Self-manipulation could be creating your pain, not helping it

Spinal adjustments have been studied for years as being extremely effective for relieving neck and back discomfort. So, if you wake up one day with lower back pain, should you just “crack” your back yourself? Absolutely not! And there are several reasons why.

The most obvious reason to shy away from self-adjusting has to do with the fact that chiropractors go through many years of extensive training on how to analyze the spine and adjust specific spinal misalignments. When a person self-manipulates their spine, they are unsure which bones have misaligned and in what direction those bones have misaligned. Sometimes, several bones move during a self-manipulation when only one bone was misaligned and needed to be adjusted. Surprisingly, spinal bones can misalign in a number of ways. Without objective analysis, there is no way to tell exactly how the bone has misaligned which means there is no way to self-adjust that bone back into its proper alignment.

Although there is very little research regarding self-manipulation, one of the proposed dangers of self-adjusting is the overstretching of the muscles and ligaments that support the spine due to excessive force. The repetitive movement and force required to self-adjust can also cause the muscles to become fatigued and impair their ability to protect the spine as they routinely do. This is one of the many reasons why chiropractors spend so much time perfecting their technique, to ensure that an adjustment is given safely and effectively. When it comes to self-manipulation, the overstretching of the muscles and ligaments and the fatigue created within muscles that support the spine is associated with spinal instability. It is proposed that the instability created by self-manipulating the spine can lead to or perpetuate chronic pain.

While the immediate release of self-adjusting can be satisfying initially, the result is not long-lasting. The “ahhh” feeling of an adjustment can be correlated to the release of carbon dioxide gas during the adjustment. But the immediate good feelings are only temporary, because within 15-30 minutes, the gas is reabsorbed and leaves the person feeling the exact same way as they did before the self-adjustment. This can create the habitual need to self-manipulate many times throughout the day which again, can lead to hypermobility and instability, ultimately leading to chronic pain. If a spinal misalignment is the cause of pain and/or discomfort, then specificity is key in creating long-lasting results. Adjusting only the spinal bones that are misaligned (at a frequency much less than the several times per day seen with self-manipulation) may help address the underlying structural issue causing the discomfort, without creating instability.

Because there are so many factors that go into a safe adjustment, chiropractors spend years learning how to analyze and adjust spinal misalignments. It is always our recommendation to discontinue any and all self-manipulations due to the possible dangers, and to never let somebody manipulate your spine that has not been trained to do so. It’s best to leave it to the experts!

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You have to go forever – The Chiropractic Myth

It’s always fun to meet and get to know the people that make up our amazing community. When people learn that we’re chiropractors, we get an array of responses. We mostly hear about their problem areas, chiropractic experiences, and how chiropractic has positively impacted their lives. But sometimes, we get a look of fear with a response of, “I’ve never been- I heard that once you go, you have to go forever.” While this is a common myth in chiropractic, it’s not necessarily true.

The goal for many traditional chiropractors is to help their patients manage pain. Unlike traditional chiropractic, our office is focused on helping our patients achieve normal spinal structure through tonal correction. Let’s be clear- this does not mean perfect spinal alignment. However, just like there’s a normal range for things like blood pressure and blood sugar, there’s a normal range when working to correct spinal structure. As our patients go through what we call their initial phase of care, the goal is to make structural changes in the spine so that their spinal alignment is within or closer to that acceptable range.

When the body can communicate with itself appropriately, it functions appropriately- it’s as simple as that!

To review anatomy- the spinal cord runs down through the spinal column, and each spinal nerve branches out between the vertebrae. Chiropractors work with the spine because of that intimate relationship between the spine and nervous system. When the spine shifts beyond its normal alignment, this can lead to many possible secondary conditions, including pain. On the contrary, when the spine is in alignment, it puts the nervous system in a state of ease without added tension on the cord or nerves. When the nervous system is free of the added tension caused by spinal misalignments, it’s able to function more optimally. This means the messages being sent from your brain to the rest of your body, and from your body back to the brain are able to travel through the nervous system effectively and efficiently without disruptions. When the body can communicate with itself appropriately, it functions appropriately- it’s as simple as that!

We often times find that when our patients achieve a more ideal spinal alignment, many of the secondary conditions they were experiencing before they started chiropractic care begin to diminish or completely resolve. This is not to say that the adjustment treated or healed whatever condition they presented with. However, by addressing spinal misalignments and removing stress on the nervous system, the brain and body are able to adapt and reorganize. This allows your body to function at its best which can many times result in the reduction of secondary conditions!

At the end of the initial phase of care, many of our patients achieve a normal spinal structure and their spine becomes stable in that healthy position.  Our patients then have the option to continue with what we call a protection plan which is geared towards protecting and maintaining the positive structural changes made during the initial phase of care. Physical trauma, stress, and toxins are the three biggest contributors to spinal misalignments. It’s near impossible to say that any of us don’t experience these things on a regular basis. So just like you perform maintenance on your car regularly to keep it functioning properly, we encourage our patients to be checked on a maintenance basis to prevent chronic spinal misalignments caused by trauma, stress, and/or toxins. By maintaining proper spinal alignment through a protection plan, we are avoiding the need to continuously “fix” a patient which would require them to go back through an initial phase of care all over again.

