Very often, people first seek chiropractic care because they are experiencing pain in their back, neck or another part of the body and they wish to avoid medication and surgery. Chiropractors use a variety of natural treatments to restore a patient to optimal health and function. By far, the most widely known chiropractic treatment is an adjustment, also called spinal manipulation. An adjustment involves a type of movement done to a joint in the body that is not moving properly—notably to the spinal joints. Although there are many different spinal manipulation techniques, all adjustments share the goal of restoring spinal alignment so the body can function at 100 percent.
How a Chiropractor Decides to Make an Adjustment
Before performing a spinal adjustment, the chiropractor feels for joint motion along the spine by moving the joint gently in different directions. If the joint is not moving as it should, the chiropractor will detect restriction in a certain direction, which can happen when the spine is out of alignment. Normally, each joint in the vertebrae moves a tiny bit while remaining connected to its neighbors. But if it locks up, this may result in inflammation, pain, stiffness and a disruption of nerve flow. Since nerves travel from the vertebrae to the rest of the body, the lack of nerve flow may extend down an arm or leg or to another part of the body. This means that body tissues may not be getting the proper nerve transmissions they need in order to operate at peak capacity.
When the chiropractor makes an adjustment, nerve flow may be reestablished in part or in whole as the spine is brought further into alignment, and pain and stiffness should decrease. It may take one or several adjustments to bring the spine back into alignment, depending on the condition of the spine before treatment began.
During the Adjustment
For an adjustment, you will be placed in a particular position and you will often be lying on a specially designed table. Pressure is applied to specific vertebrae—either directly by the chiropractor’s hands or by specialized instruments—to help bring your vertebrae back into alignment. The chiropractor will deliver thrusts into a joint at a precise speed and force in order to restore the proper movement of the joint. At the moment of the thrust, you may hear a sound such as a popping or clunking. This occurs because gases (nitrogen, oxygen and CO2) are released within the joint.
Immediately after a chiropractic adjustment, there is often a feeling of relief and soundness within the joint and body. Adjustments typically cause no pain, but misaligned vertebrae can sometimes be tender. Rarely, there may be a little soreness after treatment, much like after exercise, but this is temporary.
Keep in mind that Doctors of Chiropractic are extensively trained in diagnosing and treating disorders of the spine, muscles and nerves. Adjusting your own back or having a friend or other untrained person adjust your back is very different than visiting the chiropractor for an adjustment—and it may be dangerous.