The Vertebral Subluxation
In a nutshell, a vertebral subluxation is
the impairment of optimal expression of your nervous system caused by physical, biochemical, or psychological dis-stress (see Causes section below).
The terms vertebral subluxation, vertebral
subluxation complex (VSC) or simply subluxation are at the core of chiropractic care. Many other terms have been used to describe aspects of this condition such as spinal misalignment or dysfunction,
fixation, facet syndrome, or manipulable lesion, however these synonyms are overly mechanical and fall short of describing the true nature, complexity and global health implications of the vertebral
Essentially, a vertebral subluxation occurs
when the joints of the spine fail to move properly and/or the spinal bones become misaligned causing interference with the nerve messages from the brain to the body and/or from the body to the brain.
This can affect movement patterns, muscle balance and even the function of organs and the chemicals and hormones they produce. Most subluxations do not cause pain (as the majority of nerves are not
nociceptive or pain-sensing).
Studies continue to elucidate and
characterise the numerous and varied devastating effects that subluxations can have on overall health and function. The World Health Organisation (WHO) now accepts it as a listing in the latest
international classification of disease and related health problems, referred to as M 99.1 Subluxation complex (vertebral).
Chiropractors are highly trained health care
professionals specialising in the analysis and correction of vertebral subluxations. Other manual care providers may use similar techniques to chiropractors to also help assist the body in
functioning better but do not generally receive training in the specifics of the subluxation complex.
What are the Causes of
Subluxations (spinal and nervous system dysfunction) can be
caused by stressors (or forces) that your body cannot adapt to including:
- Physical (both macro and micro-traumas) such as the birth process, learning to walk, car accidents,
accidents at work or home, poor posture (school, work, home), sports injuries, lifting children, prolonged sitting or standing, repetitive activities etc.
- Chemical factors including neurotoxins, excessive alcohol, tobacco, sugar, artificial sweeteners, food
colouring, caffeine, MSG, biochemical constituents of foods (eg. grain-fed red meat, hydrogenated fats), environmental toxins (eg. mercury and other heavy metals), lack of proper nutrients (such as
essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, protein), endocrine changes (for example increased relaxin and estrogen levels in pregnancy).
- Emotional tensions like chronic stress, family conflict, grief, anxiety, depression etc. These tensions
subconsciously influence our posture and neurological tone.
One or a combination of these factors can result in
alterations to joint function and neurological integration. Physical causes are the most obvious, but not necessarily the most common.
What are the Effects of
Distorted nerve communications (Vertebral Subluxations) can
be a cause of many other health problems beyond just headaches and back pain. Some symptoms arising from nervous system interference may seem totally unrelated to the spine, for example digestive or
respiratory problems, infertility, incontinence, poor concentration and memory, mood swings, and broken sleep patterns.
This is not to say that all disease or dysfunction is a
result of subluxation alone. Disease can occur with, because of, or despite subluxations. However, subluxations always reduce the body’s innate ability to express life and function. Our lifestyle,
environment, nutrition, toxins, genetic makeup, and even attitude also influence our health and well-being.
The chiropractor’s primary role is not to treat disease or
symptoms but to improve your nervous system function thus allowing your whole body to perform as well as possible. A growing number of athletes use chiropractic care as a regular part of their
training for injury recovery, prevention, and optimum performance. In fact many people who are not obviously unwell or suffering are surprised to feel even better after chiropractic
The effects of the Vertebral Subluxation Complex on the
nervous system can be categorised into segmental and global alterations, including:
- Compressive Lesions – spinal vertebrae pinch or choke nerve tissue, diminishing signals to and/or from
organs or tissues.
- Facilitative Lesions – If spinal vertebrae chafe, stretch, or irritate nerve tissue then signals going
from or to the affected organ or tissue can be over-excited.
- Dysafferentation (altered input) – If spinal joints no longer move through their normal range of motion
this reduces mechano-receptive input and increases nociceptive signals to the brain (the cerebellum in particular). This alteration to homeostatic integration has been shown to have wide ranging
effects on posture, co-ordination and balance, along with mood and emotion, memory and other cognitive functions, elevated stress hormone levels and increased susceptibility to disease and
degeneration (through spino-cerebellar-cortical loops).
