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What does an adjustment really do?

Imagine you fall asleep on the couch, and you wake up confused as to why you’re not in your own bed. Your bed is in your bedroom, which is at the end of a long hallway. You’ve walked up and down said hallway countless times, you know every inch of it, so getting there in the dark should not be a problem.

Except for this time, your daughter left her skateboard in the hall.

You can see where this story is going.

As you make your way towards your comfy bed, you trip over the skateboard, landing flat on your back. OUCH!

But imagine someone was scanning your hallway to make no skateboards are floating around. Wouldn’t that person be awesome?

In this story, the long hallway represents your spine, and the skateboard is a joint restriction. The chiropractor's job is to scan that long hallway to make sure there are no skateboards there so that you can move throughout your home safely.

(This story was inspired by Dr Heidi Haavik’s book “The Reality Check” and I’ve put my own spin to over the years of talking with patients)

Chiropractors check the spine for joint restrictions and adjust the spine when we find them.

As chiropractors, the spinal adjustment is our primary tool to help our patients to move with ease throughout their days and of course live-free pain lives.

The adjustment is powerful in that it has both biomechanical and neurological effects on the spine.

So what would be the cause of the skateboard- ie the spinal restriction? Here are a few:

  • Poor posture

  • Stressors

  • Age-related changes

  • Movement dysfunction

  • Trauma

When we have joint restrictions we may experience:

  • Spasms and tightness in the muscles

  • Wear and tear of the muscles and tendons

  • Faulty communication between the brain, joints and muscles

  • The perception of pain.

So how the heck does the chiropractic adjustment really work?

  1. One reason that adjustment feels so good is that it helps your joints to move better. When a chiropractor adjusts your spine, they apply a specific force that separates the joint surfaces and breaks up fibrous adhesions in the joint, allowing the normal motion to return. This is a biomechanical effect of the adjustment. (2)

  1. Another reason the adjustment provides so much relief is that it actually helps to relax your muscles. When our joints are restricted, the communication between the brain and the joint is altered. This means that the brain can’t appropriately activate the muscles near the joint. When the joint is adjusted, the brain and joint communicate again, meaning those tight tender muscles don’t have to work so hard, and they can relax. This is also a biomechanical effect of the adjustment. (3)

  1. And lastly, the reason we all love the adjustment is that it shuts down pain. When a joint is restricted, the pain receptors get turned up. When we adjust a joint, through neurological changes, those pain receptors get turned down. And with those neurological changes at the joint, your body's ability to sense movement increases (4).

HOW COOL IS THAT? Here at Balanced for Life we love adjusting our patients, and helping them move better and feel better every single day!

  1. Haavik, Heidi. The Reality Check: A Quest To Understand Chiropractic From The Inside Out, 2014

  2. Cramer, G., Budgell, B., Henderson, C., Khalsa, P., and Pickar, J. (2006). Basic science research related to chiropractic spinal adjusting: the state of the art and recommendations revisited. J. Manipulative Physiol. Ther. 29, 726–761.

  3. Evans, D.W., and Breen, A.C. A Biomechanical Model for Mechanically Efficient Cavitation Production During Spinal Manipulation: Prethrust Position and the Neutral Zone. J. Manipulative Physiol. Ther. 29, 72–82.

  4. Seaman, D.R., and Winterstein, J.F. (1998). Dysafferentation: a novel term to describe the neuropathophysiological effects of joint complex dysfunction. A look at likely mechanisms of symptom generation. J. Manipulative Physiol. Ther. 21, 267–280.


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