Chiropractors diagnose and treat a broad range of physical conditions in patients with muscular, nervous, and skeletal problems, especially the spine.
Chiropractors make use of conventional diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, and lab work, as well as specific procedures that involve manipulation by hand of various parts of the body. Chiropractors are best known for their ability to correct misalignments of the spine, which are called subluxations. But spinal manipulation is only a small part of what chiropractors do as part of an overall plan to manage and relieve pain and many kinds of ailments. Other kinds of treatments chiropractors are capable of providing include:
- Therapeutic exercise
- Ice/heat therapy, including therapeutic ultrasound
- Lifestyle and nutrition counseling
- Massage therapy
- Physical rehabilitation
- Stress management
Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to be a safe and effective alternative treatment for pain and injury.
Chiropractors perform 95 percent of all adjustments in the world to correct the subluxations, or misalignments, of the vertebrae in the spine. Chiropractic adjustments are performed by applying gentle, yet firm pressure to a bone. The goal of any adjustment is to restore the bone to its natural, or original, position. The important thing to remember is the act the adjustment frees—not forces—a vertebra to allow it to find its natural position. This is accomplished by the body’s innate intelligence.
Chiropractic adjustments are performed to treat a wide variety of conditions, including (but not limited to):
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain disorders
- Chronic muscle pain and stiffness
- Most musculoskeletal and sports-related injuries
- Nerve disorders
- Pain and stiffness in the back, chest, abdomen, neck, hips and shoulders, as well as extremities, such as arms, legs, and feet
- Sciatica pain
- Whiplash and other traumatic injuries
Adjustments can be performed while sitting, standing, or lying down. Some adjustments involve special instruments or tables.
Some common adjustment techniques include:
- Instrument adjustments, which involve a spring-loaded device.
- Lumbar roll, in which the chiropractor applies a firm, yet quick thrust to a misaligned vertebra while the patient lies on his or her side.
- Motion palpation, a hand technique the chiropractor uses to determine if your vertebrae are properly aligned.
- Release work, in which the chiropractor uses gentle pressure with the fingers to separate the vertebrae.
- Table adjustments, which entail lying on a specially designed table that drops when pressure is applied to a specific area. The dropping motion allows more gentle adjustments than some manual adjustments do.
- Toggle drop, which entails firm pressure applied on a specific area of the spine by using crossed hands.
Chiropractors take many factors—including size, weight, and muscle structure—into consideration when deciding on which adjustment to make. Sometimes, ice, electrical stimulation, or massage therapy (including traction massage) are used prior to a spinal manipulation in order to relax the muscles.
In some cases, it may necessary to perform an adjustment while you are sedated.
Spinal manipulation under anesthesia, which is considered a very safe procedure, is usually reserved for patients with conditions such as chronic neck, back, and joint pain, muscle spasm, shortened muscles, and fibrous adhesions.
Another form of adjustment called craniosacral therapy, or “CST,” involves exerting very mild pressure to the body’s craniosacral system, which is comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. This includes cranium—which is composed of the skull, face and mouth, and the “sacrum,” or tailbone.
CST has been shown to provide relief from chronic neck and back pain, scoliosis, brain and spinal cord injuries, migraines, chronic fatigue, nervous system disorders, jaw joint problems, and stress disorders. (Conditions such as aneurysm and intracranial hemorrhage prohibit this kind of therapy.)
Adjustments almost always do not involve any pain or discomfort. The important thing for a patient to keep in mind is to remain relaxed, because stiffening up may impede the adjustment process. Popping sounds are sometimes heard during adjustments; these are usually pockets of air being released behind a joint or other bony structure.
Adjustments can leave you with a greater sense of well-being, calm, and most importantly, on the road to a life without pain. Following an adjustment, some patients experience mild aching or soreness in their spinal joints or muscles, which can usually be relieved by an ice or heat pack.
Adjustments have been shown to:
- Increase blood flow
- Increase pain tolerance levels
- Increase range of motion
- Increase the body’s secretion of “good” chemicals, such as melatonin and endorphins
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce tension and muscle pressure