There’s an awful lot of nonsense out there about chiropractic care, most of which is from people who don’t care to understand how it works. That being said, spinal adjusting and joint mobilization have been proven time and time again to improve healing outcomes, decrease pain, and improve function. Anyone who denies the effectiveness of chiropractic care just hasn’t read the research, has never been to one, or worse: has an agenda.
So, how does mobilizing the spine improve your health? I mean, how can something as simple as spinal adjustment affect a person’s well-being? Well, it’s not magical or mystical at all. It’s physiology. And if you have a thorough understanding of the mechanisms behind an adjustment, the physiology of the human condition, everything suddenly becomes clear.
Chiropractors adjust subluxations (misalignments). It’s as simple as that. They don’t treat cancer or diabetes or heart disease. It could even be said that a true chiropractor doesn’t even treat back pain. While there’s a temptation to apply a medical model to chiropractic care, the two don’t really overlap. They truly are complimentary forms of care. While the medical profession, as a whole, has transition to a disease-management focus, chiropractic care still has its roots in healthcare and prevention. Unfortunately, too many people still carry their medical model into a chiropractic office expecting one treatment for one symptom and if they don’t improve quickly, then chiropractic care has failed. The problem is that most issues are fundamentally bigger than a quick fix and while medication works to decrease your symptoms, chiropractic adjusting works to increase your health.
There’s a saying among chiropractors that “An adjustment won’t make you instantly feel better, but it will make you instantly heal better.” It’s so true, and oftentimes how you judge the successes or failures of an intervention depends on your expectations going into care. The question then becomes, how does a chiropractic adjustment help me get better? Well the answer’s not so simple, so here’s a list of common physiologic effects of spinal adjusting:
- Decreased nerve pressure. This is probably the most fundamental and important aspects of spinal adjusting, namely, that misaligned vertebrae put pressure on spinal nerves. Pressure on nerves, directly or indirectly, causes nerve pain. Not only that, pressure on nerves deceases their ability to conduct normal impulses, meaning that the overall function of the nerve is impaired. So, what happens down the road if that poorly functioning nerve or nerves goes to your muscles, your digestive system, your immune system, or even your heart? That’s right. ‘Dis’-ease.
Poorly position vertebra can apply pressure to nerve roots along the spine in a variety of different ways. They can apply direct pressure, the bone sitting right upon the nerve root or, more likely, indirect pressure, the bone pressing other soft tissues, such as a disc or connective tissue which are in turn pressed into the nerve root. Alleviating this pressure via spinal adjusting not only helps to decrease pain, but helps to ensure maximized nerve functioning. And since the nervous system controls all the other cells, tissues, and organs in the body, I’m sure you understand how important that is.
- Improved motion in the spine. The spine is the core structure of your body. It’s the foundation from which your extremities arise and upon which your head sits. So, you can image how a spinal column with a loss of mobility, even at one segment, can affect the other parts of the body. Chiropractic adjusting ensures mobility in the spine, which leads to improve mobility in the extremities. And while there’s a temptation to think of a single vertebrae as an isolated structure, your spine really does function as a unit. Even though there are 26 separate segments, each one is important. Even one fixated bone is enough to affect the function of the entire system.
- Decreased disc pressure. This particular point centers on why discs herniate. Why is it that two people of similar age, build, and health, can have dramatically different pain profiles? Oftentimes, the difference is due to acquired misalignments in the spine. Every person’s subluxation (misalignment) pattern is unique to them, based on their own life experiences and exposures. Disc herniation occurs when a person develops misalignments over time that are never addressed and then those imbalances lead to tissue failure when then joint is expose to a stress. Ensuring proper alignment of the spine ensure proper balancing of the spine and normal load bearing by the discs. It may not prevent all herniations, but it certainly helps.
- Maintaining proper balance. Your body is a machine that thrives in symmetry. Correcting poorly aligned vertebrae helps restore balance. It helps re-center the vertebra and take asymmetrical stresses off the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Restoring balance to the spine increases ‘ease’ of motion. The problem is, none of us live in a bubble. We develop asymmetries over time. These imbalances, if left unchecked, can lead to muscles spasming, herniation, and even accelerated degenerative changes.
- Improved coordination. Chiropractic adjusting also affects a part of the nervous system called the proprioceptive system. That’s the function that allows you to tell where your arms and legs are, even with your eyes closed. People with impaired proprioception can develop coordination difficulties, loss of muscle function, and even impaired health. When your proprioceptive systems are functioning at full, you’re able to move and exercise better, tend to be less stiff, and even heal better.
- Improved autonomic function. How does your heart know to beat 72 beats per minute? How do your pupils know to dilate? How do your blood vessels know to constrict? These functions and others are controlled by your autonomic nervous system. It controls the things you don’t think about. Well, many key elements of the autonomic nervous system are housed in and along the spine. Vertebral misalignments can affect the function of these critical nervous system parts and lead to everything from heart palpitations to difficulty sleeping. And it’s impossible to be at maximum health with an impaired autonomic system.
Of course, there’s a lot of outright bad information out there about chiropractic adjusting and what it can or can’t do. Sadly, my experience has been that most of the useless junk about chiropractic care comes from people who have little to no experience with it. It’s easy to belittle a healthcare choice you choose to know little about, but it’s difficult to argue against the known physiology that controls the body. Chiropractic care is a healing art that’s been around, in one form or another, for just as long as medicine. And, for better or worse, it’s here to stay.
It should be noted that chiropractors don’t treat disease as much as they remove any obstructions to the healing process. I think that one of the main misconceptions patients have, when arriving at a chiropractic office, is that they are somehow being ‘treated’, much as a medical doctor would treat a condition. It’s not a fair comparison, for chiropractic care only seeks to eliminate the innate ability of your body to heal, by making that process as obstacle free as possible. So, the next time you’re at your chiropractor, remember all the things that simple adjustment is trying to accomplish. Most important of all is helping your body fulfill its health potential.