When the vertebrae in your spine experience structural shifts, it can throw off the optimal alignment of your spine. If this occurs, nerves and muscles become irritated and send messages to your brain that something is wrong. These spinal shifts are the primary condition we treat with chiropractic care.
When a shift is present for a while, it begins to affect other areas of your health and can result in secondary conditions like pain, stiffness, and other issues. Stiffness is your brains way of stabilizing and protecting the area from further injury (i.e. preventing further shifts). You may also feel sore and even tired because your body has to work harder just to maintain the structure needed for you to get up, move around, and live your day to day life. A structural chiropractic adjustment seeks to address the underlying cause for your health issue by determining where the structural shift has occurred and then delivering a specific thrust, either by hand or instrument, to correct that shift.
A chiropractor that specializes in structural correction will give a detailed examination to try to locate these shifts in the spine. This exam may include a posture exam, range of motion testing, and imaging to give you the most specific care possible.
The goal with structural chiropractic care is to not to address your secondary conditions (i.e. pain) only, because these conditions are often only surface level. Instead, we focus on the shifts in your spine which then leads to resolution of your secondary conditions.
Let’s use pain as an example. Pain is often the last symptom to show up and the first one to leave. What do we mean by this? Your brain has a lot going on, which means that a tiny shift in your vertebra is not going to send a pain signal to your brain right away. There are complex pathways in our body that actually prevent the brain from getting pain signals, which means that by the time we feel pain, the problem causing the pain has actually been around for a while.
To make this idea easy to understand we can use a smoke detector analogy. Your smoke detector doesn’t go off as soon as a flame starts (unless you are like me and it goes off every time I turn on the stove!). Usually, the fire has already been going on for a little bit by the time the first smoke reaches the detector and you get an alarm. Pain is the fire alarm of the body, that is, it is your brain’s way of trying to wake you up and alarm you of a problem. This is why we consider pain and stiffness a secondary condition.
There are several ways to treat secondary conditions: pain medications, physical therapy to strengthen muscles, modalities like ultrasound, laser, or electric stimulation (TENS, E-stim). All of these will work to address the secondary conditions we discussed, and some of them will do it very well. However, none of these treatment options address structural shifts of the spine. This primary condition is the focus of our structural chiropractic practice.