|I'd like to tell you about a patient of mine named Emily (not her real name). Emily swore to her husband that she'd never have her neck adjusted – at least not willfully, anyway. That was five years ago. She stayed true to that promise until she and her husband were involved in a freeway accident which spun their car around three times before slamming it into the median (thank God for medians!). Poor Emily was both jacked up and in a position where not having her neck adjusted was just not an option.
This, of course, was a blessing in disguise. Not only did Emily have her neck adjusted several times (which allowed her body to heal), but she has been a loyal customer ever since. She even had me adjust her son when he was one week old (that's right, birthing can be tough on a baby too, you know?). While adjusting Emily last week, I asked her, “Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you'd be getting your neck adjusted five years later on your own volition?” Her answer – “Heck no!”
It's no surprise that some people are afraid to be adjusted. Whenever we encounter something new or unfamiliar it can be a little frightening, especially when that something involves trusting a total stranger with their hands around your neck. Making matters worse, when you finally give in to your ambivalence, a quick move and a loud crack can all but wipe away any feelings of calmness you might have been mustering.
If you feel this way every time you get on a chiropractor's table, don't fret. The instantaneous relief you receive from that same chiropractic adjustment more than makes up for any jitters you might have had a microsecond earlier. Emily's fears and hesitations are not uncommon – I have many people come into my office feeling the same way – but I find that the best way to ease one's fears of being adjusted requires a few things: patience, understanding, sympathy, and most importantly, a simple explanation of what's happening during an adjustment.
First, it's important for people to know exactly what we are adjusting. Chiropractors adjust subluxations. Some chiropractors explain a subluxation as a misaligned bone – and there's truth to that – but I find it more accurate and easier to grasp explaining it as a joint that has become stuck. A subluxation is a joint that has lost its full range of motion; basically, it is a stuck joint.
Stuck joints cause a number of dire consequences for the body. The first and most obvious is a lack of motion: stiffness, feeling locked up, or the inability to turn one's head or stand up straight. Some other major problems are pain, inflammation and loss of function. And then there is the neurological component. Subluxations can, and often do, irritate the nerve tissue as it exits the spine. This can lead to a disruption in the normal function of this very delicate and precise system. Left uncorrected, especially for a long period of time (months, years, decades), subluxations can cumulatively disrupt the function of the body and its various systems, leaving the body out of sync.
When a chiropractor detects a subluxation, he or she will then correct it with a chiropractic adjustment. There are many techniques a chiropractor might use to adjust a subluxation. In my office, you get it the old fashioned way – contact the spine; quick, painless thrust; loud pop; voilà: subluxation corrected.
I find that the loud pop is what really unnerves some new and unsure patients. I think that understanding what's happening physically helps ease the mind and helps make the entire process go over that much smoother. To begin with, a chiropractic adjustment is not “bones cracking”. Chiropractors do nothing with the bone except set up on it. When an adjustment is administered, it's the joint that's opening up – we call it gapping the joint . When a joint opens up, think of it like pulling apart two surfaces that have been stuck together by a sticky substance – when they release, you hear a pop.
The actual pop is called a cavitation, and it's the release of gas that makes the popping sound. The joints of the spine are called synovial joints (check out this simple and detailed description here) and they produce a fluid called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid lubricates the joint (for movement) and nourishes it. The byproducts formed in the production of synovial fluid are gasses – oxygen, nitrogen and CO2. When a joint is gapped, or opened up, the gas is released and you hear a distinctive popping sound. It's very similar to the release of gas bubbles when you cork a champagne bottle, and equally pleasant in its after effects.
Speaking of after effects, what happens next? Once the joint is opened up, the synovial fluids re-lubricate the joint surfaces and normal motion is restored. Anybody who has ever had a stuck joint and has been unable to move properly (probably everybody reading this article) knows exactly what follows the adjustment – relief. True, depending on the situation – how severe the subluxation is, how long it has been festering and how “hot” or acute it is – determines how complete the relief will be, but without a doubt, most people feel better almost immediately.
That's why Emily could never stay true to her promise. She just couldn't deny how great she felt following an adjustment. Sure, she came in initially to facilitate the healing of her severely battered body. However, she kept coming back because getting adjusted has allowed her to function optimally, keep up with a tireless three-year-old and feel darn good doing it. If that ain't worth a “pop” then I don't know what is.
*Thanks David S. for this month's topic. David won a complimentary visit for his submission. Submit your questions, and if they end up as an article or podcast, you'll receive one chiropractic visit on us.
- June 4, 2007
*COMING AUGUST 2007
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