A detailed summary of scientific literature pertaining to
chiropractic and the neurological pathways affected by the vertebral subluxation can be found in ‘The 14 Foundational Premises for the Scientific and Philosophical Validation of the Chiropractic
Wellness Paradigm – revised edition’ by Dr James L. Chestnut, B.Ed., M.Sc., D.C. (2003).
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS THAT MAY INDICATE THAT YOUR SPINE IS SUBLUXATED
- LOW BACK PAIN
- NECK PAIN
- CHEST PAIN
- ARM PAIN
- LEG PAIN
- PAIN ON MOVEMENT
- NUMBNESS IN ARMS, HANDS, FINGERS
- NUMBNESS IN LEGS, FEET, TOES
- TINGLES IN ARMS, HANDS, FINGERS
- TINGLES IN LEGS, FEET, TOES
- STIFFNESS IN LOWER BACK
- STIFFNESS IN NECK
- TIGHT MUSCLES IN SPINE
- VERTIGO, DIZZINESS, FAINTNESS, RINGING IN THE EARS (TINNITUS) AND SOME TYPES OF HEARING LOSS.
- FACIAL PAIN OR PALSY (TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA, BELLS PALSY)
- GRATING OR CRACKLING SOUNDS IN THE NECK OR AT THE BASE OF THE SKULL WHEN TURNING THE HEAD OR NECK.
- INABILITY TO FULLY TURN OR LEAN YOUR HEAD TO ONE SIDE OR THE OTHER (LOSS OF RANGE OF MOTION).
- SHOULDER PAIN THAT IS COMMONLY BETWEEN THE SHOULDER BLADES BUT CAN OCCUR BETWEEN THE NECK AND SHOULDER AREA AS WELL.
- JAW PAIN THAT IS TYPICALLY BEHIND THE JAW OR CLOSE TO THE EAR.
- POSTURAL DISTORTION:
A. HEAD TILT
B. SHOULDER TILT
C. PELVIC TILT
D. SHORT LEG
E. PLEASE NOTE THAT HEAD, SHOULDER, RIB CAGE, AND PELVIC ROTATION CAN ALSO OCCUR.
- CHEST OR RIB ACHE, DISCOMFORT, OR PAIN FROM POSTURAL DISTORTION.
- RADIATING ARM PAIN, SHOULDER PAIN AND LEG PAIN (SCIATICA) CAN DEVELOP THROUGH NERVE ROOT TENSION AND IRRITATION.
- LOW BACK PAIN AND SPINAL DISC DAMAGE OCCUR OVER TIME DUE TO POSTURAL DISTORTION.
- HIP, KNEE, OR ANKLE PAIN AND DYSFUNCTION TYPICALLY ON THE SIDE OF THE SHORT LEG.
- BRAIN CONGESTION DUE TO MECHANICAL BLOCKAGE OF BLOOD FLOW, PARTICULARLY VENOUS DRAINAGE AND CEREBROSPINAL FLUID CIRCULATION.
(CURRENT RESEARCH IS POINTING TO NEURODEGENERATIVE DISORDERS DEVELOPING OVER TIME DUE TO LONG TERM BRAIN CONGESTION).
- HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (NEUROLOGICALLY BASED)
- VAGUS NERVE DISRUPTION CAN PRESENT AS HEART, LUNG, STOMACH, DIGESTIVE, AND BOWL DISORDERS.
- DYSAUTONOMIA DUE TO IMBALANCE BETWEEN SYMPATHETIC (FIGHT OR FLIGHT SYSTEM) AND PARASYMPATHETIC (REST AND DIGEST SYSTEM) NERVOUS SYSTEM
WHICH MOST COMMONLY RESULTS IN OVER-ACTIVITY OF THE FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE LEADING TO A CHRONIC STRESS STATE.
- DIFFICULTY SLEEPING, INSOMNIA AND SOME CASES GRIND THEIR TEETH AT NIGHT (BRUXISM).
- JOINT PAIN