Zen and the Art of Chiropractic Adjustment and Healing

Science, Art, and Philosophy of Chiropractic


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How does a Chiropractor know where to fix?

“The right number and right kind of adjustments can set the stage for nature to heal; too many adjustments in the wrong place can undo any good that was done and slow down the healing mechanism…..Chiropractic is not easy. It is a scientific approach. In order to get those things right, they have to be so right. None of us can be too careful. Too many of the chiropractors are unwilling to really study enough to truly understand spinal mechanics.” Dr. Clarence Gonstead

Who is Dr. Gonstead? For those who have not looked at my website, he is nicknamed as the “miracle man”. He is a Chiropractor that has developed a very detailed and specific adjusting system named after himself. The Gonstead technique is widely known to be very comprehensive and specific technique in analysis and adjustments with less force. He was so busy that he had to build an airstrip for people into his small town in Mount Horeb, WI, and a hotel to accommodate the clients that came to see him from around the world. After seeing 7 million people in his chiropractic career, he was well known to be a Chiropractor of Chiropractors. Dr. Gonstead passed away in 1978 and left an amazing legacy and many students to keep on his teachings.

Not everyone was fortunate to get see Dr. Gonstead for chiropractic adjustments. Most people who had chiropractic adjustments from chiropractors that did not follow to the level of specificity of the technique of Dr. Gonstead had mixed feelings or mixed results after chiropractic adjustments. Some felt nothing changed or worse for that matter.

As you read the quote from Dr. Gonstead in the first paragraph, there are chiropractors that adjust too many and in the wrong place. As a Chiropractor, practicing on each other during Chiropractic school is essential to be a better chiropractor. Also the price of paying with your own spine on getting adjusted on the wrong areas. There was one experience of mine where the student adjusted my spine with a huge cracking noise and he felt the adjustment went well. Although, I had great pain in my low back with radiating pain down my leg for 6 months. So hearing a huge noise does not mean the chiropractic adjustment is the right one, it is the results afterward that determines if the chiropractic adjustment is right or wrong.

Dr. Gonstead said, “…too many chiropractors are adjusting the wrong one!” What is the wrong one is referred to as a compensation for the real problem called subluxation? Subluxation is the misalignment of the spine causing impingement of the nerve that causes loss of function and healing. Compensation is misalignment that is caused by subluxation and creates symptoms like pain. Compensations are very misleading to people who have them and for people who are correcting subluxation. Many people think the most painful spot is the problem and most often times it is not.

“A vertebra which is misaligned because of a subluxation elsewhere is considered a compensation.” Roger W. Herbst D.C. Gonstead Chiropractic Science & Art

Many chiropractors adjust from 7-10 segments in the spine. The most common reason is that if the segment in the spine is not moving, let’s give it motion and then it will feel better. Motion is life! This common philosophy does not distinguish compensation and subluxation. Who has this idea typically adjust everything and anything?  Their thinking might be anything that is misaligned put it back so that the spine is in perfect shape.

Most chiropractors are trying to give everyone the perfect spine. In the Gonstead method, we only care about finding the subluxation and allowing the person’s spine adapt and heal on their own. Some spines look like a bad scoliosis curvature but it is not the Chiropractor’s job to fix scoliosis. Once the body is free from subluxations then the starts to change shapes or adapts better to the person’s stress levels. This may change the spine’s shape to the more efficient structure to the stress that is put on to the spine.

Dr. Gonstead made sure to find the right one and re-analyze after he adjusted a spinal segment. Just to check if the adjustment was enough or too much force. Dr. Gonstead was able to determine whether the disc was acute or chronic, the position of the disc herniation, and much more information on the condition of the nervous system. Dr. Gonstead also used radiological films, observed postural changes, skin inflammation analysis, and listened to your symptoms. Then he put all that information together to find the one or two segments that were the subluxation. This gave future generations of chiropractors that followed Dr. Gonstead to reproduce what he was able to do. That was adjusted about 7 million people in his life and help very difficult conditions that even medical doctors were not able to help.

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What Happens When My Spine Goes “POP”?

This is a question we hear every day! There are many common misconceptions regarding the sound and sensation after an adjustment. Many people think the sound of an adjustment comes from bones clicking together against each other as they move. Some people use the word, “crack,” as in “getting my back cracked,” to describe this sound. Unfortunately, this
has probably scared off more than a few people from getting the Chiropractic care they need.

Joint Anatomy:670px-Crack-Your-Neck-Step-20

What really happens to cause the noise you often hear when you get adjusted? First, you must understand the structure of a joint. Where two bones come together, there is a smooth surface on each side, which fits very snugly so the bones can glide easily and freely. Surrounding the joint on all sides are ligaments that hold the bones very tightly together and keep the lubrication fluid from escaping. These ligaments form a tight capsule that seals off the joint from the rest of the body.

All fluids in our body have gases dissolved in them. For instance, oxygen is dissolved in the blood. The lubricating fluid of joints contains dissolved gases, which are primarily nitrogen. Whenever a stretch is applied to the joint, the ligaments which make up a joint are also stretched. This stretching causes the space between the two bones to get wider. The pressure, which is normally exerted on the joint fluid, rapidly diminishes. When you look at a soda water under pressure, it looks like regular water, but as soon as you open the cap and release the pressure, bubbles of gas start coming out of what seems like nowhere. This is because the gas stretched and released the pressure. The inert gas dissolved in the joint bubbles out of the solution and makes a popping sound similar to opening a bottle of champagne. This can happen with any joint in the body, especially the knuckles of the hands. After a joint has been “popped,” it takes approximately one half of an hour for the gas bubbles to become absorbed into the fluid again. That is why you cannot “pop” a joint two times in a row without waiting for a period of time.

