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11 Types of Chiropractic Adjustments and How They Work

Regardless of the many techniques that have been classified as adjustments, most have a similar feature, which is the application of thrust. What distinguishes an adjustment from other procedures is the direct care to the spine provided by a trained physician working manually.

Properly conducted techniques are usually painless, but you may feel some brief discomfort during or shortly after treatment. Patients often find great relief early in their care treatments. Here are the types of chiropractic adjustment techniques that you should be familiar with:

1) Direct Thrust Technique
2) Spinal Mobilization
3) Articulatory Technique
4) Myofascial Release
5) Muscle Energy Technique
6) Spinal Manipulation
7) Functional Technique
8) Flexion-Distraction
9) Gonstead Method
10) Activator
11) Thompson

How Do Chiropractic Adjustments Work?

A chiropractic adjustment is a specific spinal manipulation technique a chiropractor uses on the vertebrae to treat unusual joint placement or subluxation. It involves the use of hands-on manipulation along with other alternative therapies.

An adjustment is a highly skilled and accurate movement designed to improve function in a joint. It helps to provide pain relief and restore normal movement in the body. This allows you to enjoy everyday outdoor activities as quickly as possible.

Adjustments help to reestablish a proper range of motion to a joint. When a joint is adjusted, the pressure is released from within the joint. In the process, a cracking sound may be heard.

The vertebral column is one continuous structure made up of many parts. Chiropractic treatment may be necessary to effectively reestablish good alignment and function throughout the connections of those parts in the spine. As a chiropractic doctor in Juneau, I can recommend a course of treatment that fits your specific needs.

Chiropractic techniques include joint mobilization, muscle release, muscle stimulation, and therapeutic exercises. Specific treatments may vary depending on the needs of each patient. Each of the techniques has a specific procedure to reinstate the spine to its normal function. Your next question might be, "How many adjustments do you need?" Find the answer here.

Characteristics of an adjustment:

  • A specific form of joint manipulation
  • Involves long or short leverage techniques
  • Low amplitude dynamic thrust of controlled direction and velocity
  • Audible articular crack

How Does a Chiropractor Adjust Your Back?

There are many different ways that a chiropractor can adjust your back. Adjustments will only be made to the spine or other joints after you provide a detailed medical history and have a diagnosis with the doctor of chiropractic. He or she may order X-Rays or other tests to determine the best course of action. 

In general, a chiropractor will adjust your back by applying a precise, controlled amount of force to certain spinal segments of your back. This can be done with the chiropractor’s hands or with the help of special instruments made specifically for spinal adjustments. 

There are two types of techniques that you should be familiar with: specific and general spinal adjustments.

Specific Adjustments: These techniques include procedures that apply force to one’s joint or articulation individually. They include the application of short leverage exchanges. The established adjustments work with the affected joint with precision.

General Adjustments: These techniques include processes that are presumed to have wider sectional contacts. They are effective at mobilizing more than a single joint at a time. General adjustments are associated with multiple contacts.

Here are the various types of adjustments you should be familiar with:

1) Direct Thrust Technique

Direct thrust is also referred to as high velocity, low amplitude method or mobilization with impulse. It is one of the oldest and most popular types of manual therapy used by doctors of chiropractic. There are different categories of thrust techniques, including high amplitude and low velocity.

The use of direct thrust adjustment means the chiropractor will engage the restrictive barrier, which consists of pulling instead of pushing against body structures. The physician will monitor the increased restraint.

Then he or she will position the joint to engage the barrier effectively. Most joints show movement in flexion and extension, translation, side bending, and rotation. Then the joints are tested individually to properly diagnose the restriction.

For a direct thrust adjustment to be effective, the chiropractor has to ensure that each plane of the barrier is engaged at the same time. This will help create a solid feeling before applying the thrust. The efficacy of this process depends mainly on the experience of the physician and the patient's initial pain condition.

Direct Thrust is used for:

  • Spinal realignment
  • “Cracking” or “popping” the back
  • Relieving pain
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving range of motion

2) Spinal Mobilization

Spinal mobilization is a type of technique that is made up of passive movement of a specific spinal section. The goal of this treatment is to obtain a therapeutic effect. Experts associate the procedure with passive, gentle movements that help to improve range of motion.

Largely, the aim of mobilization is almost similar to that of spinal manipulation, which is to reinstate proper joint function. Your doctor may choose this method with respect to your personal preference, the sensitivity of your nervous system, a pain condition, or obesity.

Spinal mobilization is used for:

  • Decreasing pain in the spine
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Re-aligning spinal segments

3) Articulatory Technique

This is a type of chiropractic adjustment performed by a chiropractor for therapeutic purposes. Your physician will make use of high to moderate amplitude forces and low velocity to restore a dysfunctional joint by engaging its full range of motion.

