Subluxation, in general, refers to misalignment of the spine and its impact on nerves.
What is Subluxation?
There is a difference between the medical model of subluxation and the chiropractic one. The medical term refers strictly to the structural “displacement” in the vertebrae. Chiropractors expand the definition to include “dysfunctional segment(s)”, regardless of displacement or not. Therefore, the chiropractic term of the “vertebral subluxation complex” is that there is a “dysfunctional biomechanical spinal segment which is fixated”, and this impacts neurological processes and can “lead to neuromusculoskeletal and visceral disorders”.1 When nerve signals are interfered with by vertebrae that are out of place, this irritation can cause medical issues. Because the body is controlled by the nervous system, and because it requires unimpeded messages and signals, the body cannot work properly if there is dysfunction in the nerves. Chiropractors are trained to do spinal adjustments. This can help correct the subluxations.2
Origins of Subluxation
B.J. Palmer, in 1909, wrote that the chiropractic subluxation could explain the origins of any disease, even contagious ones, stating “we will find a subluxation that corresponds to every type of disease”. D.D. Palmer, in 1910, said that impingement on the nerve fibers can result in dysfunction. Over time, the expression of this belief became referred to as “subluxation, vertebral subluxation (VS), vertebral subluxation complex (VSC), “killer subluxations”, and the “silent killer””. Sometimes, chiropractors and medical doctors used the phrase “bone out of place” (BOOP). While there has been much controversy, even within the straight vs. mixer chiropractic community, over extent of subluxation theory, there has been some research to indicate that spinal health and general health are interconnected.3 There are 5 categories of the VSC: bones being out of place or unable to move (kinesiopathology), nerves that have pressure on them (neuropathology), muscle function (myopathology), soft tissues, tendons, ligaments, and blood supply changes (histopathology), and chemical abnormalities in the body (biochemical).4
How Subluxation Impacts the Body
Kinesiopathology includes problems with alignment and motion. In it, the body may be fixated or unable to move properly, or it can have abnormal joint motions. When there are mobility issues, the patient may overcompensate for these problems. This can lead to misalignment issues. In neuropathology, nerves can be pinched or hyperactive. There may be pain or numbness. With myopathology, there may be muscle weakness, spasms, neuropathy, fibrosis, or atrophy. When there is edema, swelling, and inflammation, histopathology is involved. Biochemical changes can lead to degeneration. There is recent suggestion that the VSC actually has 9 components, which include the following four additions: angiology, inflammatory response, anatomy, and physiology.5
Current Views of Subluxation
The American Chiropractic Association (in 2000) “reaffirms the core principle of the subluxation”. Chiropractic care is, at its core, meant to provide “manual manipulation/adjustment of the articulations…to reduce subluxations”. The subluxation is described as being “a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that…may influence…general health”. The ACA has even referred to subluxation in federal legislation.6