What Is Subluxation

The human body is created to work at a very high level in order to maintain a perfect balance of health. It controls this balance by sending instructions from the brain, down the spinal cord, and out the spinal nerves to all of the organs, muscles, and tissues. If the flow of information is perfect, then your body can adapt to any stress that may shift the balance from health to DIS-ease. It’s your body’s unique ability to adapt that allows you to come back to center and avoid experiencing symptoms. One of the major barriers that will interfere with adaptation is the vertebral subluxation complex.

Subluxation occurs when one or more of the bones in your spine are out of alignment, which puts pressure on the spinal nerve in those areas. When there is pressure on the nerves the messages of the nervous system are dulled and the outcome is less than 100% function of that organ, tissue, etc. SO why is this so serious? We live in a world where so many factors require us to be able to adapt. For example, we are covered in bacteria and viruses inside and out all the time, it isn’t the germs that make us “sick,” it’s our body’s lowered resistance to keeping them from invading our systems. A healthy nervous system, free from subluxation will help you achieve this.

There have been 5 components of the vertebral subluxation complex identified. Take note that during your exam the Doctor will be looking for each of these signs to indicate the presence of subluxation.

  • Abnormal Motion or Kinesiopathology - This is when there is loss of normal vertebral positioning and motion in relation to neighboring vertebrae
  • Muscular Changes or Myopathology - These changes occur in the spinal musculature which includes hypertonicity(tightening), spasms(twitching), fibrosis(scarring/adhering), weakness and improper or inappropriate functioning
  • Nerve Dysfunction or Neuropathology - Misaligned vertebra can irritation or injure the spinal nerve roots through compression, stretch or more commonly chemical irritation from nearby spinal structures
  • Soft Tissue/ Bone Changes or Histopathology - Pathological changes which occur to the spinal tissues such as the formation of bone spurs off the vertebral bodies and joints, fibrosis and adhesions of spinal muscles and ligaments, as well as dehydration and degeneration of spinal discs
  • Chemical Changes or Pathophysiology - Biochemical changes taking place in the spinal region which include inflammation from injured tissues and biochemical waste products

Subluxation and The Intervertebral Disc

Perhaps the most talked about subject regarding the spine amongst your friends and family is the spinal disc. The discs of the spine are located between each set of vertebrae and play a large role in creating a wide enough opening for the nerve to exit without interference, as well as permitting the motion in the spine. What most people do not know is that there is also a nerve supply to the disc, which is why there can often be pain associated with any change to the disc.

Disc “bulging” and “herniation”

The intervertebral disc is a structure that is made up of a strong outer ring of cartilage, known as the annulus fibrosus that contains a thick, gelatinous center known at the nucleus pulposus. The entire structure has a water content upward of 80% which allows for flexibility and shock absorption when moving, and the exchange of waste for nutrients. When there is subluxation present it causes uneven pressure on the disc which causes the outer ring to weaken. With the weakening of the outer annulus the inner gelatinous nucleus will often protrude through those fibers causing a bulging of the disc. Most commonly this will occur posterior or to the back where both the spinal cord and spinal nerves live. The bulging disc can put direct pressure on either of those structures causing pain and nerve dysfunction. By adjusting the spine, and setting the bones evening on the disc it can give the disc a chance to come back to its normal shape, in turn taking the pressure of the nerves and/or spinal cord.

Disc Degeneration

When subluxations are left causing uneven pressure on the discs over many years it can lead to permanent degenerative changes. There are several phases of spinal degeneration.

Normal Spine

Normal Spine
An example of what a normal spine would look like free of any symptoms of subluxation.

Subluxation Phase 1

Phase 1
When looking at the spine from the side the optimal curves create a backwards ‘S’ shape starting with a forward (lordotic) curve in the neck, moving into a backward (kyphotic) curve in the mid back, and returning to another forward curve in the low back. In the first phase of degeneration there is usually a noticeable loss of the natural curves in the spine. The loss of curves decreases the ability of the disc to push out waste and receive nutrients, as well as take in the proper amount of water it needs to stay healthy. This causes the disc to decrease in height, which changes the shape of the space where the spinal nerves exit. There is a large percentage of patients who are in phase one and do not experience and pain or symptoms. If left unaddressed it can lead to more permanent changes in the next phase.

Subluxation Phase 2

Phase 2
Progression into phase 2 causes your body to have to adapt to all the factors that have occurred in phase 1. When the curves are abnormal and the discs are under pressure the spinal segments become relatively unstable so your body begins to add calcium and bone to those areas in order to help. Unfortunately, this bone is in the form of spurs on the vertebrae which causes pain, nerve irritation, and decreased range of motion. The disc also continues to permanently diminish in height causing even less space for the nerve to exit without interference.

Subluxation Phase 3

Phase 3
The third phase mimics the second phase but on a more severe level. The deformity of the curves, vertebrae, and discs are obvious on x-ray because at this point they have been there for at least 35 years. As the disc becomes smaller and cannot absorb shock as it should, the force is transmitted at a higher level to the discs above and below causing those discs to degenerate as well. This degenerative arthritis can move up and down your spine in a domino effect if proper motion and alignment are not restored. It is not possible to adjust away arthritis, but it is very possible to improve motion, decrease symptoms, and prevent the progression into phase 4.

Subluxation Phase 4

Phase 4
The fourth and most severe phase of degeneration occurs after subluxation has been present for several decades. There are often multiple spinal segments involved in each of the regions of the spine. The discs are so flattened that they no longer serve a purpose. The bone spurs extend from both the tops and the bottoms of the vertebrae and end up connecting in the middle fusing the once movable joint. This leads to a loss in range of motion, severe nerve dysfunction and pain. Care can still help at this point with the focus on reducing subluxations around the degenerative areas and improving your body’s ability to adapt.