Chiropractic Subluxation

The concept of a chiropractic subluxation between two vertebrae has been one of the fundamental components of the profession's theories since its founding in 1895.

Today it might be called a spinal fixation, but really hypermobile segments should also be included in the definition of the chiropractic subluxation.

Today, the term is understood to be an area of hypomobility, or reduced movement. It's often simply called a spinal fixation.

The significance of these fixations is that it has now been scientifically proved that two important things happen:

  1. Measurable degenerative changes occur in the cartilage in the joint within 13 hours of subluxation.
  2. Within 1 week proteoglycan loss can be detected. These chemicals enable joint cartilage to retain water and collagen to remain elastic.

These progressive and permanent degenerative changes within the joint are called immobilisation degeneration, or ID.

This existence of immobilisation degeneration is now supported by decades of multi disciplinary research. It's not some newly concocted chiropractic theory and, what's more, forms the basis of many orthopaedic protocols. For example, after knee surgery, the surgeon usually requires that thejoint  immediately be placed in motion.

Stunning new orthopaedic research confirming chiropractic ideas can be found at the knee joint distraction page below.

These proven cellular changes caused by the chiropractic subluxation, give it another name if you please, are detected by noci receptors within the degenerating joint.

They start bombarding the spinal cord with noxious neurological impulses, only 10 percent of which are registered in the brain as pain. The remaining 90 have a proven effect on the sympathetic nervous system seriously adversely the whole body, and especially the arterial blood supply to the organs.

Now for a bit of neurology; ever wonder why people shake their hand after they jam their fingers in a car door? Or rub their head after they bump it?

Mechano receptors in the tissues send important messages to the brain enabling it to coordinate movement. At the same time, these mechanoreceptors send messages to the spinal cord inhibiting noxious bombardment from nociceptors reducing both the pain perceived in the brain, and the noxious stimulation of the nervous system.

So, shaking your hand, and rubbing a sore spot stimulates mechanoreceptors which in turn send important messages inhibiting pain.

Chiropractic subluxation seen in the spine.

Chiropractic Subluxation

Chiropractic subluxation concept is accredited to the founder of the modern profession, DD Palmer.

Knee joint distraction helps the subluxated knee cartilage to heal.

At a micro level, movement of a joint keeps it healthy, by stimulating the movement of fluids which bathe the joint cartilage. Simultaneously, as stated these mechanoreceptors bombard the spinal cord with impulses inhibiting any pain messages that are being received from nociceptors.

Conversely, chiropractic subluxations very quickly cause degeneration of that selfsame joint cartilage, causing nociceptors to fire off barrages of noxious impulses. Simultaneously, the mechanoreceptors that should be inhibiting those noxious impulses, are themselves inhibited by the fixation within the joint.

The net result is a  double whammy of progressive degeneration and pain. Can the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, be prevented or at least moderated with Chiropractic help? We believe so.

More difficult conceptually is the joint that is too mobile. This occurs in folk with congenitally lax ligaments and is considered by many authorities to be normal. Some can easily touch their toes, others not.

But hypermobility occurs also in a joint in which the ligaments or disc have been severely injured or stretched allowing increased movement.

This can occur in three not uncommon scenarios:

  1. Whiplash or sprained ankle, for example.
  2. Too much chiropractic manipulation has never been defined, but as a rule of thumb I personally believe that adjustment of a joint more than 25 times in a year is too much. And that may be far too high, but it's simply an opinion.
  3. Self manipulation is a serious problem. Some people begin to pop their own joints regularly, sometimes ten or more times in a day.

It makes no sense to adjust an already too mobile joint, further increasing the mobility. In the case of self manipulation of the cervical spine, without simultaneous joint distraction, rapid spinal degeneration and nerve impingement is the frequent result.

Spinal fixation

So, in short spinal fixations, really just another name for a chiropractic subluxation, are one of the primary causes of degenerative change and a soup of chemicals in and around the nerves causing pain and tingling in arms and hands and feet.

To believe anything, anywhere, at any time on insufficient evidence is a moral wrong.

William Clifford

Hip dysplasia and hypermobility

Hip dysplasia is a well understood phenomenon in which the roof of the hip joint is too small, allowing for abnormal hypermobility and frequently to early degenerative change in the hip. Developmental hip dysplasia ...

Can dysplasia occur in other joints, including the spine? I believe so. Ask any chiropractor and you will be told that s/he would expect a better outcome in the patient with fixations (hypOmobility) than in the patient with hypERmobility.

Inappropriate chiropractic terminology

There is a worrying new trend in which non-chiropractors are using chiropractic terminology. Can a physiotherapist give a "Chiropractic adjustment"? A patient of mine was warned by her neurosurgeon not to risk consulting a chiropractor after a physiotherapist caused a pinched nerve in the neck by giving a "chiropractic manipulation" for a subluxation.

Inappropriate chiropractic terminology

Subluxation? Fixation? Spinal Dysfunction? Hypermobility?

From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

JULIET: 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.

Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee, take all myself.

Says Dr Tom Hyde, DC ...

"We (chiropractors) lack cultural authority."

When we continue to tout the subluxation to those who are trained in the medical model, this term is foreign to them, not rational and not understandable. Rather than referring to the "s" word, I would reference the lesion as spinal dysfunction or other terms understandable to them. Most people in sports injury management care most about what can we do to help their athlete achieve his or her maximum potential. The athletes have a unique mindset; they simply want to be well now!

My discovery early on was that the health care team must speak with a common language.

For us as a profession, and ordinary chiropractors on the ground it is heartening that there is a growing body of evidence, from both within and outside the discipline, that supports many of chiropractic's basic concepts, including the Chiropractic Subluxation. Evidence which now proves that spinal joint fixation can and does lead to significant health problems becomes more compelling as more is learned.

Read some inspirational stories of the effect of releasing these subluxations. Read more: INSPIRATIONAL STORIES ...

Nutrition and the subluxation

Whilst Chiropractic necessarily has a strong neurological and orthopaedic bias, healthy joints are also totally dependent on good nutrition and muscle and joint rehab. The HYALINE CARTILAGE lining the articular processes requires plenty of nutrients and oxygen (having no blood supply of its own).

Thus Chiropractic also has a strong nutritional bias. The omega-3 in FISH OIL has been shown to be particularly effective in healing arthritic joints and a generally healthy diet is vital.

Green bean and lentil soup makes a low cholesterol, high vegetable protein meal.


Upper leg, thigh and groin pain is often from a long ignored subluxation.

› Chiropractic Subluxation

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

Do you have a problem that is not getting better?

Are you looking for a different slant on your pain?

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Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.

You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70 percent of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there is a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong. Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what a DC does.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my eBooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful from the life and work of a chiropractor, you will love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the amount without telling me.