Neurological Component:

Another neurological component to this popping isneurons that there are nerve sensors in our muscles, ligaments, spinal discs, and joint capsules. They are called mechanoreceptors, which sense proper position and movement of muscles, ligaments, spinal discs and joints capsules. Once this increase of pressure and bursting the bubble in the joint capsule occurs, the mechanoreceptors are stimulated and create a ripple effect on the brain to secrete endorphins into our bloodstream. Endorphins not only relieve pain but also bring about a temporary sense of well-being. Endorphins are a cluster of neurotransmitters which cause a reaction in the opiate receptors within the human body, which block signals indicating pain or stress to the brain, thus allowing for an overall analgesic effect. Some people get addicted to getting “cracked” in their spine and other joints because they are addicted to “crack!”

Restoration VS. Creating Instability

We know that people often times people want to get “cracked,” because they are addicted the endorphin response like literal crack addicts. At Zen Chiropractic Inc. we do not “crack” the spine with chiropractic care for that reason. At our office, we explain that when there is stress upon the spine and created instability in the segments of the spine, one of the segments will fall out of its original position. When the segment falls out of position the segment will compress the nerves and cause interference of the communication of the brain and the body. For Zen Chiropractic Inc. when we adjust the spine, it may make some noise but our goal is not about the “crack!” At Zen Chiropractic, an adjustment is about restoring the segment of the spine to its original position in the spine. When the spinal segments are restored to their original positions, the function and adaptability of the body will be restored.

Sometimes an adjustment will not cause a “pop, crack, or crunch” sound, which does not mean the adjustment was not effective. Research has shown that a joint space must open up approximately 40% to create the “popping” sound. When there is no “pop” it simply means the joint was not opened far enough to cause the release of gas, .but it may have OPENED ENOUGH TO RESTORE PROPER POSITION OF THE JOINT. When we adjust a joint, we are not trying to create a sound: we are attempting to restore the proper position of the joint. While a “pop’” is not necessary, when it does occur it means that the joint definitely opened up and moved a good 40%.

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If you are stretching or exercising and you hear a “pop” in your spine, then you have moved a joint. If you were lifting or bending in an awkward direction and you felt pain or discomfort, then something probably moved out of position that is very unstable and you need to be checked. If you are already getting chiropractic care and hear popping, cracking other sounds, then other segments besides the segments which were replaced are trying to replace themselves after the adjustment.


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Get Ahead of the Curve!

An arch is the strongest structure in nature.

That is why most primal structures such as big bridges and buildings are built with curves and arcs.   The curvature of the spine helps the spine in many ways. First, the curvature helps absorb the impact of walking/running and evenly distributes the weight of the body. Second, the curvature helps the body withstand the constant physical stress that is produced by gravity. Third, loss of curvature will cause abnormal stress to the spine, making it vulnerable to damage and cause loss of function. For us to be ahead of the curve in life is to have good spinal curvature!

Before we dive into how the curvature is necessary for your spine, we need to make sure which curve we are addressing. We are addressing the curvature that develops from birth to adulthood. In the womb, for a period of time following birth, a baby’s spine is shaped like the letter C. This curve is termed a primary curve, which is called the Kyphotic. During the time the baby is learning to lift his head and eventually walk, muscles develop. As muscular strength and ability are gained, the baby’s activity will shift body weight to the spine. Gradually, secondary curves develop in the cervical and lumbar regions; these curvatures are called lordotic curves. These curves will continue to develop until growth stops. The curvature structure can be seen from lateral full spine radiological film, and there is a method of measuring to determine the normality of the curvature.

These curvatures in your spine withstand constant bombardment of stresses that are caused by normal activities in your daily life. As your body undergoes physical activities such as sports, exercise, and recreation there is stress produced to the spine. The infrastructure of the spine upholds the body to withstand stress and keep the organs in place. This is also reflected in cathedrals which have many arcs/curvatures strategically placed to prevent it from collapsing and withstand the test of time.

Other than applying stress from physical activity, there is another natural force that will constantly cause stress on your spine. That is Gravity!! The only way to counter the effects of gravity is to have proper curvature in your spine. The S shape curvature of the spine counteracts the effects of gravity like a spring and sustains its structure. Do you see a waiter holding a tray? They hold it to support the weight but bend the elbow like a curvature for support. It is the same thing with the curvature of your spine in the neck. A 10-15 pound skull needs a structure in the neck that can hold its weight and be going against gravity. Most people complain about having tightness in their neck. It is usually due to loss of curvature.

When you lose curvature, the spine then is not able to withstand the stress from gravity on your body’s mass. This will result in structural failure of the spine in the long run. Loss of curvature will cause increased pressure load on the discs, increase muscular strain to support the inefficient skeletal structure, and cause nerve damage from alteration of the spinal structure. When this continues on for a long-term, it will make it vulnerable to additional physical stress.  Things such as car accidents, slips, and falls can easily cause damage to the spinal structure.  The disc structure that was giving cushion to the spine can be damaged slowly and wither away from the increased stress due to poor integrity of the spinal structure. When the disc withers away, then the nerves will be compressed, increase pain, and eventually, the disk will lose its function.  When time goes by, the degeneration process accelerates and your damaged spinal structure becomes permanent. Your body will be conditioned with that problem all your life.  

When the spinal structure has its curvature, it is able to withstand the physical stresses, the weight of your body, and is less vulnerable to damage to the spine. When your spine has its curves, you are ahead of the curve!! You are able to function 100%, withstand the test of time, and experience life instead of living life. You will be able to play tennis in your later years, play with your grandkids, or simply being able to walk to the bathroom. To be ahead of your curve, you simply need to make sure you have them or keep them!