What are joint manipulations or adjustments?

A common question I get asked in the clinic is “Why do Chiropractors (and some other health professionals) use joint manipulations or adjustments as part of their treatment plan when helping someone get out of pain and move better?” The old thought process of joint manipulation being about cracking bones and re-aligning your spine is completely outdated and it’s important to understand what we are really doing when you hear those joints go “pop”!

When we have an injury (whether it be due to a sudden fall/accident or repeated poor posture over time), we tend to lose movement in that specific area. It usually comes from a combination of the muscles going into spasm to protect the area and the joints becoming stiff and stuck. What most people don’t realise is that in every joint in our body we have these little things called mechanoreceptors which are a bit like GPS receptors that tell our brain how everything is moving. Unfortunately when the big global muscles go into spasm and the joint becomes fixated these GPS receptors tend to get very lazy and fatigued which means the important little muscles that control deep postural movements tend to switch off. We can all relate to this when we are sitting with really poor posture even though we don’t realise it (our joints and muscles aren’t giving adequate feedback to our brain of the position we are in). This can lead to poor posture and potential further injury over time!

When we adjust/manipulate/mobilise joints we are not only getting movement back into those fixated areas but we are also ‘waking up’ the little muscles around the injured area and also stimulating those little GPS devices so the brain has a better understanding of our posture and movements. When we do a specific adjustment where we hear an audible ‘click/pop’ sound this means that those little receptors have been stimulated at a higher rate as well as quickly stretching and waking up the surrounding muscles – this is why most people straight after an adjustment feel like they have more movement, less pain, and feel like they are standing taller!

Of course this needs to be done in unison with great rehab exercises and specific ergonomic advice to try and avoid the postures that got you here in the first place, but combining all of this together will allow you to heal from your injury as quickly as possible and prevent an unnecessary relapse down the track.

So remember….. every time you sit for too long in the one position those little GPS receptors are starting to switch off and the deep muscles that control your posture are getting lazy. This is why constant movement is they key to long term joint and muscle health.

As the old saying goes – if you don’t use it you lose it!