Explaining Chiropractic…
November 22, 2018

The word ‘Chiropractic’ comes from the Greek word ‘Cheir’ (meaning ‘hand’) and ‘Praktos’ (meaning ‘done’), i.e. done by hand. The developer of chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer, chose the name.

A brief history

Palmer first performed his chiropractic adjustments or manipulations to the spine in Davenport, Iowa, in September of 1895.  From that first treatment, D.D Palmer continued to develop chiropractic.  In 1897 the Palmer School of Cure was established, now known as the Palmer Collage of Chiropractic, in Davenport, Iowa, where it remains today.  Following the first adjustment many people became interested in Palmer’s new science and healing art as his reputation spread for relieving people’s pain, when no one else could.

A bit about how your body works

The human body is made up of billions of cells combining to form many different tissues which combine to form organs and systems.  Systems such as the circulatory, digestive, respiratory, skeletal, lymphatic and nervous systems are essential to keep our bodies functioning and alive.  Each one of these systems has a specific relationship to one another, and when working together properly result in our body’s ideal function and performance.

How your spine can affect your body

The spinal vertebra

Out of 33 vertebrae in the human spine, 24 of them are moveable.  Each has a set of joints, two joining to both the top and bottom of the vertebra.  These joints are the mechanisms that give your spine the ability to move in multiple directions.  These joints glide against one another, which provides a wide range of flexibility in movement.  It is these joints that make the ‘pop’ or ‘crack’ sound when manipulated by your chiropractor.  A protective capsule surrounds each joint to hold them together and provide limitations in motion in order to protect the joints.  This protective mechanism is a ligament, a tight strong band of tissue.

Intervertebral Discs

Between all except one of the vertebrae there are cushion-like structures known as intervertebral discs.  The discs function as shock absorbers between the vertebra and maintain a distance between them which in turn supports the vertebral joining structures at an optimum level for the best mechanical functioning of our backs.  Therefore, these disks play an integral part in our ability to move.

The discs are composed of a jelly substance.  The discs do not have their own; this means they depend on alternate methods to receive nourishment. This method is MOVEMENT.  The motion that the spine goes through maintains a certain pressure that assists in drawing nutrients and water inside the disc and to nourish the cells to provide healing.

As we move, bending and twisting, the discs flex and help to distribute weight evenly up and down the spine.  These structures are related to conditions / injuries such as ‘slipped discs’

A slipped disc occurs when the outer, tough coating of the disc has been injured.  Often, this can be caused by micro-traumas of minute degenerative changes that occur over a long period of time, or from accumulated trauma of ill-performed work habits or repetitive work stress.

Tearing the outer coating of the disc can allow the inner jelly-like substance to seep put, which can then potentially place pressure on surrounding nerves.  This pressure can cause immense pain.

The chiropractic approach to solving this is to prevent the rupture by treating patients / clients before the injury/condition becomes acute.  This can be attempted by working with the joints and discs to take the abnormal pressure of the outer coat, which would ideally relieve inner pressure.

The Nervous System

With reference to the vertebra described, we can now look at the relationship between the vertebra and the nervous system.  The brain is housed in the skull and holds the connection between the brain and the spinal cord.  The spinal cord carries information from the brain, down through the vertebrae and exiting through small holes called the foramen.  From here, the nerves trave throughout the entire body influencing, both directly and indirectly, every aspect of our physiology.

As long as there is a proper channel of communication between the brain and the rest of the body, the corresponding organs and tissues are able to function without duress.  This degree of communication between each functioning system is imperative in order to achieve optimum performance of any system individually.  Should interference occur with that flow of information, there will be a corresponding decrease in the ideal performance of the are affected.

You may be familiar with the term “pinched nerve”.  The technical term often used for this is ‘subluxation’, an incomplete or partial dislocation of a joint of organ.  The exact definition depends on the anatomical part being involved.

