When she was in high school, Dr. Mercedes Cook thought that she would be doing pre-med and going straight to medical school. How she ended up in upper cervical chiropractic is a story that would make you want to believe in destiny – or, more tangibly, purpose. As a cheerleader and dancer in high school, Dr. Mercedes used to have a couple of pain issues, including a really bad case of hip pain. When the traditional medical route didn’t give her any relief, her parents finally took her to see a chiropractor. Her first experience of chiropractic care turned out to be upper cervical – and the healing she got from it would change the trajectory of her life and career forever. Dr. Mercedes now runs a thriving practice in San Diego, California. Listen in as she shares her miraculous journey on the show with Dr. Kevin Pecca.
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Destined For Upper Cervical Chiropractic With Dr. Mercedes Cook
On this episode, we have an amazing Blair Upper Cervical chiropractor out of San Diego, California, Dr. Mercedes Cook. Most people became Upper Cervical doctors because it has saved their life in some type of way. Upper Cervical Chiropractic gave Dr. Mercedes her life back when she was suffering with excruciating relentless hip pain in high school that would not go away. She went the standard medical route and the doctors could not find anything wrong with her hip. After one Upper Cervical adjustment, the pain was gone. After that, she realized she was destined to be an Upper Cervical doctor. These are my favorite stories because I love when people use what helped them to get their life back to help other people. That's what Dr. Mercedes is doing. She's doing some amazing work in her own practice healing others. It was an honor to have her on the show. Please welcome, Dr. Mercedes Cook.
We have a very special guest, Dr. Mercedes Cook, out of San Diego, California. She is a Blair Upper Cervical doctor. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Upper Cervical conference in 2020. She's amazing and she's doing amazing work. It's an absolute thrill to have her on the show. Dr. Mercedes, how are you?
I'm doing awesome. I’m thrilled that you asked me to come to your show. I love talking about Upper Cervical with people and how I found it like what we're doing in our office. I'm excited to share a little bit more with you.
I'm excited too. I'm always interested to see how people got into Upper Cervical Chiropractic because not many people know about it and not many doctors practice it. Where are you from originally, Mercedes?
I'm originally from a small town in rural Ohio called Anna. I met and started Upper Cervical Care when I was in high school. My parents had taken me to a couple of doctors for some different issues, mainly bad hip pain. I was a cheerleader and dancer growing up. I beat my body up a little bit. Having a lot of issues as far as pain goes, but also other things like anxiety and not sleeping well. I was also graduating high school going into college, all the stress that comes at that age. My parents and I weren't getting any help. We did all the traditional standard medical route and still didn't see any results with anything.
Finally, one of my mom's friends told her, “You guys should go see this chiropractor.” He's five minutes from our town, just the next town over. We didn't know anything about chiropractic, let alone upper cervical, but we thought, “Let's go check it out and see if this guy can help us.” I will always remember it like it was yesterday. His name is Dr. Anthony Monnin from Botkins, Ohio. I was sitting in his office. He's talking to me about the Atlas, the top bone in your neck and how it's probably causing my hip pain. I'm sitting there thinking, “I have no idea what this guy is saying,” but I'm willing to try anything.
Your first chiropractic experience was upper cervical?
Yeah, which I know is super rare too. I went through that process and got some imaging done of my neck. He did the first correction. I went and rested afterwards. I got up and immediately I felt completely different. I didn't have hip pain when I stood up, which is something that had been going on for months. It was already an immediate reaction. After I left the room, I told my mom, “I don't even know how this happened. This guy barely touched my neck and now my hip is fine.” He invited us to a class later that week. We went to a patient orientation class. He was explaining upper cervical a little bit more in depth and what it's truly doing.
Not having hip pain was great, but learning more about the neurological side about decreasing anxiety, sleeping better, letting your body function in a clear and more optimal way. I didn't even know that was possible through something like an adjustment. I felt all of those things immediately. I was sitting in the patient orientation class with my mom and I looked at her. I was like, “Mom, I'm supposed to be a chiropractor.” She goes, “That's awesome. Let's do it.” That was a cool life-altering moment. Through high school, we went and job shadowed and did all of these different things.
