Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
“Have you ever had your back cracked?” someone recently asked me. It took me a moment to realize that this startling description was referring to a chiropractic adjustment. Although comedians may frequently joke about chiropractors and their techniques, there’s often little knowledge of how it works and whom it’s intended for. Read on to explore the concept of chiropractic, determine whether it could help you, and discover what safety precautions you should be taking.
To best understand the concept of chiropractic, a quick refresher of the anatomy and physiology of the spine is in order. What exactly is a spine? Our spines are bony cases (vertebrae) for a bundle of nerves (the spinal cord) to pass through. The spinal cord extends from the brain to the tip of our sacrum (tailbone). At regular, usually paired, intervals along the way, nerves from the cord branch out and spread to different parts of our body, like our liver or our lungs. This so-called innervation enables the brain to communicate with all parts of our body effectively.
Sometimes, however, vertebrae can tilt or turn slightly and become subluxated, or “out of place.” This means that the nerve branches passing through those vertebrae have reduced nerve input and output or, in severe cases, have been compressed (this is not the same as a “slipped disk”).
How does this happen? Although “subluxation” sounds serious, it can occur relatively easily. Basic injuries like a slip and fall can be culprits, as can more serious injuries like car accidents. Subluxations can even be caused by unilateral (one-sided) muscle tightness or tension, which can pull the vertebrae on the tightened side out of place.
Chiropractic is the technique that puts these tilted vertebrae back where they belong. A trained therapist, called a chiropractor or Doctor of Chiropractic, most commonly uses a low-amplitude thrust with pressure in an exact spot on the subluxated vertebra, moving it quickly back into place. It’s done with the hands, but some chiropractors use a small device called an activator in place of doing it hands-on. There’s even a form of energetic chiropractic that uses manipulations in the energy field surrounding the subluxated vertebra to coax it back into place. Research on energetic chiropractic is inconclusive, however.
Chiropractic is effective for a wide variety of conditions, most especially back and neck pain. It’s also useful for health concerns that arise from such conditions, including headaches and jaw tension. Additionally, because the nerves passing through a subluxated vertebra do reduce nerve input and output to organs in the body, an adjustment that solves this problem also can have significant impact on health concerns related to the affected organ. For example, subluxations in the upper back can aggravate lung conditions like asthma, and mid-back subluxations can increase the incidence of colic in babies. Chiropractic can also be useful for specifically nerve-related conditions like sciatica and frozen shoulder.
Although chiropractic technique appears to have health benefits for all ages, adjustments from a chiropractor are usually only recommended for older children and adults, and adjustments should never be done without prior X-rays to determine that no contraindications are present. In fact, chiropractors are trained to do X-rays and often have this capability in their offices. Any adjustments on babies and young children should only be done by a chiropractor who has had additional pediatric qualifications.
The concept of “back cracking” can be a little disconcerting, especially when chiropractic mishaps get on the news. However, most safety incidents over the past decade have been almost all related to improper adjustments to the neck. While this sounds scary, it is important to note that before attempting neck adjustments, chiropractors are supposed to check the integrity of the cerebral artery to rule out the possibility of mishaps occurring. This two-minute test is done by maintaining a neck position for 60 seconds. The safety issues occurred when the practitioners in question skipped this vital step.
For More Information
If you’d like additional information on chiropractic technique or you’re seeking a qualified practitioner, visit the Canadian Chiropractic Association’s website.
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.
To comment on this article, email email@example.com.
Search The Voice:
Receive weekly notices when The Voice is
Go here if you no longer wish to receive
our email notifications.