When experiencing nerve pressure, in the beginning the nerve can be extremely sensitive and can become swollen, often leading to further limitations of motion.  After being exposed to prolonged pressure, atrophy (shrinking and shrivelling) of the nerve may take place.  Therefore, the communication between the brain through the nerves to the tissues, such as the heart and other muscles in the body, can be interfered with.  An analogy might help to better understand the process:

If you’ve ever used a garden hose to water your garden, when someone steps on the hose or a car wheel rolls over it the water flow is decreased.  The physiology within the human body is much more intricate, however it may help you understand the basic process.

What do Chiropractors do?

When looking at ‘normal’ body physiology, there are certain elements of immobilisation that can be termed ‘accelerators’ of negative physiological outcomes.  These things may include poor nutrition, unhealthy environment, genetic weakness, high stress levels, emotions and mental states, and lack of movement or exercise.  Each of these elements can contribute to degeneration in our bodies, and when left untreated the affected areas begin to lose function and strength.

Take this understanding and apply it to your own daily routine or lifestyle.  If asked, most of us could show a moderate range of motion with movements such as bending, twisting and turning.  Ask yourself do you regularly use your spine in such a way, experiencing these ranges of motion.  How often do you put your body through these full ranges of motion through correct movement, moderate exercise and conscious body alignment? Not doing so will, over time, lead to weakness, degeneration and a tendency for injury.

Chiropractic adjustment restores proper joint and spinal mechanics.  Movement is being restored to a spinal segment or segments, which have become fixated or limited in its ability to freely move.  With ‘fixation’ subluxation, the adjustment places specific motion into the affected joint.  Depending on the degree of immobility and considering that this immobility may have occurred from long term misuse of a particular area of your body, it may take an extended period of time and treatment to restore ideal mechanic function to the spine.  Reducing scar tissue build up and stretching out surrounding areas involved in the issue is a complex and time-consuming exercise.  As the spine becomes increasingly involved, affecting numerous joints, there can be spinal deviation on a larger scale.  The forces of gravity, physical stress, and the work we do can all contribute to weakened and dysfunctional mechanics in the spine.  This occurs over time, similarly to spinal scoliosis – the sideways bending of the spine, or postural deformities.

Correcting such problems take time and multiple treatment sessions.  Eventual loss of motion, ‘fixation’, can lead to muscle spasm when the joint is stuck or jammed.  This leads to pain and discomfort, made worse by basic everyday motion and activity, translating into the spinal joints and musculature.  The affects of gravity, duress, stress on the body through mal-aligned movement, are all absorbed and ideally ‘equalised’ throughout the spine.  If that equalisation of stress is prohibited in a certain area, a point of pain where the pressure or stress of ‘caught’ builds up, eventually manifesting at a symptomatic level.

When an adjustment is given, the pressure if released and some degree of motion is restored to the particular area and in some cases relieves the symptoms entirely.  This relief could be seen as a ‘cured’ problem; however, this is often just the beginning of treating the problem.  It is merely, the first few steps in a process, which takes time and consistent effort to repair.  Once correction has reached its limitations, then it is key to view your relationship with your spine as a preventative and maintenance-oriented relationship.  In order for nature to function optimally, it requires a degree of action or interaction on your part to bring about and attaint positive results

Just as we change oil in our cars, tune them up, without regular maintenance there will be an increase in the issues that arise in the function of our mechanics.  In order to avoid physiological degeneration, or like our cars with wear and tear, it takes effort and constant work to maintain our bodies and have them functioning at an ideal level.  Health isn’t a singular thing, like a vitamin, a sport program, a drug, or an adjustment.  It is a way of living that is holistic.  It is a process and a journey.  It is an active, ever changing thing, which has to be continuously supported by the right support system.  Health, good or bad, is a result of an accumulation of either positive or negative physiological and mental support.  We and only we can set up and make this support system an integral part of our everyday lives to look after the machine that is our body and vessel.  Unless we take this responsibility upon ourselves, we cannot expect to achieve a rewarding, healthy and holistic lifestyle.