What Is the Relation Between Chiropractic and Spinal Manipulation?

Written by Mitchell F. Miglis, DC
Reviewed by Stephen M. Perle, DC, MS

While chiropractors offer a variety of treatments for musculoskeletal conditions, about 80% of patients visiting a chiropractor receive some form of spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is a unique form of hands-on treatment (manual therapy) that is distinct from other forms of manual therapy such as massage and mobilization. While chiropractors sometimes refer to spinal manipulation as an "adjustment" or part of an adjustment, the term spinal manipulation is easier to define, more precise, and more widely used worldwide.

What is Spinal Manipulation?
Spinal manipulation is the application of a force (a quick, shallow thrust) to spinal joints that moves the target joint or nearby joints slightly beyond their normal range of movement. Spinal manipulation is often accompanied by an audible "pop". This is believed to be dissolved gas released from joint fluids by a quick drop in pressure. This gas suddenly joins into small bubbles, making a popping sound. Studies have shown that it is not always necessary to hear the audible pop for a spinal manipulation to be effective.

Who Performs Spinal Manipulation?
Chiropractors perform the majority of spinal manipulations in the US, followed by physical therapists, osteopathic physicians, and medical doctors.

What is the Goal of Spinal Manipulation?
The goal of spinal manipulation is to reduce pain in and restore function to mechanical disorders of the spinal column.

Your chiropractor is trained in this highly-specialized form of manual therapy and can determine if your condition is suitable for this type of treatment. Spinal manipulation has been shown to be most effective when coupled with active treatments, such as stretching and exercise, as well as lifestyle modifications.

What Conditions Does Spinal Manipulation Treat?
While the exact mechanism by which spinal manipulation works is uncertain at this time, a number of theories are being researched, including unlocking stuck spinal joints, stimulating the nervous system, stretching tight muscles and freeing entrapped joint folds.

Spinal manipulation has been shown to be safe and effective for certain forms of recent onset neck and back pain, as well as for longer lasting or recurring musculoskeletal disorders. Your chiropractor is trained to identify any serious underlying conditions that might preclude spinal manipulation or perhaps manual therapy in any form. He or she would then refer you to the appropriate medical specialist.

In summary, your chiropractor is highly trained to determine if you are a candidate for spinal manipulation and can also offer alternative forms of manual therapy, as well as active self-treatment recommendations.

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