What is a chiropractic adjustment ?
Chiropractors do not manipulate, they adjust. An adjustment means that a change or correction has been made to a joint or joints that have been locked and restricted within their normal range of movement. By and large, this is the most common form of joint problem and is also referred to as a subluxation.
Manipulation on the other hand simply implies that the joint has been moved but not necessarily corrected. This is something that many other professions do because they have not had chiropractic training. It takes many years for a chiropractor to learn how to adjust a joint correctly. It is both an art and a science. It is a highly specialized skill and this is the reason why chiropractic treatment very often succeeds where other forms of treatment do not.
It is important to note that many types of muscular pain originate from the spine. If there is a subluxation at a particular spinal level, the nerves that emerge from that level may be overstimulated or irritated. They will then send excessive electrical impulses to the muscles they supply. The muscles respond to this overstimulation with increased tension or muscle spasm. This is perceived by the patient as painful, tight muscle. From this explanation it is clear that rubbing the muscle, using liniment or taking pain medication may provide relief but does not address the underlying cause of the problem. There are also other ways in which problems at the spinal level may cause pain in various parts of the body:
Nerve root compression - occurs for example when a ruptured intervertebral disc (the cartilage between the vertebrae) puts direct pressure on a nerve root. This can cause excruciating pain, weakness, numbness (lack of sensation) or a tingling 'pins and needles' sensation. Nerve root compression can also occur when tiny osteophytes or bony spurs are growing where the nerve root emerges from the spine.
Referred (dermatomal) pain - many people confuse this with nerve root compression. This is not pressure on a nerve. It is a bit more complex. In the embryo, before a baby is fully formed, certain groups of cells are clumped together. For example, the lower back and the legs originate from one group of cells. The neck, chest and arms originate from another. Sometimes, when we feel an ache in the arm, there is nothing actually wrong with the arm - instead there is really a neck problem. The brain perceives the pain as being arm pain because the arm and neck come from the same embryonic origin. This type of pain is also called dermatomal pain because areas that originated together in the embryo share the same dermatome or area of skin. The attached diagram is a map of the dermatomes relating to different spinal segments.
In Summary - the source of pain is not always as obvious as it appears and this is why some treatments do not work. Chiropractors are trained to differentially diagnose (sort out) the cause of your pain. From there they may proceed with treatment, refer you for other tests such as x-rays or advise you to contact another type of health professional.