My previous blog post discussed the mechanics of the chiropractic adjustment and what happens when a joint releases (ahem, cavitates). This is not a follow up—that’s coming—but more of a spin-off of that topic. Many of you as patients have been admonished by your chiropractor and/or chiro-wise friends for self-adjusting (ie “popping your own back”). While there is no denying that doing so can provide short-term relief, it’s not a wise long-term solution. Here’s why.
Your spinal cord has many communication pathways that go up to the brain or down from the brain. These are called tracts. Each tract has a special and very specific function, but let’s simplify them to more broad categories. The two types involved in this post involve the sensation of pain and the perception of movement. For you folks that are into expanding your science syllables, these are called nociceptive and proprioceptive tracts, respectively.
When a spinal joint becomes misaligned or fixated, it causes irritation in and around that joint. This stimulates the pain-sensing pathways in your spinal cord, and this signal is sent up to the brain where it is perceived consciously as pain. When you self adjust, usually what you are doing is causing joints above or below the fixated area to release, and the fixated area stays “stuck”. However, the sudden movement that occurs when a joint cavitates causes an activation of the proprioceptive pathways in a big and sudden manner, sending a powerful signal of positional or movement information up the spinal cord to the brain. Because this impulse is so intense and so sudden, it temporarily overshadows the pain pathways and you feel some relief for a short while—even if you didn’t address the fixated joint!
This strategy of self-adjusting will work for a while, but eventually what will happen is you will be repeatedly “adjusting” the segments of your spine that were already willing to move, and the fixated segments will remain fixated. Thus, over time you will increase the disparity between the “stuck” and not “stuck” segments of your spine, and the once-healthy segments that have been releasing for you all this time will become excessively mobile. The relief you once experienced from self-adjusting becomes more and more short-lived. Now, instead of maybe one fixated segment amongst an otherwise healthy spine you now STILL have a fixated segment, but now it’s amongst an unstable and hypermobile spine. Not good! This could increase your risk of disc disease and arthritis in those hypermobile joints, as well as make you potentially more prone to injury.
When a chiropractor adjusts your spine, he or she will be able to locate where you actually need to be adjusted and use specific techniques to isolate the area that is fixated and leave the rest alone. The result is a healthier, stronger, more functional spine. So there you have it. Mom was right. Leave the fun to the professionals.
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