Chiropractic adjustment and spinal adjustment are often terms used by chiropractic doctors to describe their methods of spinal manipulation, and sometimes by osteopaths, who also use the word adjustment. Chiropractic adjustments are sometimes called spinal realignment, or total spinal adjustment. Osteopathy uses the term subluxation for describing the process through which adjustments to the spinal column cause symptoms to reappear or disappear.
Chiropractic adjustments, though they may be classified as manipulation or adjustments, are really a process of realignment of the skeletal system. This process occurs when spinal bones and other tissues are moved to a higher or lower position than normal. This is usually done by the use of very low or high velocity mechanical forces, known as chiropractic adjustments. Such forces cause the bones to move out of their normal position, which results in them “undergoing” a movement that some of our bones have never been through before.
There are a couple of different types of chiropractic adjustments, including: external mechanical stimuli, internal mechanical stimuli, or spinal manipulative therapy. External mechanical stimuli are those that cause a change in pressure on the body, which can be caused by external sources such as temperature, wind, or other environmental factors. Internal mechanical stimuli are those that affect the nervous system, and which can be caused by internal factors such as diet, disease, muscle tension, or altered hormone levels. Spinal manipulative therapy is the use of very fine needles inserted into the joints of the spine to realign the bone structure.
The technique of chiropractic adjustment differs from patient to patient and depends upon the force applied, the location of the joint being manipulated, and the effectiveness of the chiropractor as a practitioner. In some cases, the force may be so strong that the patient may feel discomfort, and in others, the effect may not be quite enough to make a difference. It all depends upon the anatomy of the joint, and how robust it is. For example, while a tennis racquet may crack a person’s kneecap, the force necessary to crack that same joint in a different place with a much stronger force could cause more injury. While chiropractic practitioners are not licensed to crack skulls, they are trained to realign the joint, making motion uncomfortable.
Another common complaint of patients seeking chiropractic adjustments is high blood pressure. Often, when a patient has high blood pressure, or hypertension, there are nerve irritation and inflammation, both of which can lead to chiropractic adjustments. Chiropractic doctors will often apply a pressure to points on the back to relieve the pressure and will also use their hands to massage the body to increase blood flow.
There is still controversy over whether chiropractic adjustments can be dangerous, especially when the manipulation is performed by untrained individuals. However, in this case, it appears that the danger zone is indeed in the physiological range. As the body adjusts to a new position, or if it is overly sensitive to an improper position, there is a possibility that it can cause harm. If the patient has unrealistic expectations about the effects of a spinal adjustment, they should discuss these with a chiropractor before receiving one.