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The Chiropractic Adjustment

Author: Dr. David L. Phillips
Published on: November 26, 2002

In my last article (November 12, 2002), I discussed the raison d’etre of the chiropractic profession: the vertebral subluxation. We looked at the various aspects of the subluxation, all of which can cause pain, impairment and a lessening of quality of life. This article will examine what chiropractors do about these lesions.

Chiropractors treat vertebral subluxations mostly manually by administering an “adjustment” sometimes called a manipulation. An adjustment is a very fast pressure applied to the offending joint, usually of the spine, but often other osseous joints as well. The adjustment movement is quick, shallow and generally (almost always) painless. By reducing subluxations and improving vertebral motion, adjustments alleviate the components of a vertebral subluxation. Much like removing a sliver from your finger begins a process of healing, so does a properly applied adjustment promote healing in the spine and spinal nerves.

I say ‘mainly’ manually because there have been instruments developed to do the work for us, if we choose to employ them. The development of adjusting instruments has gone on almost as long as there have been chiropractors. Before us, all ancient peoples had some form of reducing spinal pain; some more successful than others. Cave drawings in Europe have illustrated people being treated for back pain on various stretching devices. Hippocrates himself practised more manual treatment than any sort of medicine even though the medical profession claim him as their “Father”. Hippocrates said, “ For the cause of disease, look to the spine”, or words to that effect; in Greek, of course.

Ever since our Founder, D.D. Palmer in 1897 discovered and began to re-use the ancient art of manual replacement of painful spinal vertebrae, chiropractic students and practitioners have sought to invent technologies and devices to mechanize methods of adjusting spinal bones. I must say that, similar to my view of instruments used to detect spinal subluxations, these adjusting machines leave me a little cold.

An adjustment provides a powerful therapeutic force to combat primary, as well as secondary results. Subluxations tend to worsen with time. The spine as an organ of movement tends to compensate and adapt quickly to altered or painful stimuli. Secondary compensations and even tertiary compensations are common as your body adapts to the loss or alteration of motion. Spinal lesions that have been around for some time tend to be harder to alleviate and tend to move towards increasing degrees of chronicity and decay.

Much of what a chiropractor does on a daily basis is, in fact, prevention. Yes, our immediate focus is pain and symptomatic relief, but as a secondary benefit, spinal adjustments serve to prevent problems for the patient down the road; in the same way exercise and consuming vitamins are preventive in nature. Spinal hygiene is a concept too new and complex for most people to grasp. Dental hygiene took decades to sink in, and dentists had enormous help from the toothpaste industry. Chiropractors have no such commercial assistance; our message goes out one patient at a time. Even then, most people only understand the message as it relates to pain avoidance, not as true prophylactic prevention or health maintenance. But that is a topic for another day.


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