When a chiropractor starts a weekly blog, you naturally expect it to be mostly about chiropractic stuff, don’t you?
But here we are, over three years later, and I just realized that I can count on one hand the number of articles I’ve written about what we might call “chiropractic in the strictest sense.” You know…stuff like spinal alignment and subluxation.
So, let’s go back to the fundamentals and get this blog in proper alignment.
When I started my career, George H. W. Bush (41) was still in office and misconceptions about chiropractic care were everywhere. Chiropractic was still widely viewed as subversive, somewhere between snake oil and voodoo. Charlatans, they said. Medical boards tried to get our licenses revoked over petty issues. My colleagues in the medical arts treated me like a quack. Patients viewed the diploma on my wall with skepticism. Some days, I didn’t even believe in myself.
But thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Dr. Ronald Gitelman, Dr. Jospeh Mercola, The Palmer School, and others, chiropractic treatment has grown a social acceptance, even if some in the medical profession still look down at it.
Chiropractic Properly Understood
At its core, chiropractic treatment is based on the premises that:
- The body has the mechanisms in place to heal itself
- The neuro-electrical impulse system – including the brain, spine, and nerve endings – is the network the brain uses to communicate with every cell and organ in the body and dispatch healing systems as needed.
When the neural system is operating as designed, the rest of the body operates the way it was designed. Conversely, when the neural system is hindered in any way, the body suffers in the areas of blockage.
Understanding the Structure
Your skull and spine were designed to protect the core of your nervous system – your brain and spinal cord. The skull acts as an inflexible helmet (although it starts out very soft and shifts and hardens as you move through your teen years) and your spine provides a flexible conduit for the spinal cord, so you can move fluidly without damaging the cord. The spine is made up of 32 sections (vertebrae) with padded gaps between them. The spinal cord sends pairs of branches out through these gaps, and the branches facilitate the communication between the brain, the brain stem, and all of your organs. Blood vessels run along almost the same route, delivering oxygen to the organs and muscle tissue, and removing carbon and other toxins.
When your spine is aligned properly, electrical impulse fire smoothly along this system at the speed of light, communicating information back and forth. The brain sends out commands, and the organs send back system data, like pain and pleasure. Blood flows freely.
When a misalignment occurs, chiropractors call it a “subluxation.” It basically means there is a blockage in the nervous system and/or your blood flow. You will often experience pain or stiffness in the area of the subluxation, but you may also experience pain in the organs where the neural signals and blood flow have been hindered. This can be confusing for people. After all, you wouldn’t naturally assume that pain in your chest or legs would be related to a blockage in your back. Instead of identifying the subluxation that is causing blockage in their electrical system, they look for pain relievers to minimize the pain in the hurting area. Over time, some people learn to tune out the pain in their minds.
Understanding The Warning Signs
If that’s you, let me ask you this: if you were flying an airplane and a red light on the control panel began to flash, wouldn’t you want to see what was causing it? Pain is your body’s “flashing red light” to let you know something is wrong. My first response to pain is to identify the nerve branch associated with the part of the body that is experiencing pain and remove the subluxation pressure from that branch at the source – the spine. Some of my patients still act like I’ve performed a magic trick when I align their spine and suddenly, pain in their chest, legs, or hands goes away. They don’t get the connection between pain in one part of their body and subluxation at the spine.
An adjustment is simply moving your muscle groups to apply or release pressure on a specific vertebra in a way that will nudge the vertebra back into its proper alignment. It’s not magic; it’s just using physics to realign your spine. If the muscles connected to that vertebra are applying unbalanced tension, we need to work on those muscles to even out the tension (more on that later).
One of my favorite moments is when a patient who came to me to deal with their back pain realizes some months later that they were enjoying the return of good health in places that seemed totally unrelated:
- They slept better
- They lost weight without trying
- Their blood-sugar levels normalized
- They had fewer migraines
- His erectile dysfunction miraculously healed
- Their arthritis was less severe (or went away)
- They suffered less indigestion
- They experienced better moods more consistently
I love that moment of awareness when they connect the dots.
“Unrelated” Problems Are Usually Related
This is particularly true among people with colon disorders like Irritable Bowel Disease (I’m going to risk walking the line of “crude” here, so I appreciate your understanding). Until they understand how the brain communicates with organs like their colon, it’s hard to relate their difficulties in the restroom with pressure in their backs. But when we reopen the communication between their brain and their colon, they are surprised at how much easier their stool visits are. (There. I think we handled that like grown-ups, right?)
