Q: What is a chiropractic treatment like? How is it different than other treatments, like medicine?
A: At the center of chiropractic treatment is the spinal adjustment, a manipulation of the vertebrae—the individual bones that make up the spine—to make sure they’re in proper alignment and moving appropriately. Our spinal cord runs through the vertebrae and our nervous system emanates from that cord and reaches out between the various vertebrae. If a vertebra is out of line it can put pressure on or irritate a nerve and cause pain or malfunction in the part of the body served by that nerve. The technical term for misaligned vertebrae is subluxation. This is a term commonly used by chiropractors, but not by many other medical professionals. Think of it as a stuck joint that has muscle spasm and swelling associated with it.
This stuck segment of the spine, or any other joint, will cause the area to become dysfunctional and eventually cause pain. In the spine, it can also affect the nearby nerve roots or spinal cord. This is when most people notice the problem for the first time. At that point, they seek out help and many use medication to cover the symptoms of the problem. Anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxers, and pain medicine are commonly used. Many people notice this is not fixing the issue and therefore may end up in a chiropractor’s office. They are looking for someone to actually get to the area and physically make something happen. It’s like a splinter, why would you numb it when you can just take it out?
The popping sound sometimes associated with chiropractic treatment is actually the sound of escaping gas—think knuckle cracking—that builds up in a joint. There is nothing breaking or cracking. The chiropractor will determine your need for manipulation based on your description of your symptoms, on a visual inspection or by feeling your spine, a technique called palpation. In that exam, the chiropractor can detect swelling, increased temperature, unusual muscle tone or muscle spasms. The chiropractor may also use x-rays. For more information, talk with your chiropractor about spinal manipulation and manipulation of other joints.
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