chiropractic adjustment, what does a chiropractic adjustment do

What Does A Chiropractic Adjustment Really Do?

How does getting your back ‘popped’ at your chiropractor in Amarillo helpful to you?

This is a question that can get different answers depending on which chiropractor you ask the question to. This is a question that can shine an intense spotlight on a deep divide in the chiropractic profession. For that reason, it makes sense that we address the division first before getting into the specifics of how a visit to a chiropractor near you is helpful. 

When we boil it down, there are three different ‘sects’ of the chiropractic profession. They are as follows:

  1. Subluxation-based
  2. Evidence-based
  3. Agnostic


Subluxation-based chiropractors

While I do not practice this way, it is important to explain this model and discuss it because many in the general public have a perception that all chiropractors practice in this model. The truth is, this model actually makes up the smallest percentage of chiropractors practicing currently.

The subluxation-based chiropractors adhere to the principles put forth from the very beginnings of the chiropractic profession; well over 100 years ago. 

The premise is that if a person goes to a chiropractor repeatedly throughout their lives and stays ‘adjusted’ the nervous system will have no obstacles or ‘subluxations’ standing in its way. As a result, the nervous system will better express itself through the spinal cord out to the organs and limbs thus allowing the body to function better overall. 

This group often advocates not vaccinating children, no surgery, and no medication because, if staying adjusted regularly throughout one’s life, then a person should be immune to disease, pain, or dysfunction of any kind. As a result, in this type of practice model, patients typically get very long-term and expensive treatment plan recommendations. 

Most agree that this is a holistic, vitalistic way of looking at the body and health in general.

Evidence-based, patient-centered

It will be obvious quickly so I will go ahead and admit my bias and readily confirm that the evidence-based, patient-centered model is my way of practicing. Most healthcare practitioners of any sort practice this way. We know that professions have a beginning point but then research improves and the knowledge base expands. As a result, our practice models change over time in accordance with what newer and more current research suggests is the most effective way to treat our patients. 

To put it in more relatable terms, where would we be if the medical field did not learn and adapt and refresh their treatment models based on new research through the years? Of course, the medical field most definitely has its issues but I think we can agree that we would still be using leeches and going through bloodletting. Fortunately, the medical field is far beyond that and, much in the same way, the chiropractic profession, along with biomechanics, exercise, rehabilitation, chronic pain management, and much more….it has expanded and improved as well. 

The ‘patient-centered’ part of the model refers to the fact that a healthcare clinic should never make recommendations to their patients based on finances or based on what is best for the clinic and the clinic’s numbers or statistics. When an office is more concerned with their numbers rather than the patient sitting in front of them, we refer to that practice as a doctor-centered practice. Patient-centered clinics quite honestly do not make as much money in general as the doctor-centered practices but the concern for the patient, the honesty, and the ethics are there in the multitudes. 

This type of doctor is continually reading and reviewing the most current research in a hunt for the safest, most effective ways to help their patients get out of pain in the quickest, and most cost-effective way. Not only that but, as one of their primary goals, they are interested in teaching the patient to self-manage at home so that treatment recommendations are typically short and the patient is not led to feel dependent on any healthcare practitioner for the long-term. 

The evidence-based, patient-centered model is most definitely our model of practice here at this Amarillo chiropractic clinic. 



The third type of practice is one I refer to as Agnostics. These chiropractors do not really buy into the subluxation theory but they do not really care about the research either. They are just somewhere in the middle. They know that chiropractic treatment works because they see it every day, they do not really care why or how it works, and they are happy to just keep on trucking through their days without much concern one way or the other. While effective, Agnostics are a bit detached and unaware and do not typically engage in continually educating themselves and tend to be uninterested in updating their knowledge base on any regular basis. 


Get on with it

The reason I broke this professional division down is that the question of how an adjustment works and how it helps will be answered differently by each sect. The subluxation-based explanation would be that an adjustment reduces any interference on the exiting nerves at the spinal cord level. When there is a reduction of pressure or interference of the nerve or nerves, the nerve will function better, and whatever the nerve runs to will, in turn, function better.

For example, if the nerve runs to the stomach, the theory is that digestion will improve. If the nerves help the immune system function, your immune system will get a boost and improve to the point you will be immune to diseases. There have even been claims during this pandemic that getting adjusted regularly will help patients fight COVID. Many in this group advocate getting adjusted regularly instead of getting vaccinated to protect against measles, flu, or any other malady one would typically get vaccinated from. 

Again, I need to be clear here. From my knowledge and my research, there is NO reputable research that backs this theory or notion up. 

The agnostics will likely echo some of the previous explanations mixed with some discussion about improving movement or segmental dysfunction. The truth is, if a doctor is not aware of the research on the matter, they may not have an excellent description of what happens. They just know it works. And you know what? They’re not wrong. It works very well whether or not they can describe the exact mechanism or not. 

The Real Answer

The evidence-based practitioners that are current on the research typically have a very robust, very accurate description based on what the research suggests. 