I was getting ready to go to Miami University of Ohio and I was going to do pre-med. I thought that I would go to medical school and be a doctor. It sounded like a good thing to do. I wasn't super passionate about it and didn't have a why behind it. That's just where I was going until I met Dr. Monnin and experienced what upper cervical care was, which is cool. You'll think it's even more interesting that I went to chiropractic school only knowing upper cervical.
You thought upper cervical was chiropractic?
Yeah. That was eye-opening because everyone I met, no one else knew what upper cervical was.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Life University in Georgia.
I went to a diversified twist crack pop school. Nobody knew upper cervical either, but there's a good club you can go to at Life. Did you find a good niche of upper cervical down there?
I was laughed at for upper cervical in my school. Nobody knew what it was. There was one slide on it. I raised my hand and said, “What is that?” They said, “Don't worry about it. It doesn't work.” I was like, “Okay.”
Once I got there, there is a bit more of an upper cervical presence. It's interesting because depending on what school you go to, you're exposed to certain techniques versus other techniques. I knew how upper cervical changed my life. However, I was super open to learning. We have to learn other techniques here in school. I'm like, “I’ll learn all these different things and maybe do a combination or figure out what I like. Maybe there's something better.” Every single thing that I learned, I was like, “No, upper cervical is the thing.” To me personally, it made the most sense using imaging, objective measures, having more scientific basis.
There's the art to it too. There are many components, which I love about it. It always made the most sense to me and everyone that I talked to who was doing upper cervical loved their life and their practice. They saw all these amazing things. I was like, “That's what I want. I want to do that for other people.” All through school, I was open to learning other things, but it always came back to upper cervical and that's what worked for me. That's how I like to get adjusted. I'd seen it do many amazing things for other people. I stuck with that all through school.
I noticed when other chiropractors used to come to my school and speak, they were either speaking about money or this is what you have to do to be successful in practice. An upper cervical person would speak and they would start talking about these miracles they would see in their office. It’s like, “That's what I want to do. If I do that, the money will probably follow because they're getting such amazing results anyway.” It was cool to hear doctors in practice loving what they do and seeing unbelievable things on a daily basis. You're at Life University. You know you want to do Upper Cervical Chiropractic. How was your experience in clinic and what did you want to do when you graduated?
My experience in clinic was good. I was stuck with doing upper cervical in clinic, which was also rare. There were only a couple of us in outpatient clinic who were doing it. At the time, I was doing knee-chest. That's how I had been adjusted through that technique. It’s not that that's all I knew. That's what I did in clinic. That's what I trained. I did those seminars are all through school. Another interesting thing was, I didn't even know that even in the upper cervical world. There are different techniques even within that, which is cool.
I didn't learn much about that during school. I knew what my thing was. I wanted to get good on it. I honed in on that, which was great. I was able to do that in clinic. I was able to do my peak, which is an externship as we call it at Life. I did that with Dr. Adam Tedder in Georgia. He had a knee-chest practice as well, which is awesome. A little backstory, my husband is from Long Beach, California. We both went to the same undergrad. We always knew going through school that we want to move to California. We want to open up a practice there. Like most students in school, I'm going through school, making sure I'm doing well in my classes.
I'm not thinking about what it takes to own a business and start a practice and all that stuff. It wasn't on my mind at least. When I got closer to graduation, I knew that I was not ready to start my own practice. I was okay with that. Dr. Monnin, who was from Ohio where I got my first adjustment, he had been in contact with me all through school. He let me know like, “If you're not ready to start your own practice, I want to hire you as an associate after school. You can work here and then whenever you feel ready, you can go out to California and do your own thing.”
At first, I was super resistant because I'm like, “I don't want to move back home. That's not what I wanted to do.” As I got closer, me and my husband decided that this is what's going to be best for us. I have an amazing mentor that is willing to let me come into his practice and get experience, not just clinically but also help with the business side of things and I'm super close with my family. It was a win-win. I'll move back there and get a hang out with them. That was a cool experience.
