Subluxation: a difference of opinion
Subluxation has different meanings between a strictly medical nomenclature and the traditional meaning from the early days of chiropractic. The medical term means: Partial dislocation of a joint. A complete dislocation is a luxation. This is a very accurate and descriptive term for a relatively severe condition that can be seen on x-ray. An example of subluxation in medical terms, is a severe whiplash injury. The capsular ligament is partially torn and the joint is significantly misaligned. Chiropractic tradition uses the term a little more loosely. Typically in chiropractic, a joint that is fixed in place with either a partial or complete loss of motion. Add to that derangement of nervous tissue and it’s considered a subluxation. There are as many different definitions of the chiropractic subluxation as there are chiropractors but this is the basics.
The best definition I’ve heard
The subluxation described by Dr. Joseph Ferezy, a Windsor Heights Iowa chiropractic lecturer, makes the most sense. Ferezy described the subluxation as a micro-antalgia. An antalgic posture is present when pain and muscle spasm on one side causes the patient assumes a leaning posture to reduce the pain.
A micro-antalgia does the same thing but on a segmental level. The vertebra tips to a position that reduces pain and dysfunction of the immediate surroundings. The muscles spasm from holding it in place and eventually the muscles form scar tissue to maintain the position. Joint capsules that don’t move enough will begin to calcify. The end plates of the joint start to deteriorate and lose thickness. Synovial fluid that lubricates the joint ceases production and the joint is on it’s way to arthritis.
Consequences of the chiropractic subluxation
With long term subluxations of a joint, at first we see inflammation that gradually spreads to soft tissues around the joint. Stimulation of pain receptors is a big part of this complex. As the inflammatory process continues for longer, the muscle spasm decreases due to fatigue but the muscle fibers become more like scar tissue. When that process continues, the pain fibers adapt and fire less often. I said before, when the joint is not moving the capsule around the joint becomes rigid and the articular cartilage atrophies. Then the cartilage thins, less joint fluid is produced and bone begins to rub on bone, and that causes a whole new set of pain fibers to fire. The joint capsule begins to calcify causing spurs to form and further impede joint movement.
The worst part of all this degeneration comes from the actual loss of height, changing the spacing between joints, impinging on neural tissue. When nerves are interfered with, the nerve begins to die and a myriad of symptoms can develop down line of that nerve. Numbness, tingling, weakness, slow responses and eventually loss of function are all consequences of nerve damage.
Will a subluxation kill you? Probably not. Will it seriously complicate your life as you age? Most definitely. It’s much easier to take care of your spine from an early age than it is to wait until all of this degeneration has happened before you play catch-up.