Manipulation, also referred to as adjustment, is the cornerstone of a chiropractor’s ability. It essentially means to move a joint or soft tissue. As a chiropractor, my first task is to determine the patient’s problem. Let’s say that the patient is experiencing mechanical nonspecific low back pain, for example. There is no specific disc bulge or herniation, but the patient has woken up with localized low back pain and has been unable to get out of bed easily. From there, the chiropractor’s task it to determine whether or not manipulation is the best and most effective treatment.
When the body develops restrictions or limited movement in the lumbar spine or low back, it significantly limits overall function. Similarly to not being able to bend your arm all the way, not having full range of motion in the back places a limit on what a person can do in terms of physical activity. I firmly believe in the saying, “Movement is life.” One of our philosophies at Tulsa Spine and Rehab is to keep people moving and walking, even as we get older. Once function is disrupted, inflammation, pain, and a host of other symptoms are likely to develop.
A good way to explain manipulation is trying to find an area of the body that is stuck and then trying to increase motion in that area, thereby restoring function. As a result, the patient’s symptoms should then subside. On a deeper neurophysiological level, there are nerve fibers all throughout the body called nociceptors. These fibers are responsible for sending signals to the brain that indicate the feeling of pain. In addition are other nerve fibers called mechanoreceptors, which feel good during movement. When a joint is manipulated, the mechanoreceptors will fire while the nociceptors are blocked.
Manipulation is perhaps best served towards treating acute low back pain. When a patient has experienced localized low back over a short period pain with no trauma (usually onset within two days), manipulation is one of the most effective tools to alleviate the symptoms. Once the area has been mobilized and restored to proper functioning, patients will likely be transitioned to a form of stability training. Injuries and low back problems are likely in part contributed by weakness or stability issues. This is why stability care is often the next step of treatment.
Many patients ask if manipulation will be painful, safe, or effective. In fact, one of the reasons why it is of paramount importance to determine proper treatment is because of safety. If a patient would have a severely herniated disc or fracture, then manipulation would not be a safe solution for them. For mechanical back pain, neck pain, and similar disorders, however, it is a very safe and effective tool.
On movies and tv shows, manipulation is shown as forceful and often disturbing. However, a good chiropractor will take pride in not using very much force at all. If the joint is properly positioned, then manipulation requires minimal physical effort. After treatment, residual soreness will only feel as if the patient had undergone moderate exercise. While manipulation is not a cure-all treatment for all conditions, research shows its effectiveness for acute neck and low back pain when used properly.
To learn more about manipulation and how the team at Tulsa Spine and Rehab can deliver effective treatment, contact us online or call (918) 743-3737.