Chiropractic is a broad term that encompasses spinal manipulative therapy, passive modalities (like electrical muscle stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, manual therapy, etc.) and active modalities (like corrective exercises and stretching). However, when people ask, “How does chiropractic work?” they are usually referring to the chiropractic adjustment. To answer this question effectively we need to address joint pain on an anatomic, physiologic and functional basis.
Our spine is created from a column of bones called vertebra that stack on top of each other. Where two vertebrae come together they create a fluid-filled, “sandwich” like structure called the intervertebral joint (meaning the joints between the vertebrae). Normally each joint allows for a vertebra to slide on the adjacent segment creating a combined spinal motion (like rounding your back to touch your toes).
But what happens when movement between two vertebral segments get restricted from the scar tissue of a previous injury or fibrotic tissue growth due to poor posture? Since each vertebra is linked, movement surrounding that area is limited causing the feeling of stiffness.
Stiffness caused by joint restrictions means our body’s muscles have to put in extra work. When the muscles compensate for the decrease in spinal motion, dull/achy pain is elicited from the increased inflammation. Fibrous bands within the muscle may get stuck in a focal area of tightness we call trigger points, where blood flow (and thus oxygen) is restricted and biochemical waste products accumulate.
Our body is incredible in the sense that if one section is not functioning properly, different areas will compensate to keep the body moving. However, compensatory movement patterns can be unfamiliar and cause more problems than they solve. Low back pain may cause a change in the way you walk, which could lead to knee or hip pain.
So how can chiropractic adjustments help?
By keeping the joint segments moving properly chiropractors increase global range of motion in the spine and decrease muscle tightness. Overall, adjustments with the combination of other chiropractic therapies will allow the body to have the proper movement patterns to prevent future injuries.