What is an adjustment?
Doctors use this term to describe the many manipulative techniques used to restore normal position and motion to the bones of the spine. When performing an adjustment your doctor applies precisely directed force to a joint that is "locked up" or not moving properly. Restoring normal motion to joints allows bones to return to a more proper position and your body to function as it should.
The first recorded chiropractic adjustment was performed in 1895, more than 100 years ago, by Dr. Daniel David Palmer in Davenport, Iowa. At the time, Dr. Palmer was investigating the cause and effect of disease. The patient, Harvey Lillard hurt his back and as a result, had complained of hearing problems for over 17 years. Because of a "lump" on Mr. Lillard's back, Dr. Palmer suspected that a vertebra might be out of "alignment" and "pinching" a nerve going to Mr. Lillard's ears. Dr. Palmer adjusted the vertebra with a gentle thrust. After several such treatments, much of Mr. Lillard's hearing was restored and chiropractic care began.
Why an adjustment helps
The brain stem and spinal cord are the communication pathways for nerve impulses to and from the brain. Messages passing back and forth through these nerves control the health and function of virtually every other cell, tissue, organ, and system of the body.
Because the spinal cord is protected by the vertebrae, even a small disturbance to the spine can profoundly affect delicate nerve tissue. In turn, this impairment to the nervous system can cause tissues and organs throughout the body to function poorly. This degenerative chain reaction is called the vertebral subluxation complex. It is an underlying cause of many health problems.
To illustrate this principle, imagine a garden hose as a nerve and the water flowing through the hose as nerve impulses. When the hose is laid out straight with no kinks, water flows freely. If on the other hand the hose has a kink in it, water flow is reduced or even stops. If this condition persists, eventually, the hose becomes damaged.
Like removing the kink from the hose, a spinal adjustment can ease pressure on a nerve, allowing nerve impulses to flow and other parts of your body to function as they should. Spinal adjustment often brings a dramatic improvement in health problems that are seemly unrelated to the spine.
Are all adjustments alike?
All adjustments are not the same. Just as chiropractors are different individually, so are the many techniques. Usually the doctor's hands or a specially designed instrument deliver a quick, therapeutic thrust to the affected joint. Other methods however may require slow, constant pressure.
A pop or click sound is often heard or felt by the patient during the adjustment. Doctors call this cavitation. Much like opening a can of carbonated soda, the sound is caused by a rapid change in pressure acting on the fluids within the joint. Cavitation often occurs during an adjustment, but it does not have to occur for the adjustment to be effective.
Determining the right adjustment
After reviewing your health history, your chiropractor will give you a physical exam. A series of orthopedic, neurological and chiropractic tests will be performed to determine the extent of the problem. As part of the chiropractic examination, the doctor may ask you to bend and turn to test your range of motion, and perform palpation tests to check for tenderness, pain, and swelling.
Because vertebrae can misalign in more than one direction, it's essential to know how far they have moved in each direction to make a precise adjustment. For this reason, an x-ray is taken from different planes. The x-rays are then read and an adjustment structured from the x-ray analysis. Based upon careful evaluation of the spinal problem, the doctor will determine the degree and direction of adjustment needed.
Can I adjust myself?
At one time or another, we've all run into someone who can "pop" his neck or "crack" his back. Even though this seems similar to a spinal adjustment, it is not an adjustment. In fact, there's a good chance that such tricks may be causing real spinal damage.
Are adjustments safe?
Numerous government and private studies have found conclusively that not only is chiropractic care the preferred and most effective form of initial care for back-related problems, it is also the safest.
Chiropractic doctors are trained to practice and perform hundreds to thousands of adjustments before delivering them to a patient. To become a Doctor of Chiropractic, the candidate must first pass the demanding National Board Examination. Then, to apply for a professional license the doctor must pass an even more rigorous test before winning the privilege to practice.
What you can expect
After your first adjustment, it's not unusual to experience increased warmth of part of the body, tingling of a limb, a surge of vitality, or an increased sensitivity to pain. As more normal function is restored to nerves and blood supply, changes are bound to occur. In some cases, patients may feel complete relief from their pain after only one adjustment. Others may feel nothing at all after their initial treatment. Changes are taking place, but healing takes time. Your doctor will monitor your progress.