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CENTERPIECE: Petaluma chiropractors adjusting expectations

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HEALTH & FITNESS INNOVATORS

This feature story is part two of the Argus-Courier’s four-part series on individuals and organizations in our community who are using creativity and invention to utilize older health, nutrition, and fitness practices in bold new ways. The series will continue next week with a piece on Sage & Salt Nutrition, put a fresh spin on ancient approaches to food and medicine.

Acorn Chiropractic Club is at 151 2nd Street. The website is AcornChiropracticClub.com.

First-timers to Acorn Chiropractic Club in Petaluma frequently enter the office, take a look around at the toys on the floor and the decidedly casual décor, and assume they’ve somehow walked into the wrong place.

“It does look more like a daycare center than a normal chiropractic office,” laughs Dr. Jen Santos, waving an arm to take in the play equipment, the bright blue walls with décor partially adorned with children’s hand-prints, and the complete lack of receptionist table or clinical waiting-room furniture. In lieu of a front desk, there is a wall-mounted “station” where patients can check in by swiping their club card or entering their phone number, alerting Dr. Jen and Dr. Matt to their presence. “We wanted this place — which might be the only chiropractic practice to actually use the word ‘club’ in its name — to feel like a community. And it does, I think. Most days, it sounds like a daycare center, too. It can get pretty lively in here.”

Jen and Matt Santos, who both grew up in Petaluma, have taken the traditional concept of a chiropractic practice, and created something that feels as unlike a visit to a doctor’s office as possible. Not only does this create a more comfortable environment, it makes good business sense, they say. As at a health club, the Santos’ patients have the option of paying a monthly rate of $125, for which they can receive as many visits and adjustments as they wish. A family membership is $200 a month. Single visits are also available, generally for around $45 a pop.

Or a crack, as the case may be.

“We always knew that we wanted a business that was sustainable for our patients and for us, where people could get under long-term care, and where their whole families could get under long-term care,” explains Matt Santos. “The truth is, most people can’t afford that. So we said, ‘Let’s find a way to make that affordable for them, in a way that also works for us, so we can make a living, too.’ That’s where the membership model fits in.”

According to Matt, Acorn charges less for an individual visit than many other practices, but because of the way the business is structured — lean and streamlined, with minimal extra staff, an automated appointment system, and specific emphasis on treating whole families, and a side-emphasis on prenatal and pediatric chiropractic — they’ve been able to create exactly the kind of practice they dreamed of when they decided to attend Chiropractic College together, back in July of 2010.

“Basically, we’re trying to put as much of our time into actually taking care of people, rather than spending that time running all kinds of complex business things,” says Matt. “It simplifies everything, for us, and for our clientele, who generally want to come in, get taken care of in fifteen minutes or less, and then get on with their day.”

Acorn Chiropractic Club gets its name from a remark made by B.J. Palmer, considered the developer of American chiropractic.

“He said that everything within an acorn has the potential to become a mighty oak tree,” explains Jen Santos. “It just needs the right kind of encouragement. That’s why we do prenatal chiropractic, and work on kids from newborns all the way up. What we’re focused on is increasing neurological function, as opposed to just treating individual pain symptoms.”

HEALTH & FITNESS INNOVATORS

This feature story is part two of the Argus-Courier’s four-part series on individuals and organizations in our community who are using creativity and invention to utilize older health, nutrition, and fitness practices in bold new ways. The series will continue next week with a piece on Sage & Salt Nutrition, put a fresh spin on ancient approaches to food and medicine.

Acorn Chiropractic Club is at 151 2nd Street. The website is AcornChiropracticClub.com.

Jen’s father is a chiropractor, too, and she says she had her first-ever chiropractic adjustment when she was 45-minutes old. Her husband Matt first entered the field doing tech support for Jen’s father, and was eventually inspired to join Jen in her plan to learn chiropractic herself.

“This was a complete career change for me,” Matt says. “I started out working in his office doing IT stuff, and while doing that, part time, I saw people getting better through what was going on there, and I eventually decided I wanted to go to Chiropractic College too.”

In addition to the club model of their business, one of the things that stands out about Acorn is Jen Santos’ focus on working with pregnant women and newborns. Considered a leader in the field, she currently teaches prenatal and pediatric chiropractic at Life Chiropractic College West, in Hayward.

Acknowledging that many people are surprised, even alarmed, at the notion of a newborn— or a pregnant woman — undergoing a chiropractic adjustment, Jen Santos says that methods have been developed over the last several years that provide absolute safety for both pregnant women and their babies, before and after they are born.

As for the women themselves, Matt and Jen display an array of specially designed pillows that make it safe, and even comfortable, for pregnant women to lie face down for their chiropractic adjustment.

“When I was pregnant, this was the best thing in the world, just taking the pressure off,” she laughs, joking that she once considered a side-business in which pregnant women could come in and use the pillows to take a rare comfortable nap.

As for newborns, Jen says the kind of chiropractic done for small children is nothing like what is done with adults.

“I’ve adjusted many babies who are even younger than I was when I got my first adjustment,” she says. “You are not necessarily treating anything that is out of alignment, though they can be. You are helping to maintain the proper function of the nervous system, to keep the baby’s body functioning in the best way possible.”

The process is more akin to gentle massaging than a traditional bone adjustment, she points out, and is closely guided by where the child is at that stage of their development.

“To adjust a child,” she says, “we use about the same amount of pressure as you’d use in the grocery store to test the ripeness of a tomato. There’s no bending, twisting, popping, cracking. Nothing like that. Most parents, when they come in, have a lot of questions and a lot of apprehension, which is appropriate. Often, when I show them the amount of pressure I use, demonstrating on their own hand, they say, ‘Oh, that’s nothing. I do more changing their diapers than you do with these adjustments.’”

More and more parents, points out Matt Santos, are seeking chiropractic for their children, which is exactly why they’ve developed the particular family model they’ve created for Acorn Chiropractic Club.

Which brings us back to the general environment of the office.

“We certainly have a lot of adults without families who come to us,” says Matt. “But when it’s a family with children, we find that the kids are very comfortable here. That’s not something you find at most doctor offices.”

“If a child is nervous being adjusted on the table,” says Jen Santos, “I’ll come out and adjust them under the chair, or in the play teepee, I’ll adjust them there. And that’s okay. We’ll meet you where you’re at. Most of the time, kids aren’t nervous anymore after their second or third visit.”

“And by then,” says Matt, “they don’t want to leave.”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)