We ended up moving back to Ohio after being in Georgia. I worked there. I set a goal for myself that I wanted to be an associate for two years. I was going to move to California and opened my own practice. During that time, I was getting things prepared on how I was going to open. I had my business plan ready and all the things. A year and a half into associating, I get this call from Adam Tedder, who I did my internship with. He's like, “Dr. Mercedes, there's this lady in San Diego. She's selling her practice. She does Blair.” He knew that I wanted to transition from the technique I was doing into Blair. I was like, “I've already picked out where I want to live. I already have everything ready to go. I don't know if I want to do that.” He pushed me to give her a call anyways. I was like, “You're right.”
Do you want to go around Long Beach?
We wanted to start a practice in San Clemente. We had been in the area a ton. We liked a chill place. That's where we had picked. After that call, I was like, “I'm going to call this lady in San Diego, see why she's selling her practice. What's going on? Maybe I’ll go check it out.” After the first phone call with this other doc, I knew instantly that I was moving to San Diego.
Did you guys connect right away?
Yeah. You know how everything aligns when it's supposed to work out? In two weeks, my husband and I were coming out to LA for a wedding. We're like, “While we're there, we might as well go down to San Diego, check out this practice.” The whole time, I had this feeling that this was totally going to be it. We come to the wedding. We go see the practice. The practice is beautiful. It has everything I could possibly want. All the technology. It has digital X-Ray, CBCT and everything. I'm like, “This is what my dream practice would look like if I open it. If I had the money to put everything in it that I want, this would be it.” I would be totally crazy not to do this.
That was a year and a half into my associateship. I was super thankful for the support I was getting from my other office because they all knew that I wanted to move to California and start my own thing. My family has been super supportive in whatever I do. It's easy for us to come out here and make the transition. It was an interesting time because we moved to San Diego in October 2019. I got integrated into the practice for a couple of months, the other doc left and then COVID happened. That was unbelievable.
There was straight fear. In the beginning, nobody knew what was going to happen if every business in America was going to shut down or what was going to go forward. That was scary of the uncertainty. For whatever reason, I told myself that no matter what happens and as long as I'm legally allowed to keep my business open, I'm going to show up every day. I'm doing to do my best. That has to be enough. For the first couple of weeks, it was hard with all the uncertainty. Once I shifted my mentality like I've been here for a couple of months, I was super grateful for all the people that I had met and had integrated into my network in such quick notice. That was helpful because I had this whole support system, not just my family, husband and friends, but also other healthcare providers that I had met and had a great referral system.
It kept my practice alive because as chiropractors, at least for a lot of us, we love going out and networking, doing talks and doing things in person. That was all completely over with. I had no idea what to expect. I used that time to work on some personal development stuff. If I can show up for people in a big way and help them during this crazy and uncertain time. I know that will be enough and that will help my business. Ever since I made that mind shift, being out in California has been a huge blessing in many ways. Thankfully, the practice has been amazing. It was helpful having existing clients since I bought the practice, and then find my own people, bring in my own clients. It's been amazing and I feel super grateful for how things have gone so far.
Looking back on it now, I wouldn't recommend anybody graduating in upper chiropractic school and opening up an upper cervical practice. With all your patients, you're the last stop on that patient's list because they've been everywhere else. You've got a lot of difficult cases. To be able to learn from somebody for two years and six months in the other practice, what was that experience like for you to help you get ready to where you're at now?
It was crucial to my skillset. As you said, anybody that is doing upper cervical work, I highly recommend associating and working for a mentor before. Some people can do. I've had friends that have done it and done amazing. For me, it’s getting to build up the confidence to handle these tough cases and when unexpected things happen. During my associateship, I felt like that first year and a half, there were many crazy cases and unexpected things. Even Dr. Monnin, who I was associating for, he'd been in practice for several years. He was like, “Many crazy things are coming up with you being here. It's to prep you for when you're on your own. I haven't even seen this many crazy things happen in ten years, and now all these things are coming up.” It was such a great learning experience for me.
The other cool thing was during this time. I graduated and I had a Diplomate program. Once I found out about that and how it taught you about all the different techniques, and not that you were going to practice all of them, but getting a better knowledge of all the techniques and how they do their analysis. I was super intrigued. I had watched Dr. Monnin go through the diplomate program as well. I saw how it changed his practice. It was amazing. After I graduated in December of 2017, I went ahead and joined the diplomate program in April of 2018.
