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Take That Back

Who's treating the chronic aches and pains of some of Manhattan's most demanding patients? A whole new class of chiropractors like Douglas Seckendorf, whose high-tech offices and great hands are raising the status of an oft-maligned spinal specialty (even if some orthopedists still get a little bent out of shape on the subject).


No Pain, No Gain: Douglas Seckendorf in his East Side office.  

Brooke Astor told Oscar de la Renta about it, and if it was good enough for Mrs. Astor, and, come to think of it, for Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Ralph and Ricky Lauren, and -- wait a minute, isn't that Roger Ailes over there, and Über–investment banker Pete Peterson? -- then it was plenty fine for the celebrated designer.

No, it isn't Sirio's place -- Le Cirque 2000 -- at lunchtime. It's Douglas Seckendorf's, Dr. Seckendorf to you, chiropractor to the accomplished, well-heeled, well-connected, and, well, sore.

"What he can do for you, Le Cirque cannot," says De la Renta. "He is a magician."

Indeed: Seckendorf, founder of Manhattan Sports Medicine, seems to be able to make back misery disappear. Along with several other New York practitioners, he has staked out his turf -- the musculoskeletal region -- and is showing A-list patients, who clearly haven't got time for the pain, that V-I-O-X-X isn't the only way to spell relief.

These chiropractors have become something of a secret weapon for those who refuse to take back pain lying down, who want to give a wide berth to bed rest, painkillers, and especially surgery.

"I had back surgery a year and a half ago, but after the surgery, I was in a car accident and had whiplash and horrible pain in my elbows and arms," says De la Renta. "The doctor said I would need another surgery on my cervical vertebrae, and I have to tell you, I went to Dr. Seckendorf every day for six weeks and not only did I not have to have the surgery, I have never again had any pain."

Same deal with Peterson, head of the Blackstone Group, who had an assortment of problems, chief among them Achilles'-tendon issues and stenosis (narrowing of the canal where the nerves exit the spine). He heard about Seckendorf from a fellow resident of the River House who'd taken his tennis elbow to countless doctors, finally scoring with the good chiropractor.

"In a matter of weeks, my Achilles' tendon was cured," says Peterson. "Later, when an orthopedic surgeon said I should have surgery for the stenosis, Doug said, 'Pete, we don't understand the intricacies of the back as much as we think.' He suggested back-strengthening exercises and cortisone injections at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I had two and I was fine.

"Since I've been going to him, it's a veritable Who's Who of New York. I don't think I've ever been there and not recognized somebody. You approach his business with a question, but when you see the results . . . He's almost like a medical doctor." Peterson means this as a compliment, and Seckendorf takes it as such. Unlike many of his fellow chiropractors, and unlike some patients, he has nothing against orthopedists and neurologists (who are among his best referral sources). He also has nothing against injections, surgery, and anti-inflammatories. He simply wants it understood that there's more out there.

"If you're not a candidate for surgery, it's a conundrum," says Seckendorf, 37, who -- maybe it's the lab coat, maybe the open, boyish look -- recalls ER's Noah Wyle. He eschews New Age sounds and New Age scents in favor of a radio set, quite loudly, to WCBS-FM. "You've gone to an orthopedist, you've been given an MRI, you're given a diagnosis like 'It looks like you've slipped a disc.' If it's a progressive guy, he'll give you a list of physical therapists who may not specialize in the spine. Otherwise, it'll be 'Here's an anti-inflammatory. Go rest.'

"But the people I take care of don't want to be given an anti-inflammatory and not go to work. They're doers. Nothing irritates someone who's used to being active more than being told they can't run," adds Seckendorf, whose East 58th Street facilities include X-ray, a small Cybex-stuffed gym where patients are monitored by exercise physiologists, physical therapists, and chiropractors, and whose offerings include back school (course work includes the proper way to brush your teeth, get dressed, pick out a package, pick up a child, swing a golf club). The fee for the first visit is $325; follow-up sessions run from $125 to $140.

Investor and philanthropist Henry Kravis began seeing Seckendorf first for elbow problems, then back, then neck. "I've seen a lot of chiropractors and he's a big notch above -- he thinks like a doctor," says Kravis, a founding partner of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (and majority owner of Primedia, New York's parent company). "When he finally determined that I did need neck surgery, he recommended four doctors and went with me to every one of them to make sure I wasn't missing anything they were telling me. He doesn't sugar-coat and he explains everything."

"Patients want to be proactive," says chiropractor Steven Margolin, founder of the lower Fifth Avenue "wellness center" that bears his name and treats the aches and pains of, among others, actresses Kristen Johnston and Cynthia Nixon with massage, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling along with chiropractic. "They want to know what they can do to decrease their symptoms and help reduce the chances of their returning. They've gone through the usual medical route, and they're either tired of being on medication or haven't got the results they wanted."

Cilda Shaur, a former dancer, came to Margolin after the second of two car accidents put her on her back for eight weeks with severe whiplash and nerve damage down her right arm. "I had seen chiropractors before, some good, some bad, but I just didn't want to go through all that sifting again. I finally went, and could have kicked myself: Why did I wait so long? The way he puts his hands on your back, he's just one of those guys who's a healer."

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