Secret of a Good Chiropractic Adjustment

If Only It Were That Simple

The steel columns that form the skele­ton of a tall build­ing have been engi­neered to sup­port a lot of weight.

Your spine’s job isn’t so sim­ple.  Like a steel col­umn, it has to sup­port weight – but it also has to allow for move­ment.

As cities around the world com­pete to build ever-high­er sky­scrap­ers, it’s clear we’ve come a long way in our engi­neer­ing knowl­edge from the days of the Roman aque­duct.  Still, even with our advances in engi­neer­ing, we’ve only tak­en baby steps toward under­stand­ing the design genius of the ver­te­bral col­umn.  Or how and why things can go wrong.

One aspect of spinal engi­neer­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to the prac­tice of chi­ro­prac­tic – the flow of motion from one spinal seg­ment to anoth­er.  We call it joint play.  (Or if you want to get tech­ni­cal, you could call it para­phys­i­o­log­i­cal joint motion.)

spinal column anatomy

Lum­bar Spinal Seg­ment

If the bones of your spine were stacked up like bricks to sup­port your body weight, any move­ment you tried to make would require bone scrap­ing along oth­er bone.  Ouch.

Instead, you’ve got joint space between each pair of bones to allow for mobil­i­ty, and a sys­tem of stiff lig­a­ments strap­ping the whole thing togeth­er to con­trol and lim­it move­ment.

The amount of move­ment between any pair of ver­te­brae is min­i­mal – just a few degrees of rota­tion or a few mil­lime­ters of glide.  Larg­er move­ments occur because the motion of one seg­ment is linked to the motion above and below.  Then voila! – the spine can twist and bend like a mas­ter yogi.

How can this system go astray? 

Trou­ble occurs when you lose the nor­mal joint play between neigh­bor­ing ver­te­brae.

This lim­its the move­ment avail­able at a par­tic­u­lar seg­ment.  It may or may not mea­sur­ably affect your over­all range of motion, since joints above and below can make up the dif­fer­ence.  But if you’ve lost some of your joint play, it guar­an­tees four things

  • The spinal move­ment that does occur is less effi­cient.
  • Your mus­cles have to work hard­er to accom­plish the same pur­pose.
  • The joints above or below the blocked area will be at risk of devel­op­ing arthri­tis because of the extra wear and tear.
  • Your ner­vous sys­tem, which con­stant­ly mon­i­tors joint and mus­cle activ­i­ty, will be on alert.

What causes loss of joint play?

Trau­ma, lack of use, and repet­i­tive stress all take a toll on the sys­tem of spinal joints. 

Trau­ma.                     Most of us have been in some type of auto acci­dent at one point or anoth­er.  Even a minor fend­er-ben­der sends shock waves through your spine.  Sports activ­i­ty can jar your spine too.  And there are many small­er jolts you get along the way that all con­tribute to joint degen­er­a­tion.

Lack of use.               A seden­tary lifestyle won’t give your spinal joints the reg­u­lar work­out they need to remain sup­ple.  If ill­ness forces you to spend extra time in bed, your spinal joints also suf­fer.  And long car or plane rides can be bad news too.

Repet­i­tive stress.        If your job requires lift­ing, bend­ing, or twist­ing, you’re putting stress on your spine.  Oth­er repet­i­tive loads include run­ning or using pow­er equip­ment.  And there’s a sub­tle cause of repet­i­tive stress that you might over­look – poor pos­ture.

The main chiropractic contribution to the health of the planetnew york city and princeton nj chiropractor ronald lavine dc provides neck mobilization

Spe­cif­ic spinal seg­men­tal man­u­al ther­a­py (the bread and but­ter of chi­ro­prac­tic) is the treat­ment of choice to restore nor­mal inter­ver­te­bral joint play.  It’s fair to say that it’s one of the prime gifts that chi­ro­prac­tic offers to advance the sci­ence of health care.

The effects of a good spinal adjust­ment can be imme­di­ate – help­ing alle­vi­ate pain and move­ment lim­i­ta­tion.

Or the effects can be sub­tle and appar­ent only over time.

But with effec­tive spinal care, your sys­tem will work bet­ter and you’ll enjoy more robust health.

What’s the Secret to a Good Adjustment?

It’s not the crack.

It’s the effect – restor­ing nor­mal joint play.

In the ide­al sit­u­a­tion, I can pal­pate improved joint play as the imme­di­ate result of the adjust­ment.  That makes me hap­py, because I know I’m doing my job.

But often it’s hard­er to feel an imme­di­ate change.  Then I have to look for indi­rect signs, or wait to see how a patient responds to a series of adjust­ments.

In either case, effec­tive chi­ro­prac­tic adjust­ments are a sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly estab­lished method of treat­ing spinal pain and move­ment lim­i­ta­tion.


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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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