Subluxations: Causes and Treatments

What is Subluxation? Strange word for a common thing. It’s when spinal bones, called vertebrae, get slightly dislocated or misaligned, stuck out of place. Many things can cause spinal subluxations. Being yanked by the arm as a child, sleeping with your head or back in an awkward position, looking down or up too long, poor health or weakness, playing sports, stepping off a curb you didn’t expect, auto collisions, etc. Life, in general, causes spinal segments to get stuck off their normal, happy places.

Is it a problem?

Yes. Though at first a minor issue, it can escalate to serious for the following reasons:

1. When you have subluxations, you are not as flexible because the spine can’t move normally. Lifestyle suffers.

2. The ligaments and tendons that attach to the subluxated bones are not allowed to work properly. On one side of the spine, the soft tissue may have too much slack, and on the other, not enough (too taut). We feel this often in the upper back, between the neck and shoulders. “This is where I hold my stress,” you’ve heard someone say.

3. When spinal segments are stuck, the nervous system tells the brain that there is something wrong, so the spine collects extra calcium and scar tissue to stabilize the area. It’s an attempt to protect itself from further injury. This promotes arthritis, aka degenerative joint disease.

4. The misalignment of vertebrae may shrink the holes through which the spinal nerve roots exit the spine; therefore, nerves sometimes get pinched or rubbed on enough to affect nerve stimulation to their target organs.

Do I Have Subluxations?

Unfortunately, we don’t always know when we have subluxations. Because only about 10% of our nerves communicate pain to the brain, some subluxations don’t affect nerves, so we may not feel them. But, if it’s causing inflammation or nerve pinching, you will know! Think of heart disease that leads to heart attacks. Half of the heart attack victims did not know they had heart disease. Getting subluxations adjusted is smart prevention, whether you know you have one or not.

People for centuries have treated spinal subluxations in many ways— anything from taking pills or potions to having your friend walk on your back (Not recommended!) While painkillers reduce pain, they are not able to correct the subluxation. This is a physical problem that requires physical medicine like chiropractic and physical therapy. A doctor of chiropractic is trained to carefully adjust the subluxated vertebra to its normal motion and position. “That was weird,” or “It hurt good,” say some patients after their first adjustment. Others just report, “Oh, that felt good; thanks Doc!” Children don’t usually say anything about the little “popcorn” sound.

After Correcting the Subluxations

The doctor may teach you a few stretches and exercises to help heal and strengthen the area so the subluxations won’t keep returning. You might need multiple adjustments in a short period of time to make sure the spine gets the message. The general rule is, “The longer you’ve had the subluxation, the longer it takes to fix it.” This is true because of the build-up of scar tissue around the joint, and the weakened soft tissue has grown accustomed to the joint’s being misaligned. You may have to train your spine how to behave again.