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What Exactly Is A Spinal Subluxation?

Spinal subluxations are central to the practice of chiropractic care. In this piece, we answer the key questions around this term and help you to understand how a chiropractor can help address your needs as a patient. 


What is the definition of a subluxation in chiropractic?


A subluxation is a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health. A subluxation is evaluated, diagnosed, and managed through the use of chiropractic procedures based on the best available rational and empirical evidence.


What are the symptoms?


Spinal subluxations can affect much more of the body than just the spine – they can affect general health and wellbeing overall. Common symptoms that can indicate a spinal subluxation occurring in the body include: 


  • Headaches, which can occur with the build-up of pressure from a misalignment that hasn’t been released as well as muscular tension
  • Inflexibility in the body, potentially leading to stiffness, back pain and neck pain
  • Inflammation may be experienced at the site of the subluxation as the body tries to protect the damaged area
  • Sciatic nerve pain
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet

Spinal manipulation has been used to help treat sciatica, lower back pain and many other conditions.


What can cause a spinal subluxation?


There can be many causes of spinal subluxations. Commonly, this includes trauma, injury or accidents, from a simple slip, trip or fall, as well as something more severe – like a car crash. 

You can also accumulate micro-trauma from daily habits such as: 


  1. Wearing a heavy bag regularly on one shoulder.


  1. Looking down at your phone for long periods.


  1. Sitting at a desk with poor posture.


  1. Driving for long periods.


There can also be emotional causes, like stress and anxiety, which can cause muscle tightness in your back and neck. Your muscles can then lose their ability to support your spine properly, causing the vertebrae to shift slightly.


How does a chiropractic adjustment treat a spinal subluxation?


A spinal subluxation is treated using a chiropractic adjustment, also known as spinal manipulation or spinal adjustment. This is when a chiropractor uses their hands to apply corrective pressure to the affected spinal joints (or vertebrae) that have an abnormal movement pattern or fail to function normally.

They are then able to move these back into alignment, alleviating pressure with the goal of increasing the range of motion, reducing the nerve irritation and improving the functionality of the joint in question. Spinal manipulation is safe when performed by a trained and licensed practitioner. 

The movement is a high velocity, short thrust applied to a vertebra and can be accompanied by an audible release of gas from the joint – a joint cavitation that helps alleviate pressure in the joint. The amount of force can vary, but the thrust moves the joint more than it would on its own. Treatment is not normally painful, though you may experience a little discomfort afterwards. The most common side effects of spinal manipulation are temporary muscle soreness, stiffness, or a temporary increase in pain.

These side effects are often minimal and pass swiftly, being present mostly as the body releases toxins. Most patients report a more restful sleep and improved motion afterwards. Adjustments give the body an opportunity to heal.

Overall, spinal subluxations are often a source of multiple concerns in the body. Treatment can start with multiple spinal adjustments a week for some patients, with the number of adjustments dropping as the body begins to heal. The aim of these treatments is to help your body remain in alignment and heal at an optimum speed and to a good standard so that you can get on with your life.

If you’re interested in how chiropractic adjustments may help you improve your lifestyle, get in touch with your local practitioner who will be able to assess your unique situation and recommend a course of treatment.