Many people have heard the word Chiropractic in passing but may not know what it actually entails and how it can help improve their lives. Chiropractic focuses specifically on the musculoskeletal systems of the body. Simply put, doctors of chiropractic look at the body as a whole, how it moves, how the nervous system communicates with the organs of the body, and how the spine helps play a role in that communication. Let’s look a little deeper and understand why we focus on the spine and ask the question, why is the spine is so important when talking about the nervous system?
The 33 vertebrae of the human spine house the spinal cord. Your spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that branch off of the spinal cord and connect to all of the organs and muscles in our bodies) are the roadways that connect your organs to your brain. Without your nerves and spinal cord, your brain would not be able to communicate with your body and tell it how to function. Your body function depends on how well your nerves can send and receive signals from the brain. That connection controls everything you do right down to your heartbeat, breath, digestion, and all the small things your body does on its own without you having to consciously think about them.
These nerves do their best work when they are free from strain and impingement. Your nerves are intertwined with your vertebra, as they branch off of the spinal cord they come out of intervertebral foramina (spaces between the vertebra on the sides that are open to let the nerves out to the rest of the body). The spine is not unmovable, in fact, the spine has quite a bit of movement to help us humans move around in our daily lives. Sometimes, due to trauma, tight musculature, or poor posture our vertebra can move and get stuck in a particular position. In chiropractic, we call this a subluxation. According to Merdiel I. Gatterman in his book Foundations of Chiropractic Subluxation a subluxation is “a motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity, and/or physiologic function are altered although contact between the joint and the surfaces remain intact”.3 In the medical field a subluxation is a partial dislocation, but in the chiropractic field the term has a different, less severe, meaning and this can be corrected with an adjustment performed by a doctor of chiropractic.
The best way to describe chiropractic’s purpose in helping the body heal itself is to think of the spinal cord and nerves as a hose and the electrical impulses inside them as water. A hose does its job the best when nothing is interfering with the flow of water. As soon as someone or something compresses or pinches the hose the flow of water decreases and the hose cannot do its job. The nervous system works in a similar way. If a subluxation between vertebras is allowed to remain in the spinal column it will restrict the electrical impulses of the nervous system and the body will not be able to function at its highest level. According to Thomas F. Bergmann and David H. Peterson in their textbook Chiropractic Technique: Principles and Procedures; “Chiropractic focuses on the presence of disease and dysfunction within the musculoskeletal system that may interfere with the ability of the musculoskeletal system to act efficiently, which in turn requires greater work from the other systems within the body.”2 The repercussions of this include things like pain, a decreased immune system, brain fog, digestive issues, headaches, migraines, and a decrease in organ function just to name a few.
Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs) go through an additional three and a half years of schooling after obtaining their undergraduate degree to study specifically how this system works and become experts in it. Chiropractors not only find and adjust subluxations but they also diagnose medical conditions, can recommend supplements, give dietary advice (in certain states), use soft tissue techniques to release restricted tissue, and in some cases prevent otherwise unneeded surgeries. Chiropractic is alternative medicine because it is preventative medicine. It utilizes the idea that if you keep the body working at its highest potential then it will continue to be free of disease. Chiropractic looks at the body as a whole and therefore is not completely symptom based but looks deeper into the root of the problem so that is can be resolved fully and not just cover up the symptoms.
- Ernst, Edzard. Chiropractic: A Critical Evaluation. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. Volume 35( Issue 5): 544 – 562.
- Bergmann, T. and Peterson, D. Chiropractic technique. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier/Mosby. 2011; 3: 1-483.
- Gatterman, M. Foundations of Chiropractic Subluxation. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier/Mosby. 2005; 2: 1-590.
Please Note: Our Author, Nicole Chinn, is a current doctoral student at Palmer College of Chiropractic Florida Campus. She has a year left of school and is going to be specializing in upper cervical chiropractic care