First, Let’s Keep It Simple!
A vertebral subluxation occurs when the joints of the spine fail to move
properly due to spinal bones becoming misaligned, therefore causing
interference with the nerve messages from the brain to the body and/or
from the body to the brain. This fixation, or loss of normal motion, can
affect movement patterns, muscle balance, and even the function of
organs and the chemicals and hormones they produce. In a nutshell,
a vertebral subluxation is the impairment of optimal expression of your
nervous system caused by physical, biochemical or psychological distress.
In a properly functioning spine, the 24 vertebrae, plus the sacrum and
coccyx bone, normally stack on top of one another in a centered alignment.
When a subluxation is present the misaligned vertebra place pressure on
the delicate spinal nerves as they exit, causing irritation and a reduction in
their function. The best visual explanation of the nerve pressure that occurs
with a vertebral subluxation is to think about a garden hose. Without a kink,
the water flows normally and easily, but if you bend the hose the flow of
water slows. As that bend in the hose gets harder and sharper, the water
The term “vertebral subluxation” is at the core of chiropractic care. While many other terms have been used to
describe aspects of this condition, such as spinal misalignment or dysfunction, fixation, facet syndrome, or
manipulable lesion; these synonyms are overly mechanical and fall short of describing the true nature,
complexity, and global health implications of the vertebral subluxation. The Doctor of Chiropractic locates,
reduces, and corrects spinal subluxations. This is done through a series of chiropractic adjustments, or
manipulations, specifically designed to correct subluxations of the spine. Chiropractors spend many years
studying and training to become masters of correcting vertebral subluxations.
Let’s Dig A Little Deeper To Understand The Subluxation Complex Further.
There has been a wealth of knowledge accumulated over the past few decades that have proven the bone
pressing on a nerve concept of vertebral subluxation to be too simplistic. Science in fact, has discovered that
there is actually a multitude of damaging effects taking place as a result of the vertebral subluxation. It has been
accepted that the vertebral subluxation complex actually involves five separate damaging processes that facilitate
dramatic changes in bodily function. From a contemporary scientific chiropractic point of view the subluxation is a
dynamic process involving several tissue levels and integrative components.
The combinations of these VSC components interfere with the ability of the
nervous system to control and coordinate all the functions of your body. We
like to refer to the five components of subluxation as the Domino Effect. The
domino effect is a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes
a similar change nearby, which then will cause another similar change, and
so on in linear sequence. The classic demonstration involves setting up a
chain of dominoes stood on end, and toppling the first domino. That first
domino falls and topples the domino next to it, and so on. In theory,
however long the chain, the dominoes will still fall. This is because the
energy required to topple each domino is less than the energy transferred
by each impact, so the chain is self-sustaining. Be careful because when
that first subluxation domino falls it begins a cascade of ill health. Below
you can learn about this complex that may be silently developing in you.
The Bone Component.
The first domino of the vertebral subluxation complex is abnormal motion or position of spinal bones; better
known as spinal kinesiopathology. A spine out of proper alignment results in uneven wear and tear on the spinal
joints and causes changes in joint motion. As a result the joint may move too much and be hyper-mobile, be
hypo-mobile and have little mobility, or be fixated and have no movement at all not at all. All these scenarios will
ultimately lead to some degree of degenerative damage to the overall joint structure. Spinal kinesiopathology left
unattended sets in motion the other four components. This is no different than your car tires being out of
alignment. Without proper alignment, the tires wear unevenly and inevitable lead to other problems as a result of
the car driving improperly. Now the chain reaction of the dominos begins!
The Nerve Component.
This part of the subluxation process is known as neuropathyophysiology and is caused by improper spinal
function that chokes, stretches, or irritates delicate nerve tissue. Changes in vertebral movement or position can
alter the shape or size of the spinal canal and intervertebral foramen – the space that the spinal cord and spinal
nerves travel through in the spine – resulting in deficient nerve transmission and function. Research has shown
that the weight of a dime is all the pressure needed to reduce the transmission rate of spinal nerves by as much
as sixty percent. This reduction and altered nerve function to the spinal muscles causes the third subluxation
domino to come into play.
The Muscle Component.
Abnormal muscle function of the spine is referred to as spinal myopathology and is caused by irregular vertebral
motion or positioning. The altered state of the vertebra and neural impulses can cause the muscles supporting
the spine to become weakened, atrophied, or so tight they go into a state of constant spasm. As a result the
muscle fibers begin to die and the muscle is infiltrated by scar tissue, called fibrosis. The resulting scar tissue is
no different than the gristle in a low quality cut of meat. The scarred muscle is less elastic and flexible and
develops a reduced ability to adapt to any changes in your workload. Once this scar tissue has taken hold you
have a problem both structurally and functionally that will begin to cause the fourth subluxation domino to become
unsteady and the joint complex itself is now susceptible to damage.
The Soft Tissue And Overall Joint Dysfunction Component.
Abnormal joint function is referred to as histopathology. If you have reached this point the problem has now
progressed to pathological changes that may affect spinal joint tissues. Abnormal bony growths off the vertebral
bodies and joints, fibrosis and adhesions of spinal muscles and ligaments, as well as dehydration and
degeneration of spinal discs may develop. Our joints get hydration from quality movement much like a sponge.
Without hydration our joints become brittle and subject to injury. Unfortunately discs are poorly supplied with
blood and nutrients and can not reabsorb lost fluids as well as a sponge. Lost motion combined with a
decreased re-absorption rate often causes the discs and ligaments to become brittle and lose their limited
elasticity, further contributing to the reduction of spinal joint mobility. As the joint becomes increasingly
dysfunctional the final subluxation domino begins to fall.
The Biological Chemical Component.
The fifth subluxation domino is referred to as pathophysiology. If this domino falls the spine is essentially falling
apart and will begin to break down structurally. Long term swelling of spinal structures, such as ligaments, disks
and other soft tissues cause a loss of function in the joints. Now the body’s natural defense mechanisms kick in
an attempt to minimize the damage. At this stage, irreversible disease or pathology can occur. Calcium is
deposited in the affected joints and bone spur formation begins, called osteophystosis or more commonly,
degenerative arthritis. As spurs develop on the vertebrae, joint motion is further reduced and the spurs begin to
fuse together as the degenerative process unfolds. The body is literally trying to fuse the affected joint and prevent
any further damage to its communication network; the nerve system. Just like the fallen dominos if the spine is
injured and left to fend for itself it will eventually fuse together as the body's defensive response to chronic
vertebral subluxation takes effect.
Ironically, subluxation is similar to dental cavities; in both cases a significant amount of damage is done before
the pain arises. Seek periodic spinal checkups by a professional chiropractor to assess for subluxation. A good
chiropractor will treat not only the symptoms but also the root cause for the vertebral subluxation. Apart from the
treatment, with his/her advice you can make changes to your lifestyle so that future instances of vertebral
subluxation can be avoided and save yourself from a lot of pain.
pressure continues slowing until there is just a trickle left. The hose represents the spinal nerves, the water
represents the flowing signals, and the kink represents the spinal subluxation. Imagine how healthy your garden
would be if the hose only produced a trickle of water. Now think of how a vertebral subluxation can affect overall
health by reducing nerve impulse and function.