Chiropractic adjustments are considered one of the most safe and effective health care treatment options available today. Research strongly supports the use of adjustments for low back pain, headaches, neck pain, and variety of other spinal conditions. Emerging research also has shown chiropractic adjustments may be helpful for non-musculoskeletal conditions. So, what are the underlying effects?
Since the first chiropractic adjustment was given over 100 years ago there has been speculation regarding the mechanism of effects. Simply put; what is happening when an adjustment is given? In 2011, SPINE journal released an article which began to explore this question. They found that, "a spinal manipulative therapy force has been shown to stimulate peripheral afferents, altering central nervous system input, and enhancing motoneuron excitability." Essentially, when we give a chiropractic adjustment, we stimulate the peripheral nervous system which then stimulates the central nervous system. Our nervous system is the conduit for control of our entire body and is also responsible for our perception of pain. Chiropractic adjustments have the ability to effect our central nervous system which can result decreased pain.
Decreased pain is great, but there must be more to an adjustment than simply decreasing pain, right? Let's take a look at another finding from their study. "We found a significant relationship between immediate post-SMT stiffness decrease and clinical outcome. This finding may suggest a relationship between stiffness change and outcome for thrust SMT that is not present if non-thrust mobilization techniques are employed." This finding is very interesting for a few different reasons. First, the researchers believe that adjustments decrease the stiffness of the spine (increasing free motion and range of motion). This has a very positive effect on our overall treatment outcome. They also found that mobilization (slow stretching motions) did not create this response; so it is exclusive to an adjustment with a thrust component.
This study found that at least part of the positive effects of the chiropractic adjustment is by stimulating the nervous system and decreasing spinal stiffness. Continued research will provide us with additional information regarding the multitude of other ways in which the chiropractic adjustment "works". As we learn more chiropractors will continually be able to refine their techniques and improve upon their already fantastic results!