What is the importance of symptoms when assessing health?

What is the importance of symptoms?


A symptom is defined as a physical or mental feature which is regarded as indicating a condition of disease, particularly such a feature that is apparent to the patient. Symptoms can come in many different forms and can often overlap between conditions. For example, neck pain may indicate many different things, some conditions which are not threatening and are simple to help, and others which are far more serious. Another symptom we commonly see in the office is dizziness, once again there are multiple conditions this can be attributed to, it could be Meniere’s disease, vestibular migraines, BPPV, or something else entirely. So, what does a symptom indicate and what is the significance when assessing the state of a person’s health?


Does the presence of a symptom indicate ill health?

If you were to eat some food which had gone bad and contained harmful bacteria and you then vomited as a result, does that mean that you are unhealthy? No, that is an intelligent response of the body to eject the harmful substance in order to avoid harm. If you were to take anti sickness medication to alleviate the vomiting is this a helping or hindering recovery by treating the symptom? It hinders recovery as the body can no longer get rid of the spoiled food and risks further problems as a result.

Does the absence of symptoms indicate good health?

When somebody is at risk of having a heart attack, the first indicator is usually that they have a heart attack. Very often they will have had no cardiovascular symptoms in the days, weeks, or months leading up to that event. Does that mean that they were healthy during that time and the heart attack was a random event? Of course not. Disease is a process that takes time, it is a buildup of stressors which the body is trying to adapt until a limit is reached and things go wrong. The fact that there were no symptoms leading up to the event means that other measures are required to prevent such an event from occurring.

So, if symptoms are not a reliable measure of the state of health, then how can we best assess this? In our other blogs I have written about the principle of adaptability and how that can be measured. These objective tests give far more reliable and reproducible data on the state of a person’s health. Those articles can be found here - Link to measures or adaptability blogs (HRV and Thermography). By measuring objective physiology, we mitigate the complications of subjectivity.


Pain is a subjective experience and can be a difficult and sometimes debilitating symptom to deal with, particularly if you’ve had it for a long time. However, like any other symptom it does not necessarily mean you are not getting better. During the healing process tissues can become sensitive and painful, this is normal and does not mean further damage is occurring. By measuring physiology, we can assess when patients are healing and doing well neurologically and when they are not. The healing process is not linear. Patients will sometimes report flare ups of symptoms even when objectively their physiology is adapting well. This is a phenomenon called retracing which is explained further in this blog - https://www.topchiropractic.co.uk/retracing-and-upper-cervical-chiropractic/

Having established that symptoms are not a reliable indicator of health status does that mean that we simply ignore them? Of course not. Our primary objective is to assess and correct problems in the spine that are impacting nervous system function, and not simply symptom management. However, we will always look to assist you in finding solutions to manage you through the healing process. Why not book a call with us to find out more!

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