What is a subluxation?

You have 24 moveable back bones, or vertebrae, which protect the spinal cord, a delicate system for sending information from your brain to your muscles, organs. skin and back again. The disc is the cushioning pad between these bones.

You have over 200 bones in your body. Whenever two bones come together at a joint, there is movement. Since joints in your spine are so close to your spinal cords and nerve roots, too much or too little joint motion can have serious effects on the spine, and the rest of the body as well.

If a spinal bone gets "stuck" and doesn't move right, it can irritate or chafe delicate nerves. If a joint moves too much, spinal bones can press against adjacent nerve tissue. This can interfere with the vital "life force" transmitted over your nervous system that keeps your brain in touch with your body.

The result is a vertebral subluxation, or more simply, a subluxation. It is a change in the position of two adjacent spinal bones (vertebrae), and the resulting ill effects on the nervous system and the rest of the body. An oversimplification of this then could be a "pinched nerve".

When a change from or back to a normal position occurs, the body will react. A subluxation can alter function negatively. These spinal problems, sometimes called fixations, contribute to many health problems. An adjustment often helps restore bones to their proper positions and reduces nerve interference. More than bones and nerves are involved. Muscles can become too tight or too weak. Discs, ligaments and other connective tissues can become inflamed. Bone spurs and arthritic degeneration can set in.

Causes of Subluxation

There are many factors that can cause the Vertebral Subluxation Complex. Trauma from car accidents, improper lifting, falls, jolts, or strains are common causes. Sustained postures (sitting all day) repeated motions common to the workplace, inadequate sleep, improper exercise, poor diet, drug side effects, and emotional stress are all factors that can gradually wear down parts of the spine and lead to subluxation. Subluxations can occur as early as childbirth. The infant's spine (particularly the neck) undergoes an incredible amount of stress during the birthing process. Many neurological and health problems have been traced to spinal trauma at birth.

Correcting Subluxations

A doctor of chiropractic is the only health care provider trained and experienced at detecting, reducing, correcting, and preventing the Vertebral Subluxation Complex. Your chiropractor conducts a thorough evaluation of your spine and addresses those specific areas of subluxation only. Subluxations interfere with the health of your body. The longer a subluxation has to degenerate, the worse it affects your body's functions and the more difficult it is to correct. For these reasons, it is important to have periodic spinal checkups.

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The Natural Cure of Headaches

Many Americans, 45 million according to the National Headache Foundation, suffer headache pain severe enough to seek medical help. These debilitating headaches persist, resist medical treatment and return frequently.

Chronic headache sufferers try a myriad means of easing discomfort. "They may self medicate for a while, then see the family physician," says Dr. James J. Flood of ProHealth Chiropractic Wellness Center, North Bethesda, MD. "Treating headache pain with painkillers can lead to ever-increasing doses that become the cause of new headaches or worsen existing ones."

Studies show that 58% of headache sufferers have tried an alternative therapy. Concern about prescription and over-the counter drug risk has more headache sufferers turning to chiropractic care.

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A 2001 research study from the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC concluded that chiropractic care may be an effective treatment option for tension and cervicogenic headaches (those that originate in the neck).

The study compared six weeks of spinal manipulative treatment by chiropractors to six weeks of medical treatment with medication for severe headache pain. Those treated with manipulation experienced fewer side effects and longer lasting positive effects. Spinal manipulation can eliminate cervicogenic headaches. Other tension headaches respond to chiropractic intervention, with or without manipulation.

"I believe chiropractic should be the first line of defense for headaches. It's effective and safe," says Dr. Kenneth D. Erickson of Irvine Family Health Center Chiropractic Office in Irvine, CA. "Medications do ease pain but have risks and unwanted effects on the entire body. The underlying cause remains, so the headache will likely return. A chiropractor focuses on the part of the body with the problem and works through a functional examination to find the true cause. If we can remove that cause, the headache will not return any time soon."


Chiropractors who treat patients with headaches know that accurate diagnosis is essential. First, says Flood, we need more detail about the headaches – when they started, where the pain is located, and how often they occur. Tension headaches are common. Erickson notes that the cause of tension headaches can be physical (poor posture) or psychological (worries). Either scenario causes contractions in the muscles of the neck, back and head that deprive muscles of oxygen. This causes a release of chemicals that transmit "referred" pain signals to the brain. Patients typically suffer moderate pain on both sides of the head and describe feeling that a tight band is constricting the head. The greater occipital and lesser occipital nerves are found between the first and second cervical vertebrae (C1and C2). When these vertebrae are irritated by tension, nerves are affected. "Emotional stress causes people to tense up," says Flood. "A change in the normal curve of the neck also puts excess tension on the vertebrae. I look for misalignment of the cervical spine up in the neck. If we reduce the irritation we eliminate a lot of headaches."


