Most people have had moments when it just feels difficult to fully turn their neck or back in a particular direction. Spinal manipulations are used to release the joint tension which then allows for better and more pain free movements. Because joints are located beneath the muscles, this form of therapy gets to deeper levels than a stretch or massage usually can.
Some people think of spinal manipulations as something to be done to realign the spine. Although it can definitely help, this view is not entirely correct. The manipulation simply allows the joints to move into the full range that they should be able to move anyway. This can help the joint to be in a more optimal and centered position while supporting the body. Ultimately, it is a combination of the adjustment, stretching and postural exercises that help to realign the spine.
This therapy is most beneficial if the pain is related to restricted joints. For example, a common type of low back pain is due to the SI joint (sacroiliac joint). Another frequent low back pain condition is from the small joints in the back of the spine called facet joints. The mid back, in between the shoulder blades is an area especially prone to having pain related to these joints being restricted. Finally, many neck pain conditions also have patterns of tension in these joints that benefit from being adjusted.
Oftentimes, joint pain and muscle pain coincide. It is very common for there to be trigger points and or tight muscles in similar areas to the joint dysfunction. Because of this, using a physician that is capable of providing spinal manipulation along with stretching and myofascial release is best.
Sometimes there is fear surrounding this spinal manipulation. The movements are faster than a typical stretch and this can be frightening for some. In most cases, other types of mobilizations can be substituted. For example, a therapy called muscle energy technique is another great way to mobilize joints. This technique places a patient into a specific stretched position with them then contracting their own muscles against resistance. The patient’s own muscle contraction can sometimes realign the joint if placed in the proper stretched position first. For more on the safety of spinal manipulation visit our FAQ page.