Chiropractic is a health care discipline which emphasizes the inherent recuperative power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery.
The practice of chiropractic focuses on the relationship between structure (primarily the spine) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health. In addition, Doctors of Chiropractic recognize the value and responsibility of working in cooperation with other health care practitioners when in the best interest of the patient.
What is a Subluxation?
A subluxation is a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health.
A subluxation is evaluated, diagnosed, and managed through the use of chiropractic procedures based on the best available rational and empirical evidence.
History of Chiropractic
Manual manipulations of the spine and other joints in the body have been around for a long time. Ancient writings from China and Greece dating between 2700 B.C. and 1500 B.C. mention spinal manipulation and the maneuvering of the lower extremities to ease low back pain. In fact, Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician who lived from 460 to 357 B.C., published a text detailing the importance of manual manipulation. In one of his writings he declares, "Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases." Evidence of manual manipulation of the body has been found among the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Japan, the Incas, Mayans and Native Americans.
Throughout the twentieth century, the profession of chiropractic has gained considerable recognition and scientific support. Research studies that have clearly demonstrated the value of chiropractic care in reducing health care costs, improving recovery rates and increasing patient satisfaction. In fact, one very large study conducted in Canada, the 1993 Manga Study, concluded that chiropractic care would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually in work disability payments and direct health care costs. Several major studies conducted by the U.S. Government, the Rand Corporation and others, have all demonstrated the incredible value of chiropractic care.
What is Chiropractic?
Chiropractic doctors practice natural, drugless, non-invasive health care and rely on the body's ability to self-heal. Sounds ideal, but just how does it work?
We look at the whole picture. Like other healthcare providers, we follow a standard routine to gain information about the patient. We consult, review the case history, conduct a physical examination, and we may request laboratory analyses and/or x-rays. Unlike other healthcare providers, however, chiropractic physicians also conduct a careful analysis of the patient's structure and pay particular attention to the spine. We also ask you about your life - do you eat well? Exercise at all? How do you deal with stress? Do you have children? What do you do for work? And so on.
We seek the origin of the problem. Using this information, a diagnosis is made. Included in the diagnosis is the probable reason for your pain or discomfort. It is important to note that chiropractors seek the origin of the illness in order to eliminate it - we do not simply treat the symptoms. If your roof is leaking, do you simply catch the drips in a bucket for years on end, or do you repair the roof to prevent it from leaking? Similarly, if the migraine headache you've had all week is being caused by misaligned vertebra and an irritated nerve, do you continue to take pain killers indefinitely, or do you realign the vertebra to prevent the pain? You get the picture.
We fix the origin of the problem. Chiropractors have a term for misalignments: subluxations. A vertebral subluxation is a misalignment of the bones that protect the spinal cord. It's a leak in the roof. Or a kink in the wiring of your nervous system. The severity of the subluxation can vary, and there are a number of potential contributing factors that can be physical, emotional, mental, or chemical. The subluxation can be caused by any number of incidents, from birth trauma to an auto accident to simple repetition or over-use.
What truly differentiates doctors of chiropractic from any other healthcare professionals is the fact that chiropractors are the only professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat what are called spinal subluxations. The word "subluxation" comes from the Latin words meaning "somewhat or slight" (sub) and "to dislocate" (luxate). So the term "vertebral subluxation" literally means a slight dislocation or misalignment of the bones in the spine.
When a subluxation occurs, a chiropractor can correct the misaligned bone and allow it to return to its proper position. This procedure is appropriately called an adjustment, and the adjustment enables the body to heal. The chiropractic adjustment is a quick thrust applied to a vertebra for the purpose of correcting its position, movement or both.
Adjustments are often accompanied by an audible release of gas that sounds like a "crack." The sound sometimes shocks people a little bit the first couple times they get adjusted, but the sensation is usually relieving. Occasionally, minor discomfort is experienced, especially if the surrounding muscles are in spasm or the patient tenses up during the chiropractic procedure. There are times when the audible "cracking" does not occur. This is often due to either significant muscle tightness or that the patient may be having a hard time relaxing during their adjustments.
However, the chiropractic adjustment is still important. The leak is fixed. The wiring is fixed. Information is flowing again. To keep the wiring fixed and the information flowing, several adjustments over a course of time may be necessary, in addition to massage, physical therapy, stretching exercises, or strengthening exercises. In the chiropractic world, keeping the problem fixed and preventing its reoccurrence is just as important as the initial remedy.
There are actually five components that contribute to the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC). Learn more:
Bone Component: where the vertebra is either out of position, not moving properly, or are undergoing degeneration. This frequently leads to a narrowing of the spaces between the bones through which the nerves pass; often resulting in irritation or impingement of the nerve itself.
Nervous Component: is the disruption of the normal flow of energy along the nerve fibers, causing the messages traveling along the nerves to become distorted. The result is that all of the tissues that are fed by those nerves receive distorted signals from the brain and, consequently, are not able to function normally. Over time, this can lead to a whole host of conditions, such as peptic ulcers, constipation and other organ system dysfunction.
Muscular Component: since nerves control the muscles that help hold the vertebrae in place, muscles have to be considered to be an integral part of the vertebral subluxation complex. In fact, muscles both affect, and are affected by the VSC. A subluxation can irritate a nerve, the irritated nerve can cause a muscle to spasm, the spasmed muscle pulls the attached vertebrae further out of place, which then further irritates the nerve and you have a vicious cycle. It is no wonder that very few subluxations just go away by themselves.
