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Bernstein: Real Doctors Wary Of Jim McMahon's Treatment

By Dan Bernstein-- senior columnist

(CBS) Most of the problems with the ESPN documentary about the 1985 Bears were minor, like the too-liberal use of highlights spanning from 1984 to 1989 while ostensibly illustrating the story of a specific year, but there's no harm in that.

What can be dangerous, however, is portraying a serious clinical procedure's anecdotal efficacy without rigorous questions asked about whether or not it's real.

That's what the producers did while following the storyline of former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who claims that a New York-based chiropractor restored and refreshed his diminished brain function by realigning the bones in his neck. It has been described as an alteration in the flow of spinal fluid to allow toxins to drain properly from the head.

Dr. Scott Rosa received the bulk of the airtime in the movie, pointing at fancy-looking imaging and using what looked like a delicate jackhammer to work his neurological magic.

The problem is that he's not really a doctor, at least not in the sense of actually having gone to medical school. He graduated Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1987. The procedure upon which he means to stake his professional name hasn't been the subject of medical peer review, to then be legitimized by an accredited medical journal.

670 The Score reached out to multiple MDs in multiple specialties on the condition of anonymity for background and comment on the procedure, and the responses varied from curiosity to outright dismissal, but all were wary.

All accept the possibility that new discoveries can be made. They remain skeptical, though, of anything not conducted by licensed physicians and submitted for scientific replication by peers. Also noted was the existence of placebo effect -- that McMahon could indeed be feeling like he's thinking more clearly, but only due to the mind's powerful ability to perceive what it wants.

One doctor said "be dubious -- I have no idea how chiropractic adjustments 'change flow of spinal fluid.'" Another doubted the too-facile description of "toxins," pointing to the much more complicated and posthumously proven causes of football-related brain deterioration -- physically destroyed neurons and the accumulation of tau protein.

Another was more direct, fearful that a failure to properly subject claims like McMahon's to genuine medical vetting can lead to needless expense or far worse for many of those so desperate for help.

"I honestly feel bad for (McMahon)," the doctor said. "But the individuals taking advantage of the uncertainties around CTE/prolonged concussion symptoms are the worst kind of scumbag."

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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