What is a Subluxation?


"A subluxated vertebrae causing a pinched nerve."

First, the simple explanation.

In simplest terms, a subluxation (a.k.a. Vertebral Subluxation) is when one or more of the bones of your spine (vertebrae) move out of position and create pressure on, or irritate spinal nerves. Spinal nerves are the nerves that come out from between each of the bones in your spine. This pressure or irritation on the nerves then causes those nerves to malfunction and interfere with the signals traveling over those nerves.

How does this affect your body? Your nervous system controls and coordinates all the functions of your body. If you interfere with the signals traveling over nerves, parts of the body will not get the proper nerve messages and will not be able to function at 100% of their innate abilities. In other words, some part of the body will not be working properly. As Thomas Edison said, "The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame and in the cause and prevention of disease."

It is the responsibility of the Doctor of Chiropractic to locate subluxations, and reduce or correct them. This is done through a series of chiropractic adjustments specifically designed to correct the vertebral subluxations in your spine. Chiropractors are the only professionals who undergo years of training to be the experts at correcting subluxations.

click below to see how a "subluxation" effects your body...


Now, the detailed explanation...

Subluxations are really a combination of changes going on at the same time. These changes occur both in the spine and throughout the body. For this reason chiropractors often refer to vertebral subluxations as the "Vertebral Subluxation Complex", or "VSC" for short.

In the VSC, various things are happening inside your body simultaneously. These various changes, known as "components," are all part of the vertebral subluxation complex. Chiropractors commonly recognize five categories of components present in the VSC. These five are:

The Osseous (bone) Component is where the vertebrae are either out of position, not moving properly, or are undergoing physical changes such as degeneration. This component is sometimes known as kinesiopathology.

The Nerve Component is the malfunctioning of the nerve. Research has shown that only a small amount of pressure on spinal nerves can have a profound impact on the function of the nerves. This component is scientifically known as neuropathology.

The Muscle Component is also involved. Since the muscles help hold the vertebrae in place, and since nerves control the muscles themselves, muscles are an integral part of any VSC. In fact, muscles both affect, and are affected by the VSC. This component is known as myopathology.

The Soft Tissue Component is when you have misaligned vertebrae and pressure on nerves resulting in changes in the surrounding soft tissues. This means the tendons, ligaments, blood supply, and other tissues undergo changes. These changes can occur at the point of the VSC or far away at some end point of the affected nerves. This component is also known as histopathology.

The Chemical Component is when all these components of the VSC are acting on your body, and therefore causing some degree of chemical changes. These chemical changes can be slight or massive depending on what parts of your body are affected by your subluxations. This component is often known as biochemical abnormalities.


There are two stages by which the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve is damaged following trauma. Initially there is primary tissue damage from

1. direct mechanical disruption, followed by secondary damage via

2. biochemical and vascular events.

When cellular membrane integrity is disrupted, a complex cascade of biochemical reactions is initiated, including the release of excitototoxic amino acids, free radicals, free fatty acids, oxygen free radicals, and vasoactive agents. These membrane changes result in intracellular calcium, potassium, and sodium ion changes affecting the injured nerve. When there is a decrease in blood flow to the nerve due to direct mechanical compression from the subluxated vertebra, bone spur, or disc material, it causes vasospasm and hemorrhage which leads to nerve ischemia. Ischemia results in cytotoxic edema, axonal degeneration, demyelization, abnormal impulse transmission, conduction block and cell death.

The Local Physiological and Biomechanical Effects of a Chiropractic Adjustment on a Spinal Subluxation

a. normal mobility is established

b. increased joint fluid flow
c. pumps out edema fluidd. helps remove inflammatory products
e. breaks the abnormal sensory input cycle
f. sympathetic tone is restored
g. decreases muscle tone
h. stretches and/or breaks up joint adhesions
i. increases nutrients to surrounding soft tissues and bone
j. movement in joints is restored
k. alignment is returned thereby decreasing the biomechanical stresses on the adjacent spinal segments

Research has shown that when a soft tissue injury results from a subluxation, a cascade of events result in joint immobilization followed by joint pathology. Mobilizing the joint before major pathology occurs, can reverse this cascade, restore function, and direct healing. A chiropractic adjustment facilitates this process.

(Please see the revolving man, 3D Spine Simulator on the bottom right of the web site.)

The nervous system consists of 3 nervous systems:

the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the peripheral nervous system (motor and sensory nerves that exit and enter the spine), and the autonomic nervous system (controls bodily functions).

Below is an model of the autonomic nervous system and where the nerves go to control our organ systems:


Below are some anatomical and pathological definitions with descriptive pictures:


Spinal stenosis may affect the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine. In some cases, it may be present in all three places in the same patient. Lumbar spinal stenosis results in low back pain as well as pain or abnormal sensations in the legs, thighs, feet or buttocks, or loss of bladder and bowel control.



Spinal Stenosis is a medical condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves. This is usually due to the common occurrence of spinal degeneration that occurs with aging. It can also sometimes be caused by spinal disc herniation, osteoporosis or a tumor. In the cervical (neck) and lumbar (low back) region it can be a congenital condition to varying degrees.


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