“Spinal manipulation therapy” sounds pretty intimidating, we’ll admit. You might be thinking, “A chiropractor is going to manipulate my spine? What does that even mean? How does spinal manipulation work?” But don’t worry, “manipulating” the spine is basically a medical term for setting the spine back into its natural alignment through a variety of hands-on techniques.
Chiropractors, especially chiropractors here in Juneau, go through extensive training to make sure they give patients the best experience possible and keep their patients’ spines happy and healthy. Spinal alignment is imperative to overall health and proper body function, so these manipulation techniques are the best way to ensure holistic well-being.
If you’re interested in how exactly chiropractors work to manipulate the spine and keep it healthy, read on for some information on spinal mechanics and descriptions of the various techniques chiropractors employ with their patients in order to keep spines in line.
First of all, in order to understand spinal manipulation techniques, you’ll need to understand the spine. The spine, also commonly referred to as the spinal column, vertebral column, or backbone, is a collection of 26 bones in the body running up and down the center of the back. It consists of 24 separate vertebrae, connected with cartilage, along with the sacrum and coccyx bones.
Ideally, your spine is straight when looking at it from the front, and curves in a bit of an S-like shape when looked at from the side body. This alignment is perfectly suited for holing about half the weight of the body, and absorbing shock that comes with everyday activities like walking, running, etc. The S shape acts like a spring, enabling that shock to be spread through the body instead of concentrated in one area, potentially causing injury otherwise.
The top of the spine, located in the neck, is referred to as the cervical spine. The upper back section is known as the thoracic spine, and the lower back is called the lumbar spine. Finally, the lower back and lowest part of the spinal column is referred to as the sacral spine.
Housed inside each individual vertebrae is a hole that holds your spinal cord. The spinal cord is a huge part of your central nervous system, and it’s a primary avenue of communication between your brain and the rest of your body. In basic terms, your brain has to be able to send “messages” to the rest of your body in order to make it function properly. These messages start in the brain, travel down and through the spinal column, and end up in whatever area of the body they need to.
This is why spinal health is so imperative to overall health and well-being. If your spine is out of alignment, these messages can’t get through to the rest of your body properly, delaying healing or even making existing problems worse. Keeping your spine in line through the various manipulation techniques chiropractors employ will not only relieve back pain, it will also help your entire body function properly and make it easier to maintain your long-term health.
Now that you understand the importance of aligning your spine (and keeping it that way!), let’s get into some of the common spinal adjustment techniques so that you know what to expect when at the chiropractor’s office.
Have you ever “cracked” your back before? That’s one of the goals of spinal manipulation therapy. Chiropractic adjustments basically crack your back, and that crack is the sound of air being released as your vertebrae click back into place.
Spinal manipulation involves the patient sitting or laying down on a treatment table or chair while the chiropractor uses various hands-on techniques to correct misalignments and push vertebrae back where they belong.
If you’re in pain due to a vertebral misalignment, it can be scary to hand your spine over to someone else and trust them enough to not cause you more pain. Just remember that spinal manipulations and adjustments should not hurt any more than you already feel, and you’ll feel incredibly relieved once your spine is back in place (even if it takes multiple visits). Some people are even lucky enough to feel immediate relief after a good crack.
So, how exactly do chiropractors achieve this alignment for their patients? Luckily, most people’s spines work in basically the same way, so there are a few comprehensive techniques that chiropractors are well-trained in that help most patients achieve optimal spinal alignment in just a few visits (or even just one, if the alignment isn’t that out of whack).
Below are some of the most common spinal manipulation techniques chiropractors use on their patients. Of course, every patient is unique with individual problems and concerns, so the combination or intensity of each technique may be different depending on the condition. But this will give you a sense of what to expect.
This kind of therapy is probably the most common, and what most people think of when they think about chiropractic care. Here, chiropractors identify subluxations and then restore motion and alignment to the area by applying a gentle thrusting technique that stretches soft tissue and triggers the nervous system to bring the area back into normal alignment.
Subluxations are basically misalignments of vertebrae that cause a miscommunication in your nervous system. These are the root of most causes of spinal issues or back pain, so a vast majority of chiropractic care involves correcting these. They can happen when unnatural pressure is put onto the area either by some sort of trauma or injury, or just from everyday activities like sitting for too long, standing in one position, poor posture, intense exercise, repetitive movements, and more. They are extremely common, and you don’t need to worry about them as long as you’re under chiropractic care!
Sometimes, subluxations or other injuries/misalignments can lead to something called a herniated disc, which involves the cartilage in your spine to become inflamed and enlarged and fall out of alignment from the rest of the spinal column.
In these cases, a chiropractor will use a non-thrusting method of manipulation called flexion distraction. This involves the doctor using a slow pumping motion with his hands on the area of the herniated disc, which encourages the disc to heal and fall back into place. This is favorable because any direct pressure on the disc may make it worse.
Chiropractors may also use a hand-held medical device to apply force to the area without thrusting the spine back into place, as that motion may be too intense in some cases. This instrument-assisted adjustment is a gentler alternative.
Many chiropractors supplement these spinal adjustment techniques with muscle therapy treatment methods in order to treat the muscle pain, weakness, or dysfunction that can come along with subluxations or other misalignments.
Muscle therapy usually involves touch therapy to alleviate muscle or ligament pain and reduce inflammation in the joints caused by misalignments or injuries. Some of the most common muscle therapy treatments are listed below.
This technique is fairly self explanatory. It involves the chiropractor gently stretching muscles in different directions in order to increase mobility and blood flow to the area, and reduce soreness as well. It’s similar to a massage treatment, but focuses on increasing blood and nutrient flow rather than relieving tension.
