One of the most common misconceptions I hear is that chiropractors put bones back in place. For this to be true, it would require that a bone was first “out of place.” Bones can go out of place; however, it is extremely rare and involves a significant accident or injury. Additionally, in the rare cases that it does occur, it is a medical emergency, not something that can be adjusted back into place.
Why do chiropractors have a reputation for putting bones back in place?
I believe this happens for two reasons.
- When joints and muscles are injured or irritated, it truly does feel like something is “out of whack.”
- It’s usually easier for a chiropractor to say that they are aligning someone’s spine than to explain what’s probably really happening
Why does it feel out of place?
To understand this, you need to know that we have an incredible amount of nerve endings throughout our joints, muscles, and connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, and fascia). I like to think of these nerve endings as little touch and position sensors. Imagine this; you can close your eyes, but still, sense where your arms and legs are in space. With your eyes closed, you could probably be able to touch your nose. That’s because all of those position sensors are working to provide feedback to your brain, giving you balance, coordination, and body awareness.
When there are restrictions or irritations within or around joints, muscles, and fascia, it can interfere with the effectiveness of those little position sensors. This can start to distort how your body feels, leading to a sense of “feeling out of alignment.” When this happens, people will usually say that it feels like something needs to pop or stretch “back into place.”
Can a chiropractic adjustment, aka spinal manipulation help?
Yes. It’s just not by putting something back into alignment. Most likely, it is a neurological reset. Some researchers describe it as a reboot for the central nervous system. The thought is that by getting rid of the initial irritation or restriction and stimulating those little nerve endings (touch and position sensors within joints, muscles, and fascia), a neurological reflex allows a type of reset. With this, movement is enhanced with fewer restrictions and feelings of pain and discomfort.
Is there anything else that I should know?
Yes. First, this is the most up to date explanation that we have on how spinal manipulation works. These neurological reflexes have not been adequately studied enough to say with certainty that this is precisely what is happening. However, based on what is known of neurological reflexes and beneficial responses after being adjusted, this is the best guess.
Second, Most people with musculoskeletal pains do best with a holistic approach to management. This means that a good chiropractor should identify joint restrictions, myofascial restrictions, muscular hypertonicity, and areas with too much laxity or instability. From there, a variety of therapies, including spinal manipulation, myofascial release, and rehabilitation, should all be used together for the best results.