It was a cool experience to get exposure to that. Not only did I have the associateship, I started the Diplomate program. I was if not close to the youngest person in it because I came out of school. I'm sitting in a room with all these upper cervical chiropractors who have been in practice for 5, 10, 20, even 30 years. That in itself was cool for me and the things that I learned, not just in the class, which is still ongoing. I'm not even in the class, but those personal relationships and learning from other people who've been doing this for so long. It was truly amazing. It prepped me for not only owning my own practice in a completely new city with no family, but it also prepped me for owning a business and being able to do well in the midst of COVID era. I’m super thankful for that.
Are you in Dr. Liz Hoefer’s class?
Talking about an internship, she taught me everything I know about Blair. I've never seen anybody take the time with me. When you go shadow other doctors, they're busy. They're doing their thing, you're just watching. She took me hands-on, made sure I was doing leg checks and adjustments. I couldn't say enough about her. I know she's in your class and I'm sure you have a bunch of other people in your class. It was an honor to be in there and pick their brain. Anybody that's been doing upper cervical for over five years, I have such a great appreciation for because you see everything. It gets difficult at times. If you hung it with for that long, you're doing a good job. How's practice for you now? What's it like? What cases are you seeing in your office?
Practice now, once I got through those first couple of months of uncertainty with COVID, things have been rolling and going smoothly. It's me and my office manager, Gloria, who is a complete rockstar. She was working for the other doctor before I came and bought the practice. She was already well-integrated. Having an office manager who takes care of every single thing, all I do is I go in there and take care of people. That's what I'm good at. That's been a huge blessing. I was thinking some of my coolest cases, which is funny that we're doing this show because I had this mom bring her daughter in. She's a teenager and she started developing random ticks where she would hit herself or throw things involuntarily. When she came into my office, she was yelling random things like, “I'm a pumpkin or I'm a dragon,” like completely off the wall.
How old is this girl?
Was she doing this a year or two ago?
No. This is just a couple of weeks into all of this happening. The mom is super concerned. She had taken her daughter to regular chiropractors before for sports and maintenance-type style chiropractic. She said that she was reading into upper cervical and she felt like maybe a more specific approach and getting some imaging done would be good. We went through the whole process. We did a CBCT scan on her. We did all of our thermography checks and gave her first adjustment. I wasn't supposed to see them, but her mom called me. She was like, “I should bring my daughter back in. I want you to see her.” I was like, “Just bring her on back in.”
Within a day, she walks back into my office quiet as can be, not throwing anything, doesn't yell out that she's a pumpkin. I cried a little bit. It was powerful. This mom was like, “Did this just happen?” It is cool. That brings it back to upper cervical, when you do it properly, it can change people's lives in such a big way. This girl is thirteen years old and if no one ever got to the root cause of the problem, which for her was her top bone in her neck. If nobody ever figured that out, this would lead into a trajectory of medication after medication and never solving the problem. I'm thankful that this mom found our office and decided to come in. That's something that happened. It’s freaking cool.
That's a huge ripple effect too because when you have something like that, not only is it affecting that little girl, it is going to put pressure on the mother and on the marriage. It might even cause some family issues down the road. That whole ripple effect affected many people in such a positive way from moving the top bone in the neck back in place. It's the most amazing thing. It will forever blow my mind of how amazing upper cervical is.
Some of my other top cases that come to the office is I see a lot Meniere’s cases, which are super fascinating. Every patient is a little bit different. Overall, all of the cases that I've seen have responded extremely well. Some who get their first Atlas correction hold well. I've had a couple who haven't had Meniere’s attack since being under care. There are some patients who will get a correction, they'll be fine for a couple of months. They will wait until some of the symptoms start coming back, and then they'll come back to get a correction. Those are some of the biggest things. I don't know if it's just being a female. I feel like I attract a lot of younger to middle-aged women who are dealing with chronic issues like headaches, migraines and vertigo. Those are the top things that we see. At the end of the day, getting rid of symptoms is great, but seeing people get their life back. That is the coolest part of our job.
Dr. Mercedes, where can people find you? Where is your practice and where are you at online?