Chiropractic massage takes the stretching above one step further, focusing on increasing blood flow to the area and relieving pain and tension by massaging and encouraging healthy relationships between all soft tissues, muscles, and ligaments in the area. This greatly reduces inflammation and promotes a sense of overall relaxation.
Best of all, chiropractic massage is usually covered by medical insurance, while typical spa massages are not. Chiropractic massage also takes into account your unique body mechanics and works based off of that, rather than a pre-set massage routine that you would get at a spa like all the other guests.
One of the simplest muscle therapies your chiropractor might use in conjunction with the methods mentioned above is trigger point therapy. This technique involves the identification of specific points of acute pain or tension, and putting direct pressure on these points to alleviate the tension. This is usually done in conjunction with massage or stretching, and can be painful for the patient at the time, but makes a huge difference afterward.
Depending on your condition and stage of healing, your chiropractor may use an ultrasound therapy into your treatment if you have intense stiffness or spasms in your back. Ultrasound therapy involves sending sound waves through your muscle tissue, which creates heat in the area and increases blood flow. This increases blood circulation in the area, thus decreasing pain, stiffness, and painful spasms.
Overall, chiropractic manipulation techniques aim to alleviate pain and “crack” your body back into place. They’re all in your best interest, and will help your spine stay healthy and aligned with regular check-ups and adjustments.
Now that you’re aware of the various spinal manipulation techniques chiropractors use on their patients, you may also be curious about how they know exactly what to do for your spine. The answer to this comes with your initial consultation. During your first visit with your new Juneau chiropractor, the doctor will do various tests and evaluations to comprehensively assess your case and put together the best treatment plan tailored to you.
Some of these evaluations will involve analyzing your posture and walking patterns, as well as getting a sense of your overall spinal alignment and how it may be affecting other areas of your spine and body. Sometimes other areas of the body, especially along the spine, will attempt to compensate for any area that has been injured by taking on extra weight or falling out of alignment. This is important to correct in conjunction with the spine’s alignment to make sure you’re getting a comprehensive treatment plan.
The chiropractor will also check for any areas of restricted motion, nerve damage, disc injury, muscle spasms, or other tissue-related injuries that may result from subluxations or past injuries. Often, this is done through a chiropractic technique called motion and static palpation, which involves analysis through physical touch.
In some cases, the chiropractor might also order an x-ray, MRI, or other test outside of the in-office evaluation to get a better sense of your back and how your spine is currently affecting your body, as well as any other issues that may have previously existed. All of this is done with your absolute best interest in mind so that you can get the most comprehensive and effective treatment possible.
If you’ve never been to a chiropractor before, it’s probably important for you to weigh some of the side effects of spinal manipulation to help you feel more secure in your decision. Because your spine is so intricately connected to your nervous system, there are numerous lifestyle benefits of chiropractic care that most people don’t know about. In addition to the immediate benefits like pain relief in your back and neck, and less discomfort due to subluxations, there are plenty of other benefits that will start to show up over time if you’re looking out for them.
Chiropractic care can help your nervous system function better overall. This means your brain can communicate more effectively with your body, and it can regulate itself better as well. When your spine and body are in line, you get better sleeping patterns, a deeper sleep, improved memory and focus throughout the day, and a boost to any mental health concerns as well. This is because your brain can more easily produce and send out the hormones your body needs to function properly and in a healthy way when your nervous system is aligned.
Similarly, when your spine is in line, the whole trunk of your body also falls into place, giving you better organ function and healthier digestion. This also involves the nervous system, and proper communication between different parts of your body (especially your brain and digestive organs).
Along those lines, chiropractic adjustments can also help you have a better posture, and help to strengthen the core muscles in the trunk of the body. With that and better digestive health combined, chiropractic care can also help you have a slimmer figure over time as well.
Chiropractic care can also help your body better manage pain. It immediately reduces neck and back pain caused by subluxations, but it can also alleviate inflammation caused by pinched nerves, pressure, and more. It can also reduce chronic pain symptoms and reduce the pain caused by conditions like migraines. It allows for proper blood and nutrient flow throughout the body, which lets muscles and other soft tissues relax and function properly, thus reducing pain in all areas of the body.
There are also a few logistic benefits to consider when thinking about starting chiropractic care. Generally, it is partly covered by insurance depending on your provider, of course. Appointments are also quick and easy after your initial consultation, as most adjustments don’t take more than a few minutes every week. Despite this short amount of time, it can improve your lifestyle in so many ways!
The only potential risk with starting a chiropractic care regimen is extremely rare and almost never happens due to that initial consultation and evaluation. Some existing conditions don’t respond well to chiropractic care, like degenerative cancer or excessive range of motion in the spine. Any issues or complications are extremely rare, as most chiropractors are very well trained and know their patients’ situations well.
There are countless benefits to chiropractic care, and although the term “spinal manipulation” sounds a little intimidating, it’s actually one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. The mental, physical, and health condition improvements you’ll see after just a few regular visits to the chiropractor are well-worth the initial discomfort of handing your spinal health over to someone else.
It’s important to note and remember that chiropractors are extensively trained practitioners well-versed in the human spine and the best ways to help them function properly and optimally for your body. The Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab chiropractors have been serving the local community in Juneau for years, and so many of their patients see amazing results from their care. If you call before 4 p.m. today, they’ll get you in same day, and they guarantee that you won’t wait for more than 10 minutes once you get to the office.
It’s never been easier to start your journey to better health and a pain-free lifestyle, so give the Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab center in Juneau a call as soon as possible and discover all of the amazing benefits of spinal manipulation therapy for yourself!
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.