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Understanding Chiropractic


How it all got started!

The art and science of chiropractic was founded in 1895. It is based on the relationship of the spine and joints with the nervous system, and how optimum spinal and joint movement improves communication through the nerves.

The founder of chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer, had observed the traditional practice of acupuncture in his travels to China, where he saw that manipulation of joints and the spine were a part of acupuncture treatment. In that culture it is known as Tui-Na. The Chinese used it to “move chi” which is the energy within the acupuncture channels that traverse the body. Daniel Palmer adopted the ancient technique but related it to the nervous system (the main part of which is housed within the spine).

The commonality between the “newer” chiropractic approach and the “ancient” (at least 5000 years old) acupuncture approach is that they are both based on proper movement of the body. When spine and joints or energy become “stuck”, the purpose of both professions is to restore balanced movement.

In many respects the two professions overlap, which is why they are both part of my repertoire. I hold professional licenses in both disciplines. However, I don’t consider myself a chiropractor or an acupuncturist, but a unique blend of these (along with a few other disciplines). I do use techniques from chiropractic during care, but it’s only one of the many tools that I have at my disposal.

So why is chiropractic so helpful?

The focus of chiropractic is joints - primarily spinal joints, but also any other joint of the body. Why the interest in joints? It is here where the nervous system and the sensitive and usually deeply protected nerves group to control sensation and movement of muscles that attach to them. Remember that a joint is the meeting space between two bones, where motion occurs. Joined by fibrous connective tissue called ligaments that form a capsule between the ends, there are muscles that span the joint and connect via tendons to the two bones. There are muscles on both sides of that joint, because muscles are only capable of working in one direction.  When the muscle contracts, it pulls the two ends of the bones together, with the fulcrum being the joint. Muscles can only contract. The only way the opposite movement can happen is if there is a muscle on the opposite side to reverse that initial pull. A joint, then, has to have two opposing muscles if movement is to happen. 

Balance between the two muscles becomes vitally important. Ideally for any joint you want a full and controlled range of movement that is strong and stable. In a resting state both the muscles and joints should be relaxed and in a neutral position, but ready to move on demand. The resting state does not mean asleep - it is a specific joint position that keeps the resting balance between the two muscles on both sides of the joint.


When movements aren’t balanced it has an effect on joints. Let’s take a real world example. Let’s say you have a desk job, and you spend the majority of your day at work and at home sitting. Muscles are living tissues - they adapt to the demands put upon them. If you sit for a long time, the muscles that are in a shortened position (relative to the resting position) become shortened, and as a result, tightened. In a sitting posture this shortening and tightening happens within the hip flexors. This muscle pulls on where it attaches, at both the pelvis and spine. The muscle on the opposite side of the hip flexors is the gluteus - the “glute” or “butt” muscle. These are being held in a stretch position, and over time, will stretch and become weak.

The gluteus attaches to the pelvis and the hips. The tight side will eventually become fibrotic - it stays tight for so long it restricts blood flow. The lengthened weak side can’t support the joint, and it becomes unstable. There is interference to the nervous system to both the sensory and motor nerves - sensory nerves become overwhelmed with pain signals and motor nerves are unable to control fibrotic tissue. The fibrotic muscle tissue is essentially dead tissue, and doesn’t respond like a normal muscle would. The brain then has to devote additional resources to manage this issue of imbalance. The body has to adapt to the changes at that joint by using other resources, using muscles attached to other joints to support the unbalanced area.

This is known as compensation. It is a drain on the muscle that is helping; if it maintains for enough time it will eventuate the activation of another back up system. The cycle continues to progress until there is no compensatory system to help. This is generally when pain and symptoms start.

The genius of chiropractic!

This is where the genius of chiropractic comes in for addressing the dysfunction of joints under that kind of stress. 

Remember that any stress on the body, including the imbalance I just illustrated above, creates tension in body tissues. Chronic stress creates chronic tension (and fibrosis). This is what creates the imbalance.

A chiropractic treatment would be to identify the joint that is imbalanced, under stress, and not moving or not moving enough. You would then proceed with an “adjustment”. An “adjustment” is a very precise and very quick movement to take a joint and move it into the range of motion it is lacking. This technique moves the joint into what should be its “normal” range. It is sometimes accompanied by a “pop” or “crack” (which should generally be painless but often surprising) as the capsule around that joint stretches to the range of movement it hasn’t seen in awhile. The many nerve sensors around the joint, within the capsule and the muscles and tendons that surround it, are affected by the adjustment, and create a neurological reflex of muscle relaxation on both sides of the joint. The imbalanced joint is now in position to move better and more into the normal resting state.

I’ve watched chronic muscle tension patterns present for months disappear after a proper adjustment. It’s almost like resetting a fuse; an area is tight and immobile to pressure, and after the adjustment, the tissue moves like butter.

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