The Long Version
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 “somewhat or slight" (sub) and “to dislocate” (luxate). So the term ‘vertebral subluxation’ literally means a slight dislocation or misalignment of the bones in the spine. Don’t worry about the name, but try to understand what happens in the body.
The bones of the spine are meant to move in three dimensions. Sometimes they get “stuck” and don’t move in the ways they’re designed to. The causes of this ranges from accidents, to repeated stresses on the body, to too much sitting (we’re designed to sit no more than 3 hrs per day- think of kids in school) and not enough exercise (think of kids after school with computer games and TV and Xbox).
Each vertebra (spinal bone) has four joints. The joints have very high concentrations of nerves surrounding them. These nerves send signals to the brain that the brain processes and uses to run the body and its functions. When the bone is not moving properly it results in a decrease in proprioceptive (motion) signals and an increase in nociceptive (stress or pain) signals to the brain.
The brain needs the proprioceptive motion signals as much as it needs oxygen and blood sugar. So when the vertebrae are not moving properly, the brain is not getting enough of this essential input and cannot function to it’s full potential. At the same time the decreased spinal bone motion causes a decrease in this important motion signal. Lack of proper motion and alignment of the vertebra along with improper neurological coordination causes uneven stresses in the spine and surrounding tissue. This leads to inflammation and deterioration in bones, muscles, ligaments, discs and tendons. This deterioration is what is termed Vertebral Subluxation Degeneration or Osteoarthritis. This process can cause a great deal of pain, tingling, numbness, and/or fatigue. More importantly, it can be causing devastation without symptoms.
The second detrimental process brought
about by Vertebral Subluxation, and the one most damaging to one’s
overall health, is the toxic flow of stress nerve messages
(nociception) and the decreased flow of essential positive nerve energy
between the body and the brain.
Scientific evidence indicates that this altered nerve energy flow not only affects local spinal tissues but also brain function in regions that regulate stress and immunity, thinking, learning, concentration, emotions, organ functions, sleep, digestion, overall hormonal and organ function regulation, and neuromuscular coordination, balance, strength, and ability. This may or may not result in pain or other obvious symptoms but it can have major effects on one’s overall health and well-being without one being aware of the start of health problems or their cause.
So now we have a situation in which the brain is receiving increased stress signals to deal with at the same time it’s ability to function properly and deal with the stress is decreased.
You may have heard of the “fight or flight” (stress) response. It’s designed to get us out of a dangerous situation and to a safe place where our bodies can return to balance. When the stress response fires the following changes occur: cortisol and adrenaline levels go up, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and LDL cholesterol goes up, muscles tension increases, sensitivity increases, while digestion, hand temperature and immune response goes down. If the body doesn’t return to balance (because of chronic stress signals from bones not moving properly) you can imagine the potential for all sorts of health problems, ones that are unfortunately far too common in today’s world.
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. The chiropractic adjustment is a gentle movement applied to a vertebra for the purpose of correcting its position, its movement or both. The ”wiring” is fixed. Information is flowing again. To keep the wiring fixed, several adjustments over a course of time may be necessary, in addition to massage, physical therapy, stretching or strengthening exercises.