Dr Jed performing an adjustment at PPS Morley
First, what is an adjustment?
Before we find out how chiropractic adjustments work, we need to look at what they are.
As part of treatment, a chiropractor uses their hands to identify joints in the body that aren’t moving or functioning as well as they should. An adjustment (or manipulation) is when a specific force in a certain direction is applied to those joints. There are a number of ways a chiropractor can perform adjustments. Most commonly, chiropractors use their hands, which is often followed by an audible ‘crack’ or ‘pop’ sound. This is called a joint cavitation, and is a small amount of gas being released from the joint.
So, how do Chiropractic adjustments work?
The goal of an adjustment is to improve or restore movement to a joint. This in turn helps improve movement and function to the impacted area. Some reduction in pain may also be felt afterwards. These changes can vary from immediate to gradual, depending on your specific condition or injury. There are a few theories that have been researched to understand exactly how these changes occur. We have summarised 2 of these theories below, and you can find a more detailed discussion here.
1. The adhesion model.
The model proposes that joint movement becomes limited by the presence of adhesions across the joint. It is proposed that the less frequently that a joint is moved, the more these adhesions build up, become thicker and connect the two sides of the joint together. This in turn causes limitations in joint movement and may lead to further issues such as pain and reduced function. Adjustments are theorised to gap the joint enough to break up these adhesions and increase or restore normal joint movement.
2. The neuroplasticity model.
This model proposes that the muscles around the joint stop working normally, which then leads to incorrect sensory information being relayed to our brain. Our brain then adapts to this information, leading to more incorrect processing of other sensory information that it receives. This is thought to lead to our nervous system to function suboptimally. This model proposes that adjustments rapidly stretch the affected soft tissues out, which re-establishes normal sensory feedback, and in turn improves normal brain and nervous system function.
These theories may not be mutually exclusive to other theories. It may be that joint adhesions are the initial cause of a joint not moving correctly in the neuroplasticity model, which then initiates those proposed effects. The adjustment then not only gaps the joint to break up adhesions, but also stretches the surrounding soft tissues, restoring both normal joint movement and normal nervous system function. With this in mind, scientific research is ongoing with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of exactly how adjustments work.
What other treatments can chiropractors use?
Our Chiropractors are trained to use a combination of therapies in line with current evidence-based guidelines, to help you get back to your chosen activity or sport as soon as possible. This may include:
- Specially designed instruments that deliver brief and controlled impulses to the joints.
- Soft tissue techniques, including massage, dry needling and stretches.
- Rehab exercises.
- Functional exercises.
- Advice on activities to change or avoid to help resolve your pain quickly.
These are only performed once we have completed a thorough history and examination, so that they are specific to your needs. Treatment at each appointment may vary, depending on your progress.