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.)
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.
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.