Many times after I get done working on a patient they ask me, “hey doc was my back out?” Depending on how busy I am that day changes how I answer that question. If I am really behind I might say “well your back was pretty tight” or if I have time I will explain the true reasoning behind the chiropractic adjustment.
When chiropractic started the model was that a bone was moving out of place. The bone being out of place would cause nerve dis-ease which results in pain and dysfunction. This is what is referred to as the chiropractic subluxation. The job of the chiropractor is to put this bone “back in place”. By doing this it would usually make the patient feel better, often times immediately. The problem is that we have found that bones do not move out of place unless the patient has underwent a significant trauma. There are too many muscles and large ligaments holding the bones where they belong.
So the question would remain then, what is the chiropractic adjustment doing?
The answer to this is actually very complex and involves a very deep understanding of the neurological and musculoskeletal systems of the body. So I am going to do my best to make this as simple as possible because I think it’s important for people to understand what us chiropractors are actually doing.
When you hear that pop or crack at the chiropractors office you are not hearing a bone go back in place. You are hearing a joint being pushed to its maximal range of motion which causes gases inside the joint capsule to be released. So why is this done? The adjustment is done in order to restore proper joint motion, help relax the muscles, and restore proper neurological balance. The first part is easy to understand. If something isn’t moving that should be moving what do you do? Push on it right? Absolutely. Now the joint can move freely.
Often when a patient presents to the office the first that they complain about is not being able to move the back or neck a certain way as far as they think they should be able to. After an adjustment they usually always have more free motion in the joint they were complaining about. So the next question is how does an adjustment relax muscle? Well all muscles have a physiological brake built in. This brake is called the muscle spindle. The muscle spindle detects stretch on a muscle. When there is too much tension present in the muscle, the muscle spindle will force relaxation in order to protect the muscle from damage or tear.
So the adjustment is used to take a painful contracted muscle and put it through a very fast stretch. By moving a joint really fast the muscle is stretched, which causes the muscle spindle to trigger a relaxation reflex. This reflex in turn relaxes the painful muscle and helps patients feel better. Also by relaxing the muscle the nervous system starts to become more balanced. Now the true balancing effect the chiropractic adjustment has on the nervous system is amazing, but we will save that for another day. I’m sure some of you probably struggled to get through the muscle relaxation part. The topic can be pretty bland to most. Hopefully some of you found this helpful. Now when you get adjusted maybe you can understand a little better what is happening and also understand why there might be good reason to get adjusted.
Adjustments have been researched extensively and have been proven effective for musculoskeletal pain time and time again. So if you ever find yourself hurting and need relief, give your local chiropractor a call. Chiropractic is a very safe and effective tool to treat muslce and joint pain.