The truth is we’d rather not adjust you!

The truth is we’d rather not adjust you! WHAT!? You heard right! We actually prefer not to adjust you because this means that your spine has stabilized in its proper alignment and the nervous system is functioning without disruption. We use a very specific analysis that determines whether or not an adjustment is needed. If there are no objective indicators, and an adjustment is not required on that visit, we’ll celebrate your victory with you, knowing you are continuing on the path towards greater health and healing!

We work hard together with our patients to help them achieve a stable spinal structure and allow them to decide what the best option is for them moving forward.

With that being said, our goal is to help our patients achieve and maintain proper spinal structure so that the nervous system can function optimally. Rather than forcing patients to stay under care forever, we work hard together with our patients to help them achieve a stable spinal structure and allow them to decide what the best option is for them moving forward. More often than not, our patients choose to protect the investment they just made in their spinal structure and overall health. They never want to go back to the way they were before regular chiropractic care, and it becomes an exciting thing to prevent secondary conditions and to maintain health!

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How young is too young for chiropractic?

We get questions all the time about what age we start and why we adjust children. The most common reasons people go to a chiropractor is for secondary conditions such as headaches, neck pain, and back pain. Since that majority of kids don’t have those issues, they shouldn’t be adjusted, right? WRONG! Although pain reduction is a common goal for many of our adult patients, overall, we’re more interested in the function of the nervous system, which relates to anyone that has a spine and a nervous system- kids included!

The goal behind tonal corrective chiropractic care is to adjust misaligned spinal bones to their proper alignment, which restores the tone or tension of the spinal cord to a more normal state. When this happens, the messages being sent from the brain, down the spinal cord, and out through the spinal nerves to every muscle, tissue, and organ in your body are sent without disruption. When a misalignment is present, it can directly affect the tone or tension of the spinal cord which can therefore create miscommunication within the nervous system, leading to secondary conditions.

We said that, everyone with a spine and nervous system should be checked by a chiropractor. But how can a 1-hour-old baby have a spinal misalignment? The birthing process, no matter how natural it is, places a significant amount of stress on the baby’s head and neck. Typically, in a vaginal birth or C-section, the first body part that is grabbed and tugged is the baby’s head.  Although medical professionals are careful and gentle throughout the entire delivery process, even that slight pressure on the newborn’s head and neck can cause the very first spinal misalignment. This is why we encourage new parents to have their newborn’s very first chiropractic checkup soon after birth. Beyond birth, babies can experience spinal misalignments when learning to sit up, crawl, and even walk, seeing as those developmental milestones typically involve unsteadiness and regular tumbles until they master those skills.

Now most people think of chiropractors as “racking” and “cracking” the spine. We can assure that you will not hear the stereotypical “popping” noise at our office, regardless of who is being adjusted. Adjusting a newborn requires a very small amount of pressure applied to the spinal bone that has misaligned.  With newborns specifically, we use a very gentle technique that uses no more pressure than the amount of pressure it takes to test the ripeness of a tomato. Did you catch that? It is a VERY low amount of pressure used, and again, no “popping” noises!

We know it can be a scary idea to allow a chiropractor to adjust your new baby, but we can assure you that each adjustment in our office is specific, precise, and is given based on your baby’s needs in that moment. Especially in those very first few weeks of life, it is extremely important to make sure your newborn’s nervous system is functioning optimally, without any disruptions. This can help set the stage for great health and development!

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If my pain is right here, why are you adjusting me somewhere else?

“Doctor, my pain is in my neck. Why are you adjusting my low back?” –We get questions like this often in our office, and the patient’s concerns are extremely valid.  There are several things that go into deciding what bone needs to be adjusted and surprisingly, the location of the adjustment is not dependent on the location or even the presence of pain.

For starters, the need for an adjustment is not reliant on whether or not you have pain.  Your nerves have several different functions- motor function (movement), autonomic control (organ function), and sensory function (including the feeling of pain).  The sensory aspect of the nervous system is a just small part of your nervous system, so there could be tension on your spinal cord without the feeling of pain.  This is why you sometimes need an adjustment even though you are asymptomatic.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the spinal cord attaches at the very top and the very bottom of the spine.  When one or more of those spinal regions are misaligned, it increases the amount of tone or tension throughout the entire spinal cord and can create discomfort in other spinal regions.  For example- when a spinal bone in your neck is misaligned, it changes the tone of the spinal cord; since the spinal cord is also attached at the bottom of your spine, you may feel symptoms in your lower back from the increase in tension caused by the misalignment in your neck.  You can see in this instance how the area of pain isn’t always the area that needs to be adjusted.

