Chiropractic is a health care approach and profession that emphasizes diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.
Doctors of Chiropractic often referred to as chiropractors or chiropractic physicians practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to health care that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling.
The most common therapeutic procedure performed by doctors of chiropractic is known as “spinal manipulation,” also called “chiropractic adjustment.” The purpose of manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become hypomobile (restriction in movement) as a result of a tissue injury. Tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stresses, such as sitting in an awkward position with poor spinal posture for an extended period of time. In either case, injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function for the sufferer. Manipulation, or adjustment of the affected joint and tissues, restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness, and allowing tissues to heal.
Chiropractic adjustment rarely causes discomfort. However, patients may sometimes experience mild soreness or aching following treatment (as with some forms of exercise) that usually resolves within 12 to 48 hours.
In many cases, such as lower back pain, chiropractic care may be the primary method of treatment. When other medical conditions exist, chiropractic care may complement or support medical treatment by relieving the musculoskeletal aspects associated with the condition.
Doctors of chiropractic may assess patients through clinical examination, laboratory testing, diagnostic imaging and other diagnostic interventions to determine when chiropractic treatment is appropriate or when it is not appropriate. Chiropractors will readily refer patients to the appropriate health care provider when chiropractic care is not suitable for the patient’s condition, or the condition warrants co-management in conjunction with other members of the health care team.
WHAT IS AN ADJUSTMENT?
A spinal adjustment or manipulation is a natural, controlled and skillful procedure that restores the spine’s ability to function and relieve nerve interference. It is done by moving a joint within the physiologic range of motion using a controlled high velocity, low amplified force. A chiropractic adjustment removes “subluxations” and can be used in numerous other joints in the body such as hands, elbows, feet, pelvis, etc. Sometimes an instrument called an “activator” is used to manipulate joints when indicated.
The adjustment is characterized by a “popping” sound (called a cavitation) that many people mistake for the “cracking” of bones. The popping sound is created by a shifting of gas and fluids (nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the joint as it is opened, very much like the sound made when removing the top from a champagne bottle.
An adjustment should be given when the spine or extremity joints are associated with pain or when articulating joint motion has been compromised. This is what we call a subluxation. If subluxations are found, immediate correction is generally indicated. Just like cavities found in teeth, subluxations are not always painful during the initial stages, even those who are not experiencing back or neck discomfort should receive periodic spinal checkups.