What Causes Vertebral Subluxation? What are the most effective treatments?
Vertebral subluxation is a condition of the spinal column. Chiropractors and Medical doctors have differing definitions of subluxation. Medical doctors refer to “significant structural displacements” as subluxations, whereas chiropractors suggest that any disfunctional displacement of the spinal column should be referred to as a subluxation, whether or not it is “significant.”
Simply stated, vertebral subluxation occurs when one or more of the bones of your spine (vertebrae) move out of position and create pressure on, or irritate spinal nerves. The nerves that come out from between each of the bones in your spine are referred to as spinal nerves. The pressure on the nerves can cause the nerves to malfunction and might interfere with the signals traveling over those nerves.
The World Health Organization, WHO, definines chiropractic vertebral subluxation as:
- “A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity.”
Spinal or vertebral subluxation has been controversial since 1895 when the phrase was first introduced. Some chiropractors claim that subluxation affects many other systems of the body (physical, mental, emotional) and has dramatic effects on health and disease. However, others in the chiropractic profession reject this concept and do not use subluxation as a diagnositc tool. Nonallopathic lesion is a phrase that has been commonly used in the United States and Canada instead of subluxation as a diagnosis.
What Areas of the Body are Affected with Vertebral Subluxation?
According to Chiropractors who agree with the dramatic effects of subluxation on the body, multiple symptoms can occur as a result of the pressure placed on the spinal nerves.
For example, some chiropractors profess that subluxation pressure on the nerves in the cervical spine can result in headaches, migraines, allergies, head colds, arm pain, hand and finger numbness, vision problems, stiff neck and others. For some it is believed that subluxation pressure on the thoracic vertebrae spinal nerves can result in middle back pain, difficulty breathing, asthma, liver conditions, stomach problems, gastritis, and other syndromes. Subluxation of the lumbar vertebrae, is thought by some to result in constipation, diarrhea, gas pain, menstrual problems, and pain or numbness in the legs, for example.
What Do Chiropractors Claim to Do to Help Remedy Subluxation?
Chiropractors try to locate subluxations and reduce or correct them. They generally use X-rays to determine and make a diagnosis. The physical exam typically includes a variety of assessments, such as range of motion tests, palpation, reflex testing, muscle strength comparisons, and neurological and orthopedic tests focused on your complaint or goal.
Treatment is generally done through a series of chiropractic adjustments specifically designed to correct the vertebral subluxations in your spine. The chiropractic adjustment is a therapeutic manipulation that uses controlled force, leverage, direction, amplitude, and velocity directed at specific joints. With subluxation, the goal is to free the pressure that is placed upon the spinal nerve by moving the displaced bone, to bring the vertebrae into normal alignment.
Are Vertebral Subluxation Charts an Effective Diagnostic and Prescriptive Tool?
Research studies show chiropractic treatment can sometimes be a statistically significant method of treatment for relieving musculoskeletal pain, although more studies are needed. A 2004 Cochrane review by Bronfort and others found evidence that suggests spinal manipulation may be effective for migraine, tension headache and cervicogenic headaches. Other similar studies found chiropractic care to be helpful in lower back pain and neck and shoulder pain, directly related to spinal or postural misalignment.
Although studies exist to show chiropractic treatment effective in relieving pain, at this time, there is no significant evidence to support the effectiveness of subluxation theory as a diagnostic tool, and no evidence that using spinal manipulation and vertebral alignment is an effective treatment for other non-musculoskeletal syndromes or illnesses (such as cough, diarrhea, constipation, allergies, etc). Multiple studies show that using subluxation to cure illness or disease is not successful at a statistically significant level. Mirtz, and other researchers (2009) in a study entitled, “An epidemiological examination of the subluxation construct using Hill’s criteria of causation,” concluded:
“There is a significant lack of evidence to fulfill the basic criteria of causation. This lack of crucial supportive epidemiologic evidence prohibits the accurate promulgation of the chiropractic subluxation.”
According to Professor Philip S. Bolton of the School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Newcastle, Australia in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics,
“The traditional chiropractic vertebral subluxation hypothesis proposes that vertebral misalignment cause illness, disease, or both. This hypothesis remains controversial…. Animal models suggest that vertebral displacements and putative vertebral subluxations may modulate activity in group I to IV afferent nerves. However, it is not clear whether these afferent nerves are modulated during normal day-to-day activities of living and, if so, what segmental or whole-body reflex effects they may have.”
Keating and others (2005) concluded,
“The dogma of subluxation is perhaps the greatest single barrier to professional development for chiropractors. It skews the practice of the art in directions that bring ridicule from the scientific community and uncertainty among the public. Failure to challenge subluxation dogma perpetuates a marketing tradition that inevitably prompts charges of quackery. Subluxation dogma leads to legal and political strategies that may amount to a house of cards and warp the profession’s sense of self and of mission. Commitment to this dogma undermines the motivation for scientific investigation of subluxation as hypothesis, and so perpetuates the cycle.”
Conclusion and Summary
Vertebral subluxation or a nonallopathic lesion is a condition where one or more bones of the spine are out of alignment and are putting pressure on the spinal nerves. This can be treated by spinal manipulation, physical therapy, or even surgery. Traditional subluxation theory professes that subluxation can create other illnesses. Although traditional chiropractic vertebral subluxation theory is popular, whether or not vertebral misalignment causes illness, disease, or both, in other areas of the body and whether chiropractic vertebral adjustment can eliminate this disease or condition, still remains uncertain, and not yet statistically significant and proven by scientific data. It may very well be true, but currently there is no evidence to support traditional chiropractic subluxation theory. However, a limited number of studies on chiropractic spinal manipulation have proven chiropractic treatment to be a significant and cost-effective treatment for many cases of lower back pain, neck pain, migraines, tension headache and cervicogenic headaches. These studies were limited, however, and more studies are needed.
Bolton P (2000). “Reflex effects of vertebral subluxations: the peripheral nervous system. An update”. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 23 (2): 101–3.
Bronfort G, Nilsson N, Haas M, et al. (2004). “Non-invasive physical treatments for chronic/recurrent headache”. In Brønfort, Gert. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (3): CD001878.
Brown R. President, British Chiropractic Association. BCA Statement on Vertebral Subluxation Complex. May 24, 2010. General Chiropractic Council Guidance on Claims Made for the Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Complex.
Hart, J, Reduction of Resting Pulse Rate Following Chiropractic Adjustment of Atlas Subluxation, Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research, March 3, 2014, pages 16-21.
Keating JC Jr, Charlton KH, Grod JP, Perle SM, Sikorski D, Winterstein JF (2005). “Subluxation: dogma or science?”. Chiropr Osteopat 13 (1): 17.
Gatterman, M. “The vertebral subluxation syndrome: is a rose by another name less thorny? The Journal of the CCA/Volume 36, No. 2/June, 1992, pages 102-104
Gatterman, M., One Step Further: The Vertebral Subluxation Syndrome. Dynamic Chiropractic, March 27, 1992, Volume 10, Issue 07.
Mirtz TA, Morgan L, Wyatt LH, Greene L. An epidemiological examination of the subluxation construct using Hill’s criteria of causation. Chiropractic & Osteopathy. 2009;17:13.
Zielinski E, & Blume N, An Epidemiological Approach to the Effects Subluxation-Based Chiropractic Care Has on Managing CVD Risk Factors: A Case Study and Review of the Literature, Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research, November 4, 2013, pages 77- 99
This article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.
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