When dealing with spinal structure, it’s important to remember that all of your bones, muscles, ligaments, organs, etc. work together to keep you alive in a somewhat “normal state”.  With that being said, if there is a tonal shift within the spine and a spinal bone is misaligned, the body’s natural response may be to compensate for that misalignment.  This could mean a change in posture or a spinal misalignment in another region of the spine.  If this is the case, you may experience pain as a result of the compensation and again, this is not the primary area that needs to be adjusted.

With so many things to consider, how do we know where to adjust?  This is one of the many reasons we use the technique we do.  The analysis we use is very specific at locating the areas where the primary misalignments are (meaning it doesn’t look for compensations).  Once the adjustment is made, the tone or tension of the spinal cord is able to return to a more acceptable state.  When this happens, there can be a decrease in the amount of discomfort caused by that misalignment, whether that discomfort was in the same area as the adjustment or in a completely different region of the body.  In the example of the lower back pain caused by a neck misalignment, once the neck is adjusted and the added tension on the spinal cord is released, the symptoms in the lower back can decrease.  In a similar fashion, if a spinal bone is misaligned and the body responds via compensation, once that misaligned bone is adjusted, the compensation can often times self-correct.

While it is important to note the presence of pain, pain does not dictate the adjustment.  Because your body can respond to spinal misalignments in many different ways, we would rather use a very specific analysis to determine what needs to be adjusted rather than relying solely on pain or other symptoms.  Adjusting the primary misalignments will help you achieve the greatest results in the shortest amount of time!


Position Matters! Sleep Optimally

We frequently have patients asking what they can do at home to help them hold their adjustments. Amongst other things, picking an appropriate sleeping position is extremely important, especially since many patients experience secondary conditions such as neck discomfort after “sleeping funny”.

So what’s the best sleeping position? As you may know, there are three main sleeping positions- stomach sleeping, side lying, and back sleeping. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Stomach Sleeping

Most of you have heard us say that this is the least desirable sleeping position. Unless you have a specialized pillow which allows you to lie face down while sleeping, the only way to comfortably breathe while stomach sleeping is by turning your head to one side. This can put abnormal stress and tension on your spinal cord, and can result in a tonal shift (or misalignment) within the spine.

Even if you do have a specialized pillow for stomach sleeping, this position is still unfavorable. These special pillows are generally wedge-shaped to allow extra space for your nose and chin while lying face down.  Sounds great in theory, but this added wedge places your spine into hyperextension, causing tension on your spinal cord. Because a neutral spine is best when choosing a sleeping position, again, stomach sleeping is not recommended.

Side Lying

Sleeping in a side-lying position is one of the easiest ways to create a neutral position for the entire spine. However, there is one key component that makes this statement true- the proper pillow height. What pillow do we recommend?  Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no one pillow that works for everyone. Keep in mind our bodies are all different- the broadness of our shoulders, head width and arm musculature are all different and all affect which pillow is best to use. With that being said, we are more concerned with the ability of a pillow to create a neutral spine than what brand it is or what material it is made of.

Side Lying2As the picture depicts, it is important to choose a pillow the supports the head in a way that creates a neutral spine. When looking at someone from behind, we want to be able to draw a horizontal line down the entire length of the spine, without any bumps or tilts. A pillow that is too flat or even too full can prevent achieving that neutral spine. Don’t be afraid to try the pillow out before you buy it!

One last piece of advice about side lying- to help maintain a neutral pelvis, try placing a pillow between your (preferably bent) knees.

Back Sleeping

Back sleeping is another position easy for keeping a neutral spine, but again, the proper pillow must be used. To maintain the normal curve of the neck, it is important to choose a flat pillow if you are a back sleeper. A fuller pillow could cause the chin to tuck towards the chest, increasing the tension of the spinal cord.

How can choosing the right pillow affect my low back?

There’s a big emphasis on proper positioning of the head while sleeping by using the correct pillow. It is easy to draw a correlation between improper head alignment and neck pain, but how can that affect your low back? Great question!

It’s important to remember that the spinal cord attaches at the very top and very bottom of the spine. Those spinal segments directly affect the tone or tension of the spinal cord, and when the spine is in its proper alignment, the tone of the spinal cord is ideal. Let’s say you have been sleeping incorrectly, and as a result, you experience a tonal shift in your neck. There is now an increase in the tone/tension of the spinal cord. Sometimes secondary conditions are felt in the areas of those tonal shifts, so in this example, in your neck. However because there is increased tension throughout the entire spinal cord, you may actually feel secondary conditions in the low back. Remember we said that the spinal cord attaches at the very top and the very bottom of the spine, so a tonal shift in the neck may create tension or “pulling” in the low back, leading to low back pain.


Sleep is essential for our bodies and can specifically affect mood, healing, and energy levels. Make the most of it by correcting your sleeping position- you may experience better sleep, and equally as important, reduce spinal subluxations!