It reminds me of a young chiropractor I used to work with. I would hear him adjust a patient’s spine in the next room and then tell them, “well, your nose should start running any second now.” They would usually giggle at first, but they would report later that he was right. He was referring to the fact that a subluxation in their upper spine had been blocking a part of the immune response mechanism associated with the sinuses, and he had removed the blockage.
Remove the blockages, and your body is free to function according to its design.
So, having an aligned spine is more than just good posture. Actually, good posture is just as much a cause as an effect of an aligned spine. There is an obvious correlation between a trauma like a car accident and bad posture, but there is a less-obvious correlation between bad posture habits and poor health. If you grew up slouching or developed bad posture sitting at a desk, chances are good that you developed other health issues that might seem unrelated, like colds that wouldn’t heal or digestive issues. Now that we understand the neurological connection between your spinal cord and your organs, those connections become clear.
If you grew up accustomed to misaligned posture, you might not even know what proper alignment looks like in your body. That’s true of so many people I meet. They grew up with a kink in their neck that limits their range of motion for rotating their heads and they just don’t know what freedom of movement feels like.
Crucial To The Core
This becomes really important when you think about your core muscles. The core is an interlinking network of muscle groups that form the framework of your abdomen and form the foundation of your posture. Their alignment puts balanced tension on each other, like the wires of a suspension bridge. If any one group is overtightened or under tightened (your hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are a common case), they will put unbalanced pressure on your spine and pelvis, pinching nerves and causing pain, numbness, or stiffness.
Your spine is like the uprights of a bridge, and all the muscle groups balance from that starting point. So if your spine is just a little bit off-center or twisted, it will create unbalanced pressure in your core muscles, ribs, pelvis, and legs, which can be painful, limit your mobility, or even distort your posture. Scoliosis is a very common example of this.
Another common case is women who grew up with a rotated pelvis. There is a perfect position for your pelvis to sit in your lower abdomen that facilitates bearing and delivering babies. When your pelvis is rotated even a few degrees off of any of the three axes (up/down, left/right, forward/back), it will impede your blood flow, pinch off nerve endings, and put unbalanced pressure on your hips, groin, knees, and abdominal floor. But if you’ve never been pregnant before, you might not have ever noticed that your pelvis was out of alignment (unless you experience hip pain when you run), so you wouldn’t have known to get it fixed.
What Alignment Is And Is Not
Spinal alignment is not “bone-crunching.” It’s not about joint popping, although you will often hear your joints pop when you are receiving an adjustment. It is not back-cracking. It is not guessing.
One of the nice things about chiropractic treatment is that is predictable. It is very similar to math. In math, two plus two always equals four. Always. In chiropractic, the nerve branches between the fifth through twelfth thoracic vertebrae connect to the digestive organs. Always. So if you have a subluxation in any of those vertebrae, I can safely assume you are experiencing dysfunction in your digestive system.
It’s like the fuse box in your house’s electrical system. If your electrician did his job well, the fuse labeled “oven” controls the flow of electricity to your oven. If you take out that fuse or cut the wires from the fuse to the oven, you will cut off the flow of electricity and the oven will not function as designed. In the same way, if subluxation is cutting off the flow of neurotransmitters, pain signals, or blood to your vital organs, those organs will suffer pain, numbness, tingling, loss of function, or (left untreated) atrophy. If you’ve ever injured your sacroiliac joint, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s About Time
If you’ve been waiting since the beginning for the chiropractor to write an article about subluxation and adjustment, I applaud your patience. There are just so many things to talk about when it comes to health and wellness, and they are all inter-related. Hopefully, today’s article has given you a little context for how the spine plays into all the other issues we’ve talked about over the years.
As I am reading back over it, I’m not sure if I answered more questions or opened up more questions. I suspect I may have done the latter. If there is a topic related to the spine that you would like me to say more about, please mention it in the comments on Facebook. I read them. There are so many ways I could go with this. I want to make sure that every article answers a question you have.
While you’re there, take a few seconds to share this article. It still surprises me how few people really understand the role of the chiropractor in their overall wellness. When you share these articles, it helps me get the word out to people I could never reach. You might be surprised at who you know that has been wondering about these very issues.
I’ll look forward to visiting with you next week.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas