Understanding Chiropractic Care

The Vertebral Subluxation Complex

What truly differentiates doctors of chiropractic from any other healthcare professionals is the fact that chiropractors are the only professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat what are called spinal subluxations.  The word “subluxation” comes from the Latin words meaning “to dislocate” (luxare) and “somewhat or slightly” (sub).  So the term ‘vertebral subluxation’ literally means a slight dislocation (misalignment) of the bones in the spine.

Although this term was adequate in the 1800s when much was still misunderstood about the human body, today the word “subluxation” has changed in meaning to capture the complex of neurological, structural and functional changes that occur when a bone is “out of place.”  For this reason chiropractors usually refer to subluxations of the spine as the “Vertebral Subluxation Complex”, or “VSC” for short.  There are actually five components that contribute to the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC).  They are:

1) The bone component, where the vertebra is either out of position, not moving properly, or are 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) The nervous component is 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) The muscular component.  Since nerves control the muscles that help hold the vertebrae in place, muscles have to be considered to be 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, the spasmed muscle pulls the attached vertebrae further out of place, which then further irritates the nerve and you have a vicious cycle.  It is no wonder that very few subluxations just go away by themselves.

4) The soft tissue component. The VSC will also affect the surrounding tendons, ligaments, blood supply, and other tissues as the misaligned vertebrae tug and squeeze the connective tissue with tremendous force.  Over time, the soft tissues can become stretched out or scarred, leaving the spine with either a permanent instability or restriction.

5) The 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.

These changes get progressively worse over time if they are not treated correctly, leading to chronic pain, inflammation, arthritis, muscle trigger points, the formation of bone spurs, loss of movement,  as well as muscle weakness and spasm.  Chiropractors have known the dangers of the vertebral subluxation complex ever since the birth of the profession. More and more scientific research is demonstrating the tremendous detrimental impact that subluxation have on the tissue of the body.  In order to be truly healthy, it is vital that your nervous system be functioning free of interference from subluxations.  Chiropractors are the only health professionals trained in the detection, location, and correction of the vertebral subluxation complex through chiropractic care.

NOTE: Often times pain or other symptoms do not accompany the other detrimental effects of the subluxation complex. It is important that people of all ages from birth to older population be evaluated by a chiropractor to detect and properly treat for the improvement of function and overall health and wellness.

Chiropractic Treatment

Spinal adjustments to correct subluxations are what makes doctors of chiropractic unique in comparison with any other type of health care professional.  The term “adjustment” refers to the specific manipulation chiropractors apply  to vertebrae  that have abnormal movement patterns or fail to function  normally. The objective of the chiropractic treatment is to reduce the subluxation, which results in an increased  range of motion, reduced nerve irritability and improved  function.

The method by which a chiropractor delivers the adjustment varies quite as there is an art to the practice of chiropractic.  We use both instrument assisted as well as the manual chiropractic adjustment.  Let me explain.

The manual chiropractic adjustment is a quick thrust applied to a vertebra for the purpose of correcting its position, movement or both.  These adjustments are often accompanied by an audible release of gas that sounds like a “crack.”  The sound sometimes shocks people a little bit the first couple 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 is often due to either significant muscle tightness or that the patient may be having a hard time relaxing during their adjustments.

The instrument assisted chiropractic adjustment has the same goals and equally great results, and looks very different from traditional chiropractic adjustments.

In our office, we use an instrument called the Pro-Adjuster.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it, it’s been in the news and has received a good amount of publicity.  It is the most advanced technology for providing the chiropractic adjustment.  The purpose of this book is not to talk about this technology as it’s discussion is deserving of its own book.  If you would like more information about the Pro-Adjuster go to the official website www.proadjusterlifestyle.com.

The chiropractic adjustment is important for sure.  However, it may not be the only procedure a chiropractor employs in managing a patient’s care, such is the case in our office. There are other forms of physiological therapeutics used in chiropractic, including the use of low level energy laser therapy (cold laser), electrical stimulation, ultrasound, traction, dietary management as well as other natural procedures.

Chiropractic is so much more than simply a means of relieving pain.  Ultimately, the goal of the chiropractic treatment is to restore the body to its natural state of optimal health.  In order to accomplish this, we use a variety of treatment methods, including manual and instrument assisted adjustments, trigger point therapy, nutrition, exercise rehabilitation, as well as counseling on lifestyle issues that impact your health.  Since the body has a remarkable ability to heal itself and to maintain its own health, our primary focus is simply to remove those things which interfere with the body’s normal healing ability.

Chiropractors understand that within each of us is an innate wisdom, a health energy, that will express itself as perfect health and well-being if we simply allow it to.  Therefore, the focus of chiropractic care is simply to remove any physiological blocks to the proper expression of the body’s innate wisdom.  Once these subluxations are removed, health is the natural consequence.

The Three Phases of Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care following an injury is like building a house – certain things have to happen in a particular order in order for everything to stand strong and work the way it is supposed to.  If you tried to put up your walls before you had a solid foundation, your walls would be weak and eventually collapse.  If you tried to put on your roof before the walls were ready, you would run into the same problem.  The same is true for your body.  Your body has to go through a particular plan of care in order to repair itself correctly and fully.  There are three general phases of chiropractic care; 1) relief care, 2) corrective care, and, 3) maintenance care.

Phase One – Relief Care.

Many people go to a chiropractor because they are in pain, they are in a  crisis.  In this first phase of care, the main goal is to relieve you of your symptoms, and make you feel more comfortable.  Sometimes this will require daily visits, or three to four times a week for a time.

Most people are under the assumption that if they don’t feel any pain that there is nothing wrong with them – that they are healthy.  Unfortunately, pain is a very poor indicator of health.  In fact, pain and other symptoms frequently only appear after a disease or other condition has become advanced.  For example, consider a cavity in your tooth.  Does it hurt when it first develops or after it has become serious?  How about heart disease?  Do you realize that the first symptom that many people with heart disease experience is death?

Regardless of whether you are talking about cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stress or problems with the spine, pain is usually the last thing to appear.  When you begin chiropractic care, pain is also the first symptom to disappear, even though much of the underlying condition remains.

Phase Two – Corrective Care.

Most chiropractors regard the elimination of symptoms as the easiest part of a course of treatment.  If all that the chiropractor does is to remove the pain and stop there, the chances of the condition continuing, reoccurring, or becoming worse are much greater.  In order to avoid a rapid reoccurrence of symptoms, it is necessary to continue treatment even though your symptoms are gone or significantly improved.

During the correction phase of your treatment, you will not have to be treated as often as you did during the first phase of care and, depending on your particular circumstances, you may begin doing exercises and stretches at home to help accelerate your healing.  Do not be discouraged if you have mild flare-ups in your symptoms on occasion.  This is normal.  Flare-ups are bound to occur during the corrective phase because your body has not fully recovered.  Depending on the severity of your injury or condition and how long you have been suffering from it, this phase of your care may last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

Phase Three – Maintenance Care.

Once your body has fully healed, routine maintenance chiropractic care can help to ensure that your physical problems do not return and keep your body in optimal condition.  Just like continuing an exercise  program and eating well in order to sustain the benefits of exercise and proper diet, it is necessary to continue chiropractic care to ensure the health of your musculoskeletal system.  When you make routine chiropractic care a part of your lifestyle, you avoid many of the aches and pains that so many people suffer though, your joints will last longer and you will be able to engage in more of the activities you love.

Most people understand maintenance care when compared with a metaphor of car maintenance.  Unfortunately the majority of our population takes better care of their vehicles than they do their own body!  If you were to drive your car hard and just give it gas, how long do you think it would take before problems occur?  What if you car had numerous minor accidents, and you still only put gas in it?  What if it had a more serious accident?  I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that once a car has been in a wreck it never runs the same again.  Well, guess what?  You body is very similar, BUT you can’t go out and get a new body like you can with a vehicle.  We only get one.

It is much better to take care of your car.  Not only put gas in it, but check the air in your tires occasionally.  Get the oil changed as recommended by the manufacture.  How about lube jobs, and tire rotation and alignment, and fluids checked and topped off. The list goes on.  You get the point.  Well, what if you neglected the car for years and now wanted to take care of it?  Would it be more work or less work?  More work, of course.  Same thing applies to your body.