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What Is Vertebral Subluxation?

Spine modelVertebral Subluxation is the chiropractic term for misalignment, or loss of juxtaposition, of a vertebra with the one above, the one below, or both, resulting in pressure and tension on a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord itself causing alteration or interference to the transmission of mental impulses from the brain to the body. A very simplistic model of the vertebral subluxation would be having a rock fall on top of your garden hose while watering the garden. The rock interferes with the flow of water to the garden and the garden slowly dies. Remove the rock from the hose and restore the normal flow of water and the garden flourishes.

The early chiropractic pioneers thought that the concept of subluxation was just that simple. They were sure that all one needed to do was to remove the pressure from the nerve and life would be restored to the sick and dying body. As the sophistication of the profession grew and more research was conducted to determine the actual effects of the subluxation on the body, a cascade of effects was discovered which began to explain why some patients received seemingly miraculous cures in few adjustments, while others required months or years of care to achieve small changes in body function. The developers of the chiropractic philosophy and science, D.D. and B.J. Palmer, were light years ahead of the knowledge of their time in formulating their theories on nerve system function and the effects of the vertebral subluxation on body function. In fact, many of their early concepts are just now being proven by science utilizing the latest in quantum physics as their model. And still, much of how the chiropractic correction of vertebral subluxation helps to restore health remains a mystery to science.

Science has discovered that the bone pressing on a nerve concept of vertebral subluxation is much too simplistic. In fact, science has discovered that there is actually a complex of effects which take place as a result of the vertebral subluxation. The Vertebral Subluxation Complex is composed of five separate components which have dramatic effects on the body. While the scientific terminology of these five components is not important to you, the underlying concepts are so we have included a description of the five components of the Vertebral Subluxation Complex here for you:

Spinal Kinesiopathology: altered motion or position of the spine or the vertebrae.

Think of tires out of alignment on your car. Without proper alignment, the tires wear unevenly and cause the car to drive improperly. A spine out of proper alignment results in uneven wear and tear on the spinal joints and causes changes in joint motion where a joint may move too much (hypermobility), too little (hypomobility), or not at all (fixation). This altered motion may result in compensation reactions in the spine, like scoliosis – curvature of the spine. In effect, the spine misaligns and then heals improperly. Spinal kinesiopathology then leads to the second component of the VSC…

Neuropathophysiology: altered nerve function.

Any change to the shape or size of the neural canal – the space that the spinal cord and spinal nerves travel through in the spine – results in altered function of the nerve in transmission of nerve impulses. Research has shown that a very slight pressure on a spinal nerve (as little as 10 mmHg – the weight of a dime) reduces spinal nerve impulses by 60% at a minimum. Consider the impact of a 60% reduction in the energy needed to run your heart or lungs or any other vital organ and the devastating effect of the vertebral subluxation takes on a new meaning. Altered nerve function affects every tissue, organ and system of the body and leads to…

Myopathology: altered muscle function.

Altered motion and position of the spinal bones and altered nerve function creates altered muscle function. The muscles are the rigging of our body “ship” that keeps our spine upright and straight and also helps us to move, bend, and twist. When the muscles weaken and atrophy or tighten and spasm as a result of subluxation, muscle fibers begin to die and the muscle is infiltrated by scar tissue, called fibrosis. Think of the gristle in a cheap cut of meat. The scarred muscle is less elastic and flexible, reducing the body’s ability to adapt to the vertebral subluxation. Once this scar tissue is in place, you have a permanent problem both structurally and functionally that could take years to overcome. This then affects the joints themselves leading to….

Histopathology: altered joint function.

As joint mobility decreases with loss of muscle function, the soft tissues of the joint begin to degenerate. The joint is composed mainly of the intervertebral disc and ligaments which hold the bones together. The disc is about 85% water and when placed under abnormal stress, as in spinal misalignment, the fluid of the disc is forced out – like stepping on a wet sponge. Unfortunately, the disc is poorly supplied with blood and nutrients and, unlike the sponge, does not reabsorb its lost fluids well, even after the misalignments are corrected. Also, as a result of reduced motion, ligaments become brittle and lose their limited elasticity, further reducing joint mobility. As the joint becomes increasingly dysfunctional, the final component of VSC begins….

Pathophysiology: breakdown of the body structurally.

As the body begins to sense loss of function in its joints, its defense mechanisms go to work to minimize the damage. Calcium is deposited in the affected joints and spur formation begins, called osteophystosis or more commonly, degenerative arthritis. The body is literally trying to fuse the affected joint and prevent any further damage to its communication network – the nerve system. As spurs develop on the vertebrae, joint motion is further reduced and the spurs begin to fuse together as the degenerative process unfolds. Left to itself, the spine will eventually fuse together as the body’s defensive response to chronic vertebral subluxation.

Breakdown at this stage occurs in three relentless phases if there is no intervention. In Phase I, the spine loses its normal position and motion and creates neurological deficit. There is no structural damage at this stage so Phase I is correctable back to near normal.

If not intervened at this stage and in as little as 6 to 10 days, breakdown processes begin which lead to permanent structural damage. This damage becomes apparent on x-ray as disc degeneration and bone remodeling in about 15 to 20 years. This is Phase II Degeneration. Once structural changes begin, there is permanent structural and functional alteration which can not be completely corrected. If caught early enough, the spine can be returned positionally back toward normal, even though the structural changes will remain permanently. Failure to intervene at this stage leads to Phase III Degeneration.

In Phase III, significant structural damage has occurred to the intervertebral disc and to the bone itself, with the formation of massive spurring and deformation of the bone structure overall. Even with intervention at this stage, there is so much structural change that the problem is permanent structurally and functionally. The most we hope for at this stage is to slow or stop the degenerative changes before total fusion occurs – Phase IV.

Because of the damage to the nerve system and resultant body malfunction, most people do not live to Phase IV degeneration. It generally takes 65 years or more for spinal fusion from vertebral subluxation to occur. However, acceleration of the degenerative process can take place when the vertebral subluxation process is left undetected.

Fortunately, the Innate Intelligence of the body is always striving to produce the most life possible and a very slight change in spinal posture or position can create significant improvement in neurological function. The problem may not be correctable but it is almost always improvable. How much improvement can be made in your spine with Chiropractic care can be determined by the amount of degeneration already present. The earlier we catch the problem the better your chances for complete correction. That’s why we recommend that children be checked for vertebral subluxations from birth.

What Phase is your Spine in?

Normal spine


Spine 1

Phase I

Spine 2

Phase 2

Spine 3

Phase 3



What Is Vertebral Subluxation? | (973) 948-5556