Why chiropractic adjustments work

Research brief May 2014


This is a summary of an article that explored some of the proposed reasons why spinal manipulation (aka chiropractic adjustments) actually work. There are many theories out there, but the research backing those theories is somewhat limited. In quick and dirty terms, here is what they found:

1. Adjustments decrease spinal “stiffness.” Duh. They actually used a machine that pressed on the subjects’ backs and measured how stiff they were before and after and found, of course, that they were less stiff after their adjustments than before.

2. Adjustments activate the deep stabilizing muscles around the spine. These muscles tend to turn off and will actually start to degenerate in the presence of back pain. The quick movement of the vertebrae that occurs in an adjustment causes these muscles to wake up and start doing their job better.

These are not the only two benefits or mechanisms whereby chiropractic manipulation helps people feel better, but they are the two most significant findings in this study. The bottom line for you is this: If you frequently wake up in the morning feeling stiff in your back or if you have suffered acute episodes of low back pain after seemingly harmless tasks such as putting on your socks, then chiropractic adjustments will help you by loosening up the joints in your back and turning on the muscles that stabilize those joints to prevent future episodes of back pain.

Will I always have to go to the chiropractor?

Will I always have to go to the chiropractor?

A common reason that people are hesitant to go to the chiropractor is they are worried that they will have to keep going for the rest of their life. Honestly, I’m not sure if that is because they are worried they will become addicted to it, or that they might be coaxed into signing up for an expensive, long term care plan. When I get asked by a potential patient if they will have to keep being adjusted for life once they start coming in, my short answer is, NO. My long answer is this: Chiropractic care is not a quick fix. Your pain may have started yesterday, but the truth is that your pain is likely a result of years of stress to your joints. That often can’t be fixed in one visit. If I determine your injury can be treated with chiropractic care, I will prescribe a series of treatments to get you back to health. Once you are out of pain and functioning well, I will give you a choice. You can come back only if/when the pain returns, or you can come in on a regular basis to maintain healthy function of your spine. I receive regular adjustments, and I adjust my family regularly. This is also what I recommend to each of my patients, but the decision is always yours to make. We will never use any high pressure sales tactics to sign you up for long term care plans. That I can promise. What I can’t promise is that you won’t become addicted to the amazingness of chiropractic adjustments!

-Dr. T

4 signs your glutes aren’t working for you and why it matters

Gluteus maximus

4 signs your glutes aren’t working for you and why it matters:

It never ceases to amaze me when I come across a patient who cannot consciously contract their gluteus maximus. You may laugh, but try it yourself before you make fun. It might be harder than you think. Here are a few more clues that your gluteal muscles aren’t working like they should and what that can mean for you. 

1. You have frequent hamstring cramps or strains: When asked, most people will cite dehydration or electrolyte imbalance as the cause for muscle cramps. Research on muscle cramps and hydration is very conflicted, though. One leading theory that has come to light is tissue overload. In the case of the hamstrings, they can be overloaded when trying to make up for lack of gluteal strength. They may fatigue more quickly when trying to play the dual role of hamstrings and glutes. This can lead to cramping and, even worse, muscle strains.

2. You sit for the majority of the day: Let’s face it; most of us use our rear ends for sitting more than for moving. When you are seated you place your glutes in a lengthened position and then sit on them for hours on end. The result is a lengthened, weak muscle that has forgotten how to be the workhorse it was designed to be.

3. You have pain and/or limited range when bending backward: This pain can be due to irritated joints in your back – a common result when your low back muscles have to make up for an underperforming gluteus maximus. G-max’s job is to extend your hip. When it doesn’t do that effectively, you must use muscles in your low back to extend your back to make up for lack of hip extension. The result? A grumpy lumbar spine.

4. You bend with your back when picking things off the ground: Watch a toddler pick toys up off the ground and you’ll see the way we were designed to bend. They throw their butt back, bend the knees and hips, and keep their spine relatively neutral. Fast forward 30 years and for some reason now we are bending over with straight legs and a hunched-over spine. Somewhere along the way we forgot how to bend properly. The most likely reason is because we’ve lost our butts from sitting on them so much, and without a butt it’s really difficult to bend properly.

Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body. If all you are using it for is to sit on, then there is a very large void for other muscles to fill in addition to their own individual functions. For that reason I am always testing glute strength and activation in my patients. If their glutes are inhibited, we get a lot of bang for our treatment buck by focusing on gluteal activation exercises. Once they are back online and performing their dominant role, low back pain and lower extremity injuries can be much easier to treat and prevent.