Please forgive the brief spot of medical terminology but, according to Dr. Malik Slosberg in his article for Dynamic Chiropractic - July 29, 2010, ”A joint that is injured, inflamed, degenerated, restricted in motion or painful results in reflex inhibition, delayed activation and progressive atrophy of the multifidus muscle innervated by that segment. By clinical examination, the chiropractor identifies such a movement disorder and then applies a high velocity, low amplitude thrust to the joint.

This high-velocity force rapidly stretches the segmental ligaments, joint capsules, intertransversarii and interspinales muscles, and intervertebral discs, and intensely stimulates their numerous stretch receptors. 

This results in ligamentomuscular reflex activation of the multifidus, which attempts to stabilize the joint and protect it from possible injury as a result of the high-velocity stretch. The segmental multifidus, which has been reflexively inhibited and is atrophying, is stimulated to contract. This may reverse the reflex inhibition, progressive atrophy, and delayed muscle response documented to occur in the segmental multifidus which overlies a dysfunctional joint; and restore dynamic function and contractility to this primary joint stabilizer."

Now that’s a lot of terminology most laypeople will not understand or care about. So let me bring it into more current and relatable terms for you. 

The adjustment activates "a cascade of neurophysiological changes" that mostly work together in order to decrease pain and inflammation while improving tissue recovery and area neurological mechanisms.

Even more relatable and understanding is this concept. In order for your back, or any joint for that matter, to function correctly and without pain, it needs 2 things.  

  1. Mobility
  2. Stability

Simply put it needs WD40 and DUCT TAPE.  

Adjustments increase mobility {WD40}. Remember whether it is getting adjusted or exercising; motion is the lotion. Movement is healing. For example, when one has a c-section or a gall bladder surgery, they have them up walking the halls the next day. Again, movement and motion are healing from a global scale such as walking, down to a more focused level such as the individual segments of the spine. 

The exercises we prescribe each and every patient increase stability {DUCT TAPE}. 

Depending on the condition, if a clinic ONLY performs an adjustment and sends a patient on their way with no exercises and no recommendations for at-home exercise management, the patient could be getting more effective treatment recommendations. 

If, on the other hand, a patient goes to physical therapy and ONLY gets exercises without ensuring proper movement in the areas of concern (spinal manipulative therapy), the patient could be getting more effective and robust treatment. 

It is the combination of movement and stability that is the secret sauce. That and consistency. We must have a patient that is a partner in their own recovery. This means they need to make their visits regularly for at least a couple of weeks before we know how effective we have been. We cannot get a good idea as to whether we need to change the treatment if we are not given the chance to go down the path a short way to see how the patient progresses. 

There truly is no other treatment out there that is as safe, as cost-effective, and as effective for spinal pain, joint pain, and headache/migraine as spinal manipulative therapy is. In short, a chiropractic adjustment does the following:

  • Acts as an analgesic like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and even prescription meds like Diclofenac
  • Decreases venous stasis at the target level giving more room to the other structures in the area
  • Increases the descending pain inhibitory complex; meaning that an adjustment bolsters the mechanism that decides whether pain triggers will be allowed into the brain for processing. As it gets bolstered, it tends to allow less ‘pain information’ into the brain. So we hurt less.
  • Increase proprioceptive information. We have a map in our brain of each and every joint in the body, how it should move and to what extent. Chronic pain causes this map to be ‘smudged’ rather than crystal clear. By stretching the little motion detectors in the muscles of our spines, proprioceptive information concerning the joint and its movement is relayed to the brain and, eventually, the map begins to clear up. This allows healthier movement of the joints since the brain is more clear on how to move it correctly. 

Hopefully, I did not go too far above the heads of my readers. The main point is that a chiropractic adjustment is much more than a simple back pop. There are intent and purpose to it and the research literature is very clear. It is extremely effective for those suffering from spinal pain, joint pain, or headache migraine. 

Chiropractic has been shown as effective as many opioids, more effective than any traditional medical treatment, and much less expensive. Not only that, but surveys consistently show patients have more happiness and patient satisfaction with chiropractors than physical therapists and general medical family doctors. This goes for all three sects of chiropractors. Even if a chiropractor is subluxation-based, at the end of the day, they are moving the joints and that is effective. As are the agnostics as well as the evidence-based chiropractors. Regardless of one's reasoning as to why they are utilizing it, spinal manipulative therapy (chiropractic adjustments) is still the overall cornerstone of the chiropractic profession. 

I know I took the long way to get to how an adjustment works and how it is effective but the meandering had its purpose. Visiting an evidence-based, patient-centered chiropractor can get you back on the path safely, non-pharmacologically, non-invasively, with less cost than your other options in the healthcare market. This should ALWAYS be the FIRST option for non-complicated neuromusculoskeletal conditions. 

So what are you waiting for?



Consistently voted one of the best chiropractors in Amarillo TX, Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]


Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109


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