My practice name is Upper Cervical Chiropractic San Diego. We have an Instagram. We also have a Facebook page under our office name. Our website is UpperCervicalSD.com. If you look up any of those or our website, that will direct you to all of our social media. If you're in the San Diego area, my practice is located in Mission Valley. It's very nice and central, which I love. We have a lot of people coming from the city, North County, Mexico. It an easy, good central location for everybody.
One question I forgot to ask you, you had CBCT and digital X-ray. Are there instances where you're using both?
I am using CBCT 99% of the time. In my consultation, what I do is I’m getting a feel for like, “Is this solely an upper cervical problem? Is it something that could be potentially affecting them in their lower back as well?” I gauge that through the consultation and then I'll do an exam, which I'm sure you do something similar where we do the Tytron scans. We do different leg checks, posture checks and through palpation, especially with our Blair-specific leg checks. We know if this is going to be an issue in the upper cervical or is there something going on in their low back as well? If I suspect that if any of the issues are coming from the lower back or they fractured something, or something doesn't add up, then I'll for sure get a bigger picture with doing more imaging.
Most of the time, I can identify and show the patient that, “The issue, whether it's in your neck or your back, it's all coming from up at the top. Let's start with the CBCT scan and be a little bit more conservative on imaging. If that corrects the issue, great. If it doesn't, we need more imaging, then we can always go back.” The majority of the time I use CBCT because it gives some so much good information that once you correct that, everything else falls into place as well.
I switched over to CBCT in 2019. It's night and day. I can't believe I was using digital X-rays before that. It's changed the results of not how I adjust, but the ability to find where the actual problem is in the neck, I wouldn't even practice without it at this point. The only limitation I do see with it is sometimes when you get somebody with big burly shoulders, you only get down to about C3, C4. It would come in handy to have that digital where I can get a nice lateral of 5, 6 and 7. The CBCT is a game-changer. I recommend anybody doing the upper cervical work to at least try to find a mobile service or refer out for scans.
It truly is amazing. It’s changing the game in chiropractic, specifically upper cervical. It’s taking it to the next level. I feel extremely grateful to be able to have it in-house, in my practice so patients can get their scans there, and we can get things moving.
It's funny when you talk to somebody like Jake who found it. He's the humblest person ever. He’s like, “It’s no big deal.” He legitimately revolutionized the way upper cervical chiropractic works. At the end of every show, I like to ask all my guests one question, what is one piece of advice that resonated with you over the years that you would like to gift the audience? It could be anything.
The absolute best advice that I've ever gotten, and this is true, not even in the chiropractic world, but whatever area of life or field of work that you're in. If you become extremely true to yourself and know what you're good at and who you're good at helping, that's when you're truly going to succeed. Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to do it all and be it all for everybody. That diminishes our true light and gift that we have to give. Something that I had to learn over my first couple years of practice is, who am I? What am I good at doing? Who are the people that I'm good at helping? Because of staying true to myself and honing in on who I'm best at helping, I've been able to get good results, help the people, and then also recognize people that are not in my realm of helping. It’s not saying like, “Sorry, I can't help you,” but figuring out who can help them. If I'm not going to do it or it's not going to be a complete job, I want to find somebody that is going to correct their problem. My biggest advice is be true to yourself all the time and get good at what you're good at, and then find other people who hone their craft and are good at their thing. When you build that network in that community, you truly will help people in many ways.
It's funny you say that. I was thinking about when somebody comes to your office and you say, “How did you hear about us?” They say this one person's name and you think back to that person, it's like, “I didn't “help them” out get 100% symptom-free, but I remember being completely authentic with them and gave them everything I had.” I think that goes a long way with people because we still get referrals in our office from people that we thought we “didn't help” as much as we wanted to. Those people recognize that, and they still send people into your office because they recognize that you're doing a great job. You genuinely want to help as many people as you can. Doc, thank you for coming on. You have an amazing story. I would love to have you back on any time. Thanks for putting all the cards out on the table. I appreciate you.
Thank you so much.
- Dr. Mercedes Cook
- Dr. Anthony Monnin
- Dr. Adam Tedder
- Instagram - Upper Cervical Chiropractic San Diego
- Facebook - Upper Cervical Chiropractic San Diego
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