The spinal column is a complex structure comprised of bones called vertebrae. There are 7 in the neck (cervical), 12 in the mid-back (thoracic), and 5 in the low back (lumbar). The spine forms a complex attachment to the pelvis and tailbone as well as the base of the skull, there are well over 100 individual moving parts in this structure. Not only does the spine have to provide a rigid enough structure that the rest of our body is built around, but it must also be flexible enough to allow us to move and function the way we do. The spine also must protect the central nervous system and is directly hardwired into it.
Due to its complex nature, our lifestyle, and normal wear and tear among other factors, our spine can lose its ability to move and function normally. Due to its connection to the central nervous system, this can sometimes cause secondary neurologic symptoms, pain, muscle spasms, and feelings of stiffness. This is typically referred to as “subluxations or vertebral subluxation complex” by chiropractors. Within the scientific literature, it can be referred to as a “mechanical syndrome, spinal restriction or facet restrictions” to name a few. Regardless of the terminology, the underlying pathology is the same, the loss of normal spinal movement affecting its function and associated symptoms.
What should I expect
A Doctor of Chiropractic through a careful review of history, presentation, and a physical exam will first rule out other potential causes of a patient’s symptoms and determine if a loss of mobility and function is. If this is determined to be the case, the doctor can use a variety of techniques to restore healthy mobility to the spine allowing for more normal function. The doctor may elect to use various modalities that are common through physical medicine to assist the process including electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, low-level laser, traction, and other soft tissue therapies.
If a loss of mobility and function is determined to be the problem, the heart of the chiropractic treatment revolves around “adjusting the spine”. Adjusting is also termed “spinal manipulation” within the scientific literature. Restoring normal mobility and function will take some time and there can be a wide array of variables affecting the rate at which one will recover. Generally, younger people recover quickly, they haven’t had years of abuse and injury-causing scar tissue and degenerative changes in the spine. Physically active people with healthy body weights will recover more quickly. Generally, the older we get the more degenerative changes we experience making a complete return to normal mobility and function physically impossible, not to say it can’t improve. A sedentary lifestyle also tends to make a full recovery more difficult due to loss of flexibility, core strength, and generally poor health.