, in 1979. My valedictorian speech was about integrating the intuitive and the rational, as doctors, to enhance care for our patients.

How did you end up in Ashland?
During chiropractic school, I started looking for a place to practice and raise a family. I was looking for a college town, with culture, in a beautiful rural area, on the west coast. My brother Joel was living here in Ashland, and we made a summer trip to visit Oregon. Ashland had everything we wanted, and we have loved living here for the past 32 years.

What are your areas of interest within chiropractic?
I am blessed to be in a profession that has so many opportunities. I originally pictured myself as being more like a naturopath, a broad spectrum natural healer. Starting in 1994, I worked for 3 years in a multi-disciplinary spine center here in Ashland. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn from a diverse group of open minded medical professionals. Working at Pacific Spine taught me how little I knew about spinal pain.

That led me to study the osteopathic techniques. I have always been appreciative of the lower force techniques. I studied cranial techniques, spinal techniques such as muscle energy and counter-strain, as well as visceral manipulation. I also began to study advanced soft tissue work, including Graston technique and Fascial Manipulation.

I love being a chiropractor. I am simultaneously a physician, called on to diagnose, and a manual therapist, using my hands to treat joints and muscles, and a trainer, teaching the patient what they can do to help themselves. By being involved in diagnosis and treatment simultaneously, I get constant feedback that helps fine tune the care. This is such a unique role.

Back pain is a can of worms. Back pain is rarely a definitive single problem, and there are very few silver bullets that are going to cure the problem. Back pain is multi-factorial, complex and confusing. I happen to have the strange kind of mind that loves that challenge. Our methods work best with patients willing to be active participants in their own healing journey.

Do you teach others these skills?
I love teaching. In our office, the chiropractors and massage therapists get together for inservice training. I have led a multi-disciplinary study group for the last 20 years.

I have written for Dynamic Chiropractic, a national chiropractic trade journal, for the last 11 years. I am an integrator, writing about mobilization, soft tissue and rehab. I take information from various sources, and try to simplify and share. This regular column has challenged me to refine and focus my ideas. I also teach seminars to chiropractors and physical therapists.

What steps do you go to in maintaining your own health and keeping a balanced lifestyle?
Part of my interest in natural healing has come from my own experience. I attempted to be a purist vegetarian in my early 20s, and ruined my health. I have learned to eat right for my body.  I have struggled with chronic back pain for many years. Learning to manage this in my own body, primarily through simple daily exercises, has strongly influenced how I practice. I am lucky enough to work only three days a week, although writing and teaching expands my work time. I love to get out into nature, hiking, swimming, and skiing, and make time to do this every week.

You’ve worked with your wife now for over 22 years. Can you tell us about this?
Beth and I are both strong independent people. We probably argue more about our mutual patients then over any other topic. I sometimes think that I am the left brain, logical physician, and that she is the right brain, intuitive shaman and healer, but this is an oversimplification. Beth is my first “go to” person for my difficult cases, the person who looks with different eyes than me, and she is totally brilliant. Her work is far more than traditional massage therapy. She is trained as an Aston Patterner, and brings so many skills to her work.

What do you enjoy most about your work and the patients you serve?
I really enjoy helping people. I am never bored in my work. I have a hyperactive mind, and need lots of stimulation. What could be better than having to make 200 profound decisions every 15 minutes. What could be better than work that is both physical and mental. I really appreciate connecting with my patients, and the deep listening with both the ears and the hands that are at the core of being a “hands on” physician.

Can you talk about how someone with a chronic pain condition could use chiropractic care to either eliminate, reduce or manage the pain?
First, I love how you asked that question. Chronic pain needs management with more than just medications, and is only occasionally fully cured. As I have gotten older, I appreciate that we all have weak links. We work together with the patient, figuring out what are all of the factors that contribute to their pain. We then develop and continually fine tune a program to attempt to address those.

Any final words or advice for our readers, especially those with chronic pain
Yes. Don’t give up, don’t settle. This is tricky, as you both have to find inner peace and accept your limitations. At the same time, you have to keep working to find answers. Know that your daily actions and attitudes are huge. Listen to your own guidance, finding both activities and exercises that work for you, and create your own team of practitioners to help you.