Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments

Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments

chiropractic spinal adjustment by Dr Barry Marks Orange CA

Orange County, CA
Chiropractic spinal adjustments have been proven to relieve your pain at the site of the adjustment, but more importantly can relieve pain in other areas and also improve many functions of your body.

The basis of Chiropractic Health Care revolves around locating areas of the spine where the spinal bones are malfunctioning (stuck) and “correcting” or unlocking the malfunction by manually moving the joints. Chiropractors call this movement of bones an “adjustment.” Scientific and medical literature use the term spinal manipulation therapy (SMT).

How did chiropractic begin?

D. D. Palmer first chiropractor delivering an adjustment
D.D. Palmer delivering an adjustment, Davenport, IA circa 1890’s

The origins of chiropractic began with D.D. Palmer, an inquisitive man in Iowa who sought to unravel how our bodies work. He was interested in magnetism ad various other concepts. Once particular concept he was keen on was the relationship between the spine and the rest of the body. He determined that life energy flows from the brain downward to the rest of the body through the nerves. He also theorized that an alteration or blockage of nerve flow could lead to malfunction and illness. Eventually, he developed a system of locating blockages within the spine referred to as ‘subluxations” and a method of manually moving the spine in a very specific manner to correct the subluxations and restore health. In time, he developed a working structure of “chiropractic” and opened the world’s first Chiropractic College and passed his knowledge on to others.

Early chiropractic thinking: “Bone on nerve”

Early chiropractors (and still many today when oversimplifying chiropractic to the public) describe a subluxation as a “bone pushing on a nerve” and the adjustment as “taking the bone off of the nerve.” As I said, this is overly simplistic and we now know, bones do not push on nerves except in very rare cases and in those cases the patient is usually debilitated.

A more accurate way of thinking about it is, when the spinal bones malfunction, they stimulate nerves in the area to send distress signals to the brain that then sends messages back that we interpret as pain or that cause spasm, inflammation and other distress in our body. The adjustment does not take the bone “from here and put it over there” and off of the nerve. This what I call the “light switch” understanding of chiropractic. Bone on, bone off. I prefer the example of a rusted nut and bolt. The nut needs to be moved to unlock it from the rusted bolt. The adjustment restores motion in the stuck joint. But adjustments also send messages to the nervous system that results in positive things happening which you will learn later.

The “We know it works, just ask a patient, but we can’t prove it” stage of chiropractic

chiropractic works Many studies over the past 100 years have looked at the premise of chiropractic adjustments and their relationship to pain relief and broader health. Most of the studies have shown a relationship, yet lacked a more precise understanding of exactly how it happens. The result was known anecdotally by millions of chiropractic patients and their doctors for over 100 years, but the mechanism has been questioned.

What was known was that a specific type of chiropractic adjustment causes changes within the body. Changes that result in relief of pain, but also in things like digestion, breathing, heart rate, sleep, moods and more. The type of adjustment, which was the general type discovered by Palmer, is what is described as a “high velocity-low amplitude” thrust by hand. High velocity means it is a quick movement. Low amplitude meaning it is a force that does not push deeply into the spine. Because it requires a quick movement yet shallow impulse, it is a decidedly difficult skill to develop. It is the type of adjustment that the vast majority of chiropractors still practice today.

There are many differing “techniques” of delivering a chiropractic adjustment

No matter what approach your chiropractor uses, the goal is the same: remove the blockage of movement and nerve flow in the spine. If you’re a patient you will recognize the high velocity low amplitude adjustment as your chiropractor taking your spine in hand, turn or tilting to take out slack and tension and then a very quick movement that results in a pop or crack. The sound you hear is a by product of carbon dioxide gas being released when the joint is moved through its maximum physiologic movement. The sound is less important than the feeling of the bones moving. Some spines because they are damaged and can no longer hold the carbon dioxide gas inside the joint, will not make an audible pop or crack, but you can still feel the movement.

What we now know about chiropractic adjustments and how they affect the body

Scientific research studies by Coronado, Reed, Mohammadian, Gay and others have shown chiropractic spinal adjustments (manual, high velocity, low amplitude variety) move the joints of the spine. When the joints are moved, nerve sensors within the joints send messages to the spinal cord and brain. This nerve activity to the spinal cord and brain results in not only pain releif at the joints adjusted, but also at wide ranging areas throughout the body including the brain itself.

Based on this scientific evidence we can say that chiropractic adjustments cause changes within both the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside the spinal cord) and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Specifically in the central nervous system, the areas affected are the thalamus and the central pain tracts that travel from the brain and cord down to the body.

Chiropractic adjustments excite the brain!

chiropractic adjustments positively affect the brain

Within the brain, chiropractic adjustments affect several regions throughout the brain that have been measured. These tests are reproducible giving them merit.

The brain regions affected result in changes in functions of: the cardiovascular system, cognitive function, consciousness, decision making, emotions, homeostasis, internal organs, learning, memory, motivation, motor control, pain of the skin, perception, self-awareness, sensations of touch and temperature, skeletal muscles, and voluntary movements.

Measurable and reproducible brain changes as a direct result of chiropractic adjustments are crucial to understanding why chiropractic patients notice not only pain relief after treatment, but an overall feeling of wellness and many illnesses seem to disappear after undergoing care.

Not all spinal movements are the same

Interestingly, the studies definitively show general mobilization of joints (like physical therapists and “non-adjusting chiropractors” perform) do not affect the nervous system as do chiropractic high velocity, low amplitude adjustments. Therefore, when your physical therapist stretches you, even in a rhythmic fashion and you feel a few pops here and there it does not do the same as a chiropractic adjustment. Similarly, if your chiropractor does not do adjustments manually, and instead places a device on you and clicks it over and over again, it may cause some sort of response, but it is not going to do all that a high velocity, low amplitude adjustment will.

To see first hand how chiropractic adjustments can relieve your pain and improve your health call Dr Marks at (714) 938-0575.

For a more detailed explanation and scientific references go to:

How Does the Chiropractic Adjustment Work? A Literature Review of Pain Mechanisms and Brain Function Alteration: The Brain Connection


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