Do you know what a chiropractic adjustment is and how the procedure works? Millions of people who have no clue about any other chiropractic services know at least something about adjustments, which rank at the top of the list of the most common forms of treatment from these physicians.

A simple definition is a good place to gain an understanding about the technique. In short, a chiropractic adjustment is a technique in which licensed chiropractic physicians use their hands, or their hands and a specialized instrument, to manipulate the human spine with a certain degree of force. The goal is to bring about better overall physical function and unrestricted spinal motion.

Definitions only go so far, unfortunately. In order to comprehend the full meaning of how an adjustment works, the process needs to be broken down into individual steps. There’s no question that spinal manipulation, another name for “chiropractic adjustment,” offers relief to millions of people each year. But the fact is that some people who receive this kind of treatment don’t know the basics about how it works and how it delivers the benefits for which it is so highly regarded.

To understand how an adjustment works, review the following key facts about the procedure:

  • What adjustments are: Adjustments might be very well known, but it’s a fact that they are often misunderstood. In fact, there is a lot of misinformation about the procedure. The best way to combat it it so offer clear, plain facts.

    The first important fact to know is that spinal manipulation, i.e. chiropractic adjustments, are a common form of manual therapy done by trained chiropractors. Sometimes called “back adjustments,” the procedure is performed with the doctor’s hands, or via the hands and a device or tool. The goal is to realign the spine. Technically, the outcome is realignment of a spinal joint subluxation.
  • Why people get them: Patients often report that their goal of having an adjustment is to simply become pain free, or to help them be able to use their backs in a more natural way. For some, however, the goal of getting an adjustment is to be rid of headaches, help manage physical pain, deal with poorly aligned hips, or relieve pain in the neck and shoulder areas.
  • Subluxations: The primary reason doctors perform adjustments is to correct subluxations, By definition, a subluxation is a “partial dislocation” of any joint, but particularly in reference to the spine describes “a slight misalignment of the vertebrae.” Chiropractors often diagnose this condition just by using their hands to examine your back.

    Other kinds of doctors tend to use x-rays to identify subluxations. However, it’s not uncommon for chiropractors to also order x-rays in certain situations. When a chiropractor detects a subluxation, that particular spot will usually become the central area of treatment.
  • What kinds of adjustments are there? If you receive a spinal adjustment, it’s likely your doctor will use quick, directional force, using his or her hands, into a particular joint. You’ll sometimes hear people refer to spinal mobilization adjustments as a “grade-5” manipulation, or a “grade-5 adjustment.”

    The hoped-for outcome of the procedure is that the joints will return to their original alignment. Depending on the individual, it can take anywhere from one to several manipulations to bring about results. Note that chiropractors are known for doing spinal adjustments, but they also are trained to adjust and realign other parts of the body, like the knees, wrists, feet, and pelvis.
  • Are adjustments effective?: There are many holistic therapies that can bring relief for back pain, but spinal manipulation is one of the most common and most sought out by people who suffer from back, neck, and shoulder problems. Other kinds of therapy you might have heard of for relief of back pain include physical therapy, massage therapy, and exercise.

    All are recognized by the NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) as being effective ways to address various kinds of back pain. Other studies have shown spinal manipulation to be at the top of the list for effectiveness when compared to exercise therapy, various kinds of traditional medical care, and physical therapy. Perhaps the best way to determine for yourself whether adjustments are effective is to receive chiropractic treatment for back pain and find out first-hand what it feels like to experience this highly-regarded form of therapy.
  • Getting an adjustment: When you arrive at your chiropractor’s office, the doctor will do a thorough review of your medical history and speak with you about any particular concerns you have. After that, you’ll undergo a physical exam. The physician might order certain types of medical images to help with the examination and diagnosis. During treatment, the doctor will ask you to lie down on the therapy table in a face-down position. That allows the best access to your entire spinal region. You’ll feel the very controlled thrusts that the chiropractor delivers to your spine but it doesn’t cause pain.

    Depending on your condition and the amount of misalignment the doctor noticed, the thrusts can range in force from very mild to quite firm. In many cases, the doctor will use both hands while thrusting in order to push the joint slightly past its normal range of motion. This is the crux of the treatment. The thrusting is what actually helps to alleviate the subluxation and restore normal joint alignment in the spine.

    If you have misalignment in your knees, feet, pelvis, or wrists, the doctor might position you differently on the table in order to gain optimum access to the joints that need treatment. Expect to visit the chiropractor more than once in order to achieve full relief from misalignment and the various types of pain it causes.
  • Are adjustments safe?: Some people are a bit nervous about having their spine manipulated. But chiropractic adjustments and spinal manipulation are quite safe when performed by licensed doctors. A few people have experienced slight headaches, soreness, and other mild side-effects from receiving adjustments, but in the vast majority of cases, there are no unpleasant results, only relief from pain.

    If you hear cracking sounds during your adjustment, don’t worry. Those noises are a natural result of pockets of gas within the lubrication fluid of joints as it escapes into openings between your bones. Likewise, don’t worry if you hear nothing because everyone’s spine is uniquely shaped and the amount of gas in the lubricating fluid varies from person to person. In all, the risks of getting an adjustment are minimal and similar to the risk associated with getting any kind of medical treatment.

How To Learn More

If you want to visit a chiropractor and find out whether a spinal adjustment would help improve your physical health, consider visiting our experienced team at Delaware Integrative Medicine. Our physicians can perform a brief evaluation to help determine your overall state of health and can suggest ways in which you might be able to get relief for any conditions that you might have. Feel free to phone our office at (302) 258-8853 with any questions. There’s never an obligation to find out about your options.