To successfully achieve the full range of motion, your doctor will engage the restrictive barrier repeatedly. He or she will ease off every now and then before reengaging the restriction. To be precise, this chiropractic adjustment introduces a specific motion into a specific joint space.

The Articulatory Technique is used for:

  • Improving range of motion in joints
  • Decreasing pain

4) Myofascial Release

This type of chiropractic adjustment refers to a group of manual procedures that are used by a chiropractor to alleviate the tension in the fascia of the body. A doctor of chiropractic will apply sustained pressure with his or her hands in order to relieve stiffness and pain. According to research, Myofascial release is a very resourceful treatment in sports medicine.

The advantages of this technique are not limited to fascia and muscle, but it extends to joints, bones, tendons, cartilage, blood, skin, and ligaments along with soft tissues of your body.

The advantages may be both long-term and immediate. The myofascial release does not involve entering a body cavity or puncturing the skin. Therefore, it can be considered as one of the safest adjustments with virtually no side effects.

Myofascial Release is used for:

  • Muscle relaxation
  • Improved tissue recovery and reduced soreness
  • Reduction or suppression of trigger point pain and sensitivity
  • Reduced adhesions along with scar tissue
  • Increased joint range of motion
  • Improved neuromuscular efficiency
  • Regulation in the production of cytokines
  • Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity
  • Promote growth and repair of muscle tissue
  • Decreased effects of stress

5) Muscle Energy Technique

This is a chiropractic adjustment of soft tissue that incorporates directed and controlled constrictions tailored towards reducing back pain and improving musculoskeletal function. Muscle energy procedures can be used by your doctor of chiropractic to help stretch a muscle.

Muscle energy techniques are most effective when used on patients with unbearable discomfort from acute somatic dysfunction. This may include a whiplash injury due to a car accident or a person with severe muscle spasms from a long fall.

The Muscle Energy Technique is used for:

  • Stretching tight or weak muscles
  • Increasing mobility
  • Promote healing
  • Reduce muscle spasms
  • Relieve soft tissue pain (as in whiplash)

6) Spinal Manipulation

The term manipulation is usually used to describe a range of manual therapy techniques, but our focus is on the rapid thrust or impulse used to correct misalignments. 

Through palpation, the physician is assessing each individual vertebra for movement. He or she will be trying to determine whether or not one or more spinal discs are not moving properly in affiliation with the ones below or above.

Some chiropractors may conduct cervical spine manipulation to help get rid of back pain. Your doctor may adjust your cervical spine in the supine position where you rest flat on your back while facing up. Some adjustments may also be made while you are sitting on a special chair.

Spinal manipulation will seek to address the smallest details that may be causing abnormalities in your body by applying a gentle force on the affected joints. When you experience spinal misalignment symptoms, spinal manipulation is often a required treatment.

Spinal Manipulation is used for:

  • Stop muscle spasms
  • Relieve localized inflammation
  • Re-align spinal segments

7) Functional Technique

This particular adjustment targets affected joints in order to free them from restriction and improve mobility. Your chiropractor will use gentle force as he moves the affected joint through its specific natural range of motion.

A doctor of chiropractic will move the joint until it meets any restriction, then he will hold the joint on this restrive barrier until it releases. Like all forms of chiropractic adjustment, this functional technique must be conducted by a highly qualified practitioner. Like all forms of joint cracking, chiropractors will use this functional technique only when required.

Functional Technique is used for:

  • Restoring function to various joints
  • Relieving pain
  • Reducing inflammation

8) Flexion-Distraction

While some other adjustment techniques require force around the spine, flexion-distraction isn’t one of those. Instead, this method is all about gently stretching the spine out and allowing the chiropractor to use a gentle (and some say relaxing) pumping method to align the spine. 

Flexion-Distraction is used for:

  • Sciatica relief
  • Increased disc and joint motion
  • Herniated disc treatment
  • Pinched nerve relief. 

9) Gonstead Method

The Gonstead method is a hands-on technique that nearly all chiropractors use. It is highly effective in relieving long-term back pain and getting the spine back in alignment. It’s named after its creator, Clarence Gonstead, and it involves a very safe and precise set of steps that the chiropractor performs to ensure the method will help their particular patient. 

This method is performed while the patient is either sitting up or lying on their side. This method can be used in different ways at different parts of the spine to improve mobility and relieve pain. 

The Gonstead Method is used for:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Hip or pelvic misalignments
  • Inflammation
  • Chronic pain

10) Activator

During some chiropractic adjustment techniques, the muscles of the body have a tendency to tense up. Tense muscles can resist adjustments, prolong healing, and make the session unpleasant. 

