What is Chiropractic Adjusting?

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  • Written By: Darlene Goodman
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Chiropractic adjusting typically occurs when a chiropractor manipulates the bones, ligaments, and muscles, particularly those of the spine. Chiropractors use a variety of methods for this adjustment. The purpose of chiropractic adjusting is often to increase spinal mobility or to allow the spine to straighten itself out of an incorrect position. There are many reasons that people seek chiropractic care, the most common being the relief of lower back pain.

The spine is made up of stacked vertebrae that protect and support the spinal cord. These vertebrae are separated by cartilage discs. If a vertebra shifts out of proper alignment, chiropractors call this a vertebral subluxation. Many chiropractors believe that subluxations may be the cause of back pain or motor problems.

The process of chiropractic adjusting typically involves applying pressure to the vertebrae to move them into correct spinal position. Many chiropractors say that adjusting does not actively force the spine into a new position. It is believed that it releases a joint from a stiff, twisted position so the bones and ligaments cam move freely, and the newly released joint should then settle itself into the correct position.

There are many different methods for chiropractic adjusting. The more common methods involve a chiropractor applying quick, precise force on a particular vertebra. The patient may lay on his or her stomach or side while the chiropractor firmly and quickly pushes, with crossed hands, against the spine.


Another type of chiropractic adjusting is done with fingers or fingertips. The chiropractor manipulates and separates the vertebrae by applying gentle, focused pressure. This form of adjusting is often called release work.

A third common form of chiropractic adjusting uses medical tools instead of relying only on the chiropractor’s hands. The chiropractic table itself is often used as a tool during adjustments. Some tables are equipped with movable portions, which drop down when the chiropractor applies pressure to a joint. This drop is intended to reduce the force of the pressure.

Some chiropractors use activators during adjustments. These are usually small, hand-held tools that look like small pogo sticks. They typically have a rubber tip that the chiropractor places on the vertebra that needs adjustment. When pressure is applied to the activator, a spring punches the rubber tip into the joint. This concentrated force releases the stiff joint.

A sound of popping or cracking typically accompanies chiropractic adjusting. These sounds are not created by the bones or ligaments themselves, but are typically made by air bubbles trapped in the fluid surrounding the stiff joint. These bubbles typically pop during an adjustment, making an audible noise. After treatment, as a joint regains flexibility, there are often fewer air bubbles surrounding it.


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