Soft Tissue Component: the VSC will also affect the surrounding tendons, ligaments, blood supply, and other tissues as the misaligned vertebrae tug and squeeze the connective tissue with tremendous force. Over time, the soft tissues can become stretched out or scarred, leaving the spine with either a permanent instability or restriction.
Chemical Component: is the change in the chemistry of the body due to the VSC. Most often, the chemical changes, such as the release of a class of chemicals called "kinins", are pro-inflammatory; meaning that they increase inflammation in the affected area. These changes get progressively worse over time if they are not treated correctly, leading to chronic pain, inflammation, arthritis, muscle trigger points, the formation of bone spurs, loss of movement, as well as muscle weakness and spasm.
Chiropractors have known the dangers of the vertebral subluxation complex ever since the birth of the profession. More and more scientific research is demonstrating the tremendous detrimental impact that subluxation have on the tissue of the body. In order to be truly healthy, it is vital that your nervous system be functioning free of interference from subluxations. Chiropractors are the only health professionals trained in the detection, location, and correction of the vertebral subluxation complex through chiropractic care.
Controversy of Chiropractic
As successful as chiropractic has become, there are a lot of myths about chiropractic floating around in the general public. Times have definitely changed for the better, but the fact is that many people still do not understand what chiropractors do.
Let's talk about a few of the more common myths about chiropractic:
"Chiropractors are not real doctors."
Chiropractors are licensed as medical health care providers in every U.S. state and dozens of countries around the world. While the competition to attend chiropractic school is not as fierce as medical school, the chiropractic and medical school curricula are virtually identical. In fact, chiropractors have more hours of education than their medical counterparts. As part of their education, chiropractic students also complete approximately nine hundred hours of work in a clinical setting, assisting licensed chiropractors. Once chiropractic students graduate, they have to pass four sets of national board exams as well as state board exams in the states they want to practice.
Chiropractors receive extensive training, combined with many hours of practical work. Just like conventional medical doctors, chiropractors are medical professionals that are subject to the same testing, licensing and monitoring by state and national peer-reviewed boards. Federal and state programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Workers' Compensations programs cover chiropractic, and all federal agencies accept sick-leave certificates signed by doctors of chiropractic.
The biggest difference between chiropractors and medical doctors lies not in their education or diagnostic ability, but in their preferred method of treatment. Medical doctors are trained in the use of medicines (chemicals that affect your internal biochemistry) and surgery. Consequently, if you have a chemical problem, such as diabetes, hypothyroid or an infection, medical doctors can be very helpful.
However, if your problem is that one of the bones in your spine is out of place, or you have trigger points in your muscles that is causing pain, there is no chemical in existence that can fix it. You need a physical treatment to correct a physical problem. That's where chiropractic really shines.
Chiropractors use physical treatments: adjustments, exercises, stretches, muscle therapy - to treat conditions that are physical, rather than chemical, in origin; such as back pain, muscle spasms, headaches, poor posture, etc.
"Medical doctors don't like chiropractors."
The American Medical Association's opposition to chiropractic was at its strongest in the 1940s under the leadership of Morris Fishbein. Fishbein called chiropractors "rabid dogs" and referred to them as "playful and cute, but killers." He tried to portray chiropractors as members of an unscientific cult, caring about noting but taking their patients money. Up to the late 1970s and early 1980s, the medical establishment purposely conspired to try to destroy the profession of chiropractic. In fact, in a landmark lawsuit in the 1980s found that the American Medical Association was guilty of conspiracy and was ordered to pay restitution.
In the 20 years since, the position of most medical doctors has changed; mostly because of several major studies that showed the superiority of chiropractic in treating a host of conditions, coupled with a better understanding among medical doctors about what chiropractors actually do. Many hospitals across the country now have chiropractors on staff and many chiropractic offices have medical doctors on staff. Chiropractors and medical doctors are now much more comfortable working together in cases where medical care is necessary as an adjunct to chiropractic care.
"Once you start going to a chiropractor, you have to keep going the rest of your life."
This is a statement that we frequently hear when the topic of chiropractic care comes up in conversation. This statement is only partly true. You only have to continue going to the chiropractor as long as you wish to maintain the health of your neuromusculoskeletal system. Going to a chiropractor is much like going to the dentist, exercising at a gym or eating a healthier diet, as long as you keep it up, you continue to enjoy the benefits.
Many years ago, dentists convinced everyone that the best time to go to the dentist is before your teeth hurt - that routine dental care will help your teeth remain healthy for a long time. It is important to remember that, just like your teeth, your spine experiences normal wear and tear - you walk, drive, sit, lift, sleep and bend. Regular chiropractic care can help you feel better, move with more freedom, and stay healthier throughout your lifetime. Although you can enjoy the benefits of chiropractic care even if you are only treated for a short time, the real benefits come into play when you make chiropractic care a part of your lifestyle. Most patients notice the differences in their health and feelings of well being while under chiropractic care. Due to these reasons many decide to utilize chiropractic on a regular basis to continue their optimum wellness.
"Chiropractic adjustments will cause you to have a stroke."
Strokes are definitely a serious event, no doubt, and there are some medical doctors who still tell their patients to avoid going to the chiropractor because sooner or later, they say, adjustments of the neck will cause a stroke.
There is no denying that a possibility of this happening exists. However, the risk of suffering a stroke from a chiropractic adjustment is extremely small; about the risk of being struck by lightning. In fact, you are 70,000 times more likely to suffer a stroke from the daily use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks than to suffer a stroke from a chiropractic adjustment. You are 37,000 times more likely to suffer a stroke for some unknown reason than to suffer a stroke from a chiropractic adjustment. When administered by a licensed doctor of chiropractic, adjustments are extremely safe.