Enter the Activator device. This is a unique, spring-loaded device that’s used to perform localized low-force pulses to certain joints of the spine. The device is fast, so the body doesn’t have time to tense. Using the activator device can help the doctor of chiropractic perform effective treatments. 

Since the device allows for pinpointed force, it’s ideal for keeping the rest of the spine or other joints from moving into compromised positions. 

The Activator Method is used for:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain

11) Thompson 

Also known as the Drop-Table Technique, the Thompson method utilizes a special table to perform low-force, low amplitude, and high velocity adjustments. The table has platforms and is made specifically to drop these platforms while the chiropractor applies low amounts of force to the spine for adjustments. 

The Thompson Method is used for:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Pregnancy chiropractic care and adjustments
  • Pediatric chiropractic adjustments
  • Correcting neck curvature

How Do Chiropractors Know Where to Adjust?

We mentioned above the fact that, before any adjustments occur, you’ll have to share medical history and an in-person diagnosis and physical examination with the doctor. This is one of the main ways doctors of chiropractic determine where to adjust. They will ask questions about the location of your pain, stiffness, or discomfort if any is present. But they also take other factors into account. 

They may want to take X-Rays or other imaging scans to determine where to adjust. He or she may also perform a posture analysis, measure your legs, and analyze your gait. All of these things can indicate where the problem is coming from and where to adjust. 

Another way to determine where a doctor of chiropractic will adjust is by doing palpitations. This is a hands-on method the doctor uses to test for any trouble spots by applying gentle force along the spine. However, this method is used on a case-by-case basis. 

What Is a Chiropractor?

Chiropractors (licensed healthcare professionals) are highly trained physicians that practice a unique system of healthcare tailored towards preserving and optimizing health by the use of manual treatment to restore proper neurological and musculoskeletal function.

Chiropractors conduct a physical exam in order to unveil any restrictions or misalignments in the spinal column. They refer to such restrictions and misalignments as subluxations, which can cause inflammation, pain, restricted motion, and muscle spasms.

Chiropractors are trained to discover subluxations during an examination. They use gentle force to effectively adjust the spinal vertebrae ridding the body of a subluxation. This ensures that you have a restored range of motion in the joint treated.

Chiropractors are committed to holistic health care, which involves working with patients to enhance their health. Even though the chiropractic profession is based on the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders, they do also counsel patients on lifestyle issues, such as stress management, diet, nutrition, and exercise. Red flags for back pain can help patients recognize when care is needed under the surface of what can be seen with the human eye.

What Are the Benefits of Chiropractic Adjustments?

1) Relieve Stress

Your body is likely to feel out of line if your nervous system is under stress and your skeletal and muscular systems are poorly positioned. This may lead to physical and mental stress and interfere with your health.

The ideal adjustment will help restore balance within your body. Your body can be relieved of any stress or tension. Once your body is relaxed, the brain recognizes the relief, helping you relax, mentally and physically.

2) Improves Posture

One of the most advanced ways of improving posture is chiropractic care, especially for the elderly. With proper adjustments, your doctor of chiropractic can help you restore and maintain good posture. He or she can advise you on ideal lifestyle changes for you.

With chiropractic techniques, you will be able to decrease joint wear, conserve energy to avoid overusing your muscles, prevent muscle strain, minimize stress on ligaments, and maintain proper alignment of joints and bones.

3) Improve the Immune System

Chiropractic procedures are very resourceful at improving the immune system. The immune and nervous systems are closely related. They work hand in hand to develop optimal responses that help the body to heal properly.

Spinal misalignments are known to cause stress to the body. Consequently, the ability of the immune system is disturbed, and the body cannot effectively heal itself. However, when the misalignments are corrected and spinal normal function is restored, the immune system is improved and the body is better able to heal itself.

4) Promote Better Sleep

Do you have insomnia? Are you facing significant challenges whenever you want to sleep? Fear not, there is a long-lasting solution for you. Finding a chiropractor near you and making an appointment is a great step in the right direction.

Research shows that chiropractic care has a positive effect on the quality of sleep. Apart from diagnosing and correcting spinal misalignment, a chiropractor can advise you on essential life changes that you can make to improve the quality of your sleep. Feeling better after an adjustment is a significant feeling of release that is sure to make anyone sleep better!

Specific chiropractic adjustments help to restore the body to its full potential. In turn, the nervous and immune systems can more efficiently, helping you to achieve quality rest and sleep.

These are just a few of the benefits of chiropractic adjustments, I listed more surprising benefits, 37 to be exact, in this comprehensive blog post.

In Conclusion

Chiropractic adjustments are designed to help provide pain relief in a natural and effective manner. There is so much this field of chiropractic treatment can do for you. So, when you can find a chiropractor near you, we advise you to give him or her a visit!

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Dr. Brent Wells - Anchorage Chiropractor
About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.

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