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Spinal manipulation has been around for millennia, but its use was not widespread. However, in 1895, Dr. D.D. Palmer discovered what he noted as a bump or hard spot on someone’s back. He push on the spot with the corresponding “pop” or “crack” that is often heard and the patient got better. They were suffering from diminished hearing to the point of being nearly deaf. After the adjustment the patient could hear again and chiropractic was born. It is one of the most commonly use alternative medicine treatments. Herbal medicine remains the most dominant medicine in the world. Allopathic or Western medicine is the next most common.
Chiropractic was born from the adjustment or the manipulation done on the spine. Though it is not the only thing chiropractic physicians do, it is what we are well known for doing. Many theories have been presented on what is going on when the spine is need of an adjustment. Originally, the thought was either a bone was slightly out of place putting pressure on nerves or according to Dr. Andrew Still there was an issue with the arteries. Palmer called the issue a subluxation meaning “less than a dislocation”. Chiropractors have held onto that term for many years. Either way the treatment was relatively the same, the adjustment. Adjustments or spinal manipulation, whatever you want to call it is a fast, low magnitude force put on the area of subluxation. The corresponding pop or crack is from the joint cavitating or the pressure within the joint space releasing air. It doesn’t always have to occur but it often does.
So what is going on with a subluxation? Is there a better more accurate theory? Yes!
Science has come along way since the late 1800s. That doesn’t mean we know for sure, but we got a good idea. The pinched nerve theory or bone out of place theory is old news. What happens is the vertebrae become stuck within their normal range of motion. They do not dislocate, but rather a muscular imbalance occurs in a sense. Some muscles are pulling too tight and others are not pulling enough. What results is a fixated joint. The joint no longer freely moves as well and it can cause pain there or else where due to its lack of movement. Other issues can occur as well but this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all the issues that can and do occur.
An important fact to understand is our body communicates with itself via the nervous system. There are receptors through out your body that send signals to the brain to give it an update of what is going on. We have specialized receptors called mechanoreceptors that inform the brain on movement. The greatest numbers of these receptors are in the spine, feet, and the muscles. Particularly, the most in the upper spine and the feet. They inform our brain on where our body is in space to help us have proper balance and movement. They are very important. In fact, proper movement and movement in general is crucial to life! The brain craves stimulation and the more sedentary we become the less stimulation the brain receives. Just an interesting tidbit.
Back to the subluxation. When we have a joint that is fixated, the receptors in that joint stop responding properly and we get aberrant information sent to the brain. This decreases all over all sense of space or proprioception and can lead to improper motor function. So what does an adjustment do? The speed is an important aspect. The speed of the adjustment causes a fast stretch in the muscles around the spine increasing the signals to the brain at the fixated joint. This essentially resets the joint and normalizes its motion! It’s pretty fascinating stuff. Myofascial release when done properly has a very similar effect. Hence our focus and utilization of both treatments.
So why do we get subluxations? Well it could be from lack of motion or improper movement. Our ancestors moved a lot more. A look at African peoples is fascinating. They have low occurrence of chronic disease and very little back pain. They move constantly throughout the day, often carrying heavy things and bending over for extended periods of time. They have great body mechanics. Outside of that Palmer had a good clue. He attributed subluxations to the three T’s, thoughts, trauma, and toxins. This is still true today. Emotion and stress even spiritual issues can cause a lot of issues. Our physiology responds with tight muscles and common for many people, headaches. Trauma is quite obvious whether it is from an accident or over a period of time due to improper movement. Toxins are a huge group that have a musculoskeletal effect. If we ingest something that is not good for us it can cause muscles to lock up and tighten. Caffeine is a great example as it is often wiring our brain and tightening our muscles. But many things can do this including our food.
This is why we use applied kinesiology so we can figure out and determine what is going on. We hope this helps!