Chiropractors are remarkably unique in the health care field as they are the only health care professionals trained to detect and treat a condition referred to as subluxations, also known as the "Vertebral Subluxation Complex". Chiropractors have found vertebral subluxations to be responsible for and contribute to a number of spinal and extra-spinal disorders.
What is the Vertebral Subluxation?
The vertebral subluxation is the term applied to a vertebra that has lost its normal position and/or motion in relation to neighboring vertebrae. Vertebrae which do not function properly within the spinal framework generate mechanical stress. This accelerates the wear and tear on the surrounding spinal muscles, ligaments, discs, joints, and other spinal tissues. Pain, palpatory tenderness, inflammation, decreased spinal mobility, and muscle spasm and hypertonicity will eventually follow.
Additionally, because of the direct mechanical and physiological relationship between the spinal column and the spinal nerve roots, vertebral subluxations, as well as other spinal abnormalities, have the potential to impair proper nerve functioning. Once nerve functioning is compromised, communication within the body becomes less effective jeopardizing the overall health and wellness of the individual.
What is the Subluxation Complex?
Through extensive research and study, chiropractors have identified 5 components of the vertebral subluxation. Collectively, these elements are known as the "subluxation complex".
- Kinesiopathology - the loss of normal vertebral positioning and motion in relation to neighboring vertebrae
- Myopathology - pathological changes occurring in the spinal musculature which includes hypertonicity, spasming, fibrosis, weakness, and improper or inappropriate functioning
- Neuropathology - irritation or injury to spinal nerve roots through compression, stretch or more commonly chemical irritation from nearby spinal structures
- Histopathology - pathological changes which occur to the spinal tissues such as abnormal bony growths off the vertebral bodies and joints, fibrosis and adhesions of spinal muscles and ligaments, as well as dehydration and degeneration of spinal discs
- Pathophysiology - the biochemical changes taking place in the spinal region which include inflammatory biochemicals from injured tissues and biochemical waste products
Each component of the subluxation must be eliminated for proper healing to occur and for the rehabilitation process to be successful. While a full understanding of all components is not necessary, you should be aware of the complexity involved. Patients should also be aware that pain is but a small element of most diseases and disorders. Pain is a very poor indicator of your need for further treatment as pain generally subsides well before tissue healing and mechanical normalization has completed.
What Causes Subluxations?
Vertebral subluxations have a great number of different causes all of which the average individual is exposed to daily. These causes can be described in terms of physical, chemical, and emotional causes.
Physical causes include acute trauma to the body, repetitive motions affecting the spine, bad postural habits, improper workstation habits, and design, and weak or imbalanced spinal musculature.
Chemical causes include poor dietary and nutritional practices, drug and alcohol use and abuse, and the ingestion of chemical toxins in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Chemicals that are harmful to the body decrease the body's ability to function optimally and reduce the ability to successfully adapt to and withstand internal and external stresses - making us more susceptible to spinal subluxations and the consequences of these subluxations.
Emotional causes refer to stress. Excessive stress or inadequate stress management skills can deplete the body of the ability to sustain normal functions. The impact of emotional stress on physical health is well documented in medical research and can have devastating effects on the immune system, making the body susceptible to injury and disease.
How Are Subluxations Corrected?
Doctors of chiropractic learn a number of different chiropractic techniques and procedures to correct vertebral subluxations. Most of the procedures involve the application of a chiropractic spinal adjustment to the affected vertebrae.
Chiropractic adjustments involve the application of a quick but gentle corrective force into the "subluxated" spinal vertebrae. The adjustment can be delivered manually through the hands or can be applied through the use of a specialized tool. Subluxations generally require multiple treatments or adjustments for complete normalization to occur. Similar to straightening teeth, correcting malfunctioning and malaligned vertebrae requires time for the tissues to accept this new position as "normal".
How Can I Tell if I Have a Vertebral Subluxation?
The only accurate way to determine if you suffer from subluxations is to receive a chiropractic evaluation. However, a number of signs and symptoms are commonly associated with the vertebral subluxation and include:
- neck pain, tenderness, soreness and stiffness
- back pain, tenderness, soreness and stiffness
- dizziness or balance problems
- spinal muscle spasm, tightness or weakness
- reduced spinal mobility
- pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities
- joint pain and stiffness
- low energy
- poor overall state of health
- poor tissue healing
Individuals who are not currently experiencing pain or other discomforts are not necessarily "subluxation free". As previously described, pain is a very poor indicator of disease processes, including the presence of subluxations. Subluxations are similar to cavities in that many times a significant amount of damage is present before symptoms such as pain are felt. This is why we recommend, like your dentist, that individuals seek periodic spinal evaluations to check for the presence of subluxations and other spinal abnormalities, even in the absence of pain.