Cervicogenic tension headaches, a musculoskeletal type, cause pain on one side of the head and the same side of the neck. Erickson says, "There's usually a mechanical problem related to the upper vertebrae, such as an imbalance of the suboccipital triangle where tightness on one side pinches the nerve. When spinal bones in the neck fail to support the head properly, the nerves, muscles and even the blood supply to the head are affected." To pinpoint the dysfunction he evaluates mechanical function by assessing the range of neck motion. He palpates the upper neck for muscle knots. "We rotate the uppermost bone of the spine to see if head movement is impeded. It may actually reproduce the headache," says Erickson. Treatment may involve adjustments to C1 or using other techniques to release tension or scar tissue that may impede proper movement. While chiropractors employ a variety of techniques, Dr. Erickson is trained in Active Release Technique (ART) therapy for over-use or injury of soft tissue.

Migraine, a type of vascular headache affecting 28 million Americans, is characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head, visual disturbances, nausea, and light sensitivity. Migraines are thought to be caused by the constriction, then dilation of blood vessels in the brain. When spinal bones lose their normal position and motion, delicate nerves and blood vessels to the head can be affected. Vertebral arteries that are stretched or compromised alter blood supply to the brain. Flood knows firsthand that chiropractic care that relaxes muscles and promotes a full range of motion in the neck helps migraine sufferers. "I suffered with migraines as a child and eventually found relief through chiropractic treatment." Sufferers learn to avoid triggers – salt, sugar, certain foods, light or lack of sleep - that set off recurring attacks. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) advises headache sufferers to avoid caffeine, dehydrating alcoholic beverages, high-protein foods, dairy products, and red meat. Prolonged static posture (reading, writing, or computer work) can contribute to headaches.

Chiropractors are trained to perform adjustments, says the ACA and also to give nutritional advice, posture counseling, exercises and relaxation techniques. All relieve recurring joint irritation and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back. Flood views chiropractic as preventative. "We look at the whole person –diet, life style, exercise patterns. If people pursue healthy habits, they are less likely to return to recurring headaches." There's a different measuring stick for ongoing care, explains Erickson. "Without symptoms, I look for changes. Decreased range of motion or reduced quality of function may be early signs of returning dysfunction." Ongoing chiropractic "corrections prevent a return to the headache scenario."

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Birth Trauma & Chiropractic

Science is now starting to document something chiropractors have been observing and warning about for years. For decades chiropractors have been warning the public of the danger to newborns from the currently common birth processes used today. Birth is a natural phenomenon that should not be viewed or treated as a medical condition. However, in an attempt to "manage" the birth process, many problems are created. The most prevalent danger chiropractors have been warning about when it comes to the birth process is the creation of subluxations. Numerous articles and symposiums have relayed scientific documentation of damage that occurs to the nervous system in the neck of newborns during the common birth process. This damage ranges from mild subluxations in the upper neck to more serious subluxations involving spinal cord damage and central nervous system problems.

Many authorities suggest that the position of the mother coupled with the pulling from the delivering physician has a lot to do with the creation of these subluxation related problems. When the delivering mother is lying on her back she is not only working partially against gravity but she has reduced the pelvic opening size. These two factors then require the attending physician to pull harder on the head of the child. This increased pulling and twisting during the birth process, coupled with a decrease in the pelvic opening and a non alignment with gravity often set the stage for birth trauma, subluxation and the resulting problems.

Health consequences to the newborn from birth trauma range from immediate and severe to hidden problems that may take years to surface. Some of the more immediate and tragic results that have been documented are spinal cord and brain stem injuries, brain bleeding and swelling, neurological deficits, breathing problems and even sudden infant death syndrome.

The long-term consequences are as varied as the nerve system itself. Some of the more commonly mentioned problems that have been linked to traumatic birth are learning disabilities, headaches, visual and hearing problems, certain palsies, and a host of immune functional problems.

Experts are suggesting that birth be handled as a normal and natural process. Many experts suggest the birthing position of choice is in an upright position of either sitting or squatting. The less force used, if any, the better. Chiropractors have been stressing for years the importance of having a newborn checked for vertebral subluxations. The importance of a developing child being free from nerve interference from subluxation can not be understated.

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