What is a Subluxation?
The term subluxation is probably new to most people. But to a chiropractor, the subluxation is at the heart of most treatment of the spine. The actual term subluxation is defined as ‘less than a dislocation‘, or it can develop into joint fixation. So, not to confuse the issue, some subluxations cause misalignments or a slight rotation of one vertebra on the one below. On the other hand, this can cause associated muscle to go into spasm and cause what we term joint fixation, where the 2 vertebrae are moving as one, instead of independently. When 2 vertebrae (a motor unit) lock up or fixate, it sends pain signals to your brain. In the worse form of a subluxation, you can actually get pressure on the spinal nerves that exit between the two vertebrae. The resulting pressure can cause pain, and things like headaches, migraines, muscle spasm, tingling or numbness in various parts of your body, and pain, tingling or numbness down the arms or legs. All of these symptoms depends on which spinal nerves are affected.
- Spinal Kinesiopathology – abnormal biomechanics of the spine. Either joint fixation, rotational misalignments or even hyper-mobility.
- Neuropathophysiology – as mentioned above, nerves can become irritated or even “pinched”. This then causes aberrant function of the nerves and cause problems to the muscles or organs they go to. There are approximately 300,000 nerve fibers in each spinal nerves going to skin, muscle, blood vessels, organs and more.
- Myopathology – since the spinal nerves go to muscle, you may get abnormal function of the muscle. It may weaken and atrophy, or it may go into spasm causing stiffness, tightness and pain.
- Histopathology – this relates to the inflammation of the cells and other cellular changes occurring due to abnormal vertebrae movement. Over time there is increased inflammation and cellular changes that occur.
- Pathophysiology – this occurs over time. The spine will increase bone growth and create spurs that will eventually fuse the vertebrae together. This takes many years. We see these changes on an x-ray. Many doctors say it’s ‘arthritis’; yes true, however, it is really time from an injury that has not been corrected. For example, I’ll see an x-ray with degenerative changes at C5-C6 but none at C3-C4. Is it just arthritis? Why didn’t the vertebrae above have these degenerative changes? Because it’s time from the injury that causes these changes and the C3-C4 vertebrae, in this case, wasn’t injured.
The Vertebral Subluxation Complex creates many problems over time for our patients. What can stop this progression from occurring is getting a specific chiropractic adjustment to the vertebrae that are affected.
Dr. Astrid Baldrich is a board certified chiropractor that can find the subluxations and correct the problem with specific chiropractic adjustments.
Spinal Degeneration (DJD) – Phase 2-3
Spinal degeneration ² occurs over time (as described above in pathophysiology), following an injury due to repetitive movement, sleeping wrong, auto accident, work injury, sports injury or even lifting wrong. When the vertebral joints are injured, the body responds by trying to stabilize the area. It does this by having the surrounding muscles go into spasm. This creates a situation where the two vertebrae that are supposed to move individually, move as one. Over time, there is disc degeneration due to poor blood supply because of the join fixation. You see, the way a disc gets its blood supply ¹ is from surrounding tissues because the disc does not have blood vessels going to it directly. When there is a lack of movement, the blood supply is reduced. The resulting arthritic ‘splinting’ of bones is nature’s attempt to stabilize the injured joint. If left untreated, a subluxation takes the form of ongoing degeneration known as ‘subluxation degeneration’ and can lead to chronic health related problems.
As the diagram below reveals, over time, there is a continued degeneration that occurs. This degenerative process can be reduced in speed or even stopped with expert chiropractic care.
NORMAL – In a normal healthy spinal column, there are two types of curves ³; a lordotic curve in the cervical and lumbar spine, and a kyphotic curve in the thoracic spine and sacrum. These proper curves allow normal movement and provide a ‘spring type’ action to better absorb axial shock (for example jumping and landing on your feet). In addition, in healthy vertebra, the surrounding edges are smooth and show no signs of degeneration.
PHASE ONE – there is misalignment or joint fixation, however there are no degenerative changes as seen in Phase 2 or Phase 3. There may however be symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness as described earlier. This is the best time to get chiropractic care; before the damage is done.
PHASE TWO – Following many years since the onset of Phase 1, spinal degeneration progresses. Bone spurs are now starting to become visible and disc spaces are starting to narrow. There also may be increased nerve root irritation and degenerative changes around the IVF or intervertebral foramen. It’s imperative to get chiropractic care at this phase to prevent the progress to Phase 3.
PHASE THREE – Following many years in Phase 2 without chiropractic care, the spine will continue to degenerate to the point that the disc space completely disappears and the space between the two vertebrae actually fuses. There also may be significant bone spurring surrounding the vertebrae. This condition is irreversible and may lead to permanent pressure or irritation of the spinal nerve.
As you can see, it’s imperative to get chiropractic treatment at Phase 1, before degenerative changes start to begin.
There is evidence, that about 5,000 years ago the Chinese performed the art of manipulating the bones. 4 The art of “spinal manipulation” also goes back to the time of Hippocrates as far back as the 400s BC, and writings about spinal manipulation have been found throughout various cultures around the world. In Europe, the art of ‘bone-setting‘ was passed from father to son, over many generations.
In 1895, the science and art of chiropractic was started in Davenport Iowa by a man named Daniel Palmer. Dr Palmer founded the very first chiropractic school in Davenport in 1895. Dr Palmer was studying the art of bone-setting when he called his assistant, Harvey Lillard, who didn’t respond. He remembered that he was deaf and the deafness started following a spine injury. Dr Palmer, asked Harvey if he could look at his spine and try and fix it. He found a problem, did a rudimentary spinal adjustment, and Harvey’s hearing returned.
Dr. Palmer continued to do these adjustments on different patients with different conditions. Many got well and he began to associate misalignments in the spine with various diseases. Had the various patients not gotten relief with his spinal adjustments, it’s most likely that the art and science of chiropractic would not have been born.
Over the years, thousands of chiropractors have had amazing results treating patients with many conditions. Over the years however, chiropractic has been known more and more for treating conditions of the spine associated with pain, such as neck pain and back pain.
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