Chiropractic is a form of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. Chiropractors use hands-on manipulation to provide treatment for many conditions, including neck and back pain, headaches and migraines, pain in the extremities and injuries.

A chiropractic back adjustment is a type of manual therapy (i.e., a treatment delivered through the physician’s hands) that seeks to realign joint subluxations. Note that the word subluxation means different things to a chiropractor than it does to a medical doctor, though either way, the definition of the term is “partial dislocation.”
As chiropractors, we evaluate and look for a subluxation (via the diagnostic process,) noting subtle gradations of position changes in the joints and accompanying soft tissue problems.

Although there are several chiropractic methods and techniques, the most common version of an adjustment involves a controlled but fast directional thrust into the joint; other techniques we may use include:

  • Flexion distraction manipulation: This low-force treatment focuses on the lower back and hip area. Your joints will be stretched along your spine using a smooth, pumping motion.
  • Manual joint manipulation: This type of treatment addresses pain in the middle back, neck, and upper and lower extremities. Your doctor will apply pressure to your joints in quick, controlled motions using sudden force to push the joints and allow them to work properly.
  • Low force manipulation: This type of adjustment is a gentle approach used on elderly patients, infants, toddlers, or patients with acute pain. Slower motions with less pressure are used or there are tools to help with the adjustment.

The goal is to bring the bones of a joint back to their normal, natural fit. It may take just one adjustment to achieve this aim (so that the adjustment “sticks,”) or it may take several.

A chiropractic adjustment typically involves:

  • A high velocity, short lever arm thrust applied to a vertebra
  • An accompanying, audible release of gas (joint cavitation) that is caused by the release of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, which releases joint pressure (cavitation)
  • A relieving sensation most of the time, although minor discomfort has been reported (that usually lasts for a short time duration) if the surrounding muscles are in spasm or the patient tenses up during this chiropractic care.