What truly differentiates doctors of chiropractic from other health care professionals is the fact that chiropractors are the only professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat what are called spinal “subluxations.” The term “vertebral subluxation” literally means a slight dislocation or misalignment of the bones in the spine.

When a subluxation occurs, a chiropractor can correct the misaligned bone and allow it to return to its proper position. This procedure is appropriately called an adjustment, and the adjustment enables the body to heal.

Adjusting the Spine

The chiropractic adjustment is a quick thrust applied to a vertebra for the purpose of correcting its position, movement, or both. Adjustments are often accompanied by an audible release of gas that sounds like a “crack.” The sound sometimes surprises patients the first few times they get adjusted, but the sensation is usually relieving. Occasionally, minor discomfort is experienced, especially if the surrounding muscles are in spasm or the patient tenses up during the chiropractic procedure.

There are times when the audible “cracking” does not occur. This may be due to significant muscle tightness or a patient’s inability to relax during their adjustments. Nevertheless, the chiropractic adjustment is still useful and important. The misalignment is addressed so information can once again flow freely through the area. To maintain this alignment, several adjustments over a course of time may be necessary, in addition to massage, physical therapy, stretching exercises, or strengthening exercises. Keeping the spine in alignment
and preventing reoccurrence of the misalignment is just as important as the initial remedy.

There are five components that contribute to the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC).

  1. Bone Component: Where the vertebra is out of position, not moving properly, or is undergoing degeneration. This frequently leads to a narrowing of the spaces between the bones through which the nerves pass, often resulting in irritation or impingement of the nerve itself.
  2. Nervous Component: This involves the disruption of the normal flow of energy along the nerve fibers, causing the messages traveling along the nerves to become distorted. The result is that all of the tissues that are fed by those nerves receive distorted signals from the brain and, consequently, are not able to function normally. Over time, this can lead to a whole host of conditions, such as peptic ulcers, constipation and other organ system dysfunction.
  3. Muscular Component: Since nerves control the muscles that help hold the vertebrae in place, muscles must be considered an integral part of the vertebral subluxation complex. In fact, muscles both affect, and are affected by the VSC. A subluxation can irritate a nerve, the irritated nerve can cause a muscle to spasm, and the muscle in spasm pulls the attached vertebrae further out of place. This further irritates the nerve and may result in a vicious cycle. It is no wonder that very few subluxations just go away by themselves.
  4. Soft Tissue Component: The VSC may also affect the surrounding tendons, ligaments, blood supply, and other tissues as the misaligned vertebrae tug at and squeeze the connective tissues with tremendous force. Over time, the soft tissues may become stretched out or scarred, leaving the spine with either a permanent instability or restriction.
  5. Chemical Component: Is the change in the chemistry of the body due to the VSC? Most often, the chemical changes, such as the release of a class of chemicals called “kinins,” are “pro-inflammatory,” meaning that they increase inflammation in the affected area.