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What Is a Subluxation and Why Is It Important (in a Bad Way)

By Dr. Molly Casey


The health of your spine affects your overall level of health and well-being in more ways than you likely know. Although people typically think of going to a chiropractor because of neck and back pain, many go to get regular chiropractic adjustments to improve their overall quality of life. Chiropractic adjustments correct the vertebral subluxation complex, or VSC.

Here’s what you need to know about the impact a subluxation can have on you, your body, and your health.


Joints are where two or more bones meet and motion is produced. Joints can lose their full range of motion or get stuck in certain directions. The loss of joint motion happens from what we chiropractors call the three T’s: physical (acute or chronic) trauma, chemical trauma (toxins in diet or environment), or emotional/mental trauma (stress). The vertebral subluxation complex starts with a loss of range of motion of a spinal joint, which causes numerous detrimental effects to the optimal operation of the body system and its overall health and healing.


Bones and joints are supported by muscles. Muscles produce movements that the joints are meant to perform. When subluxations are present, the muscles tighten and can become rigid to guard the area. The process of this guarding by the muscle is the body’s way to protect the joint from any further damage due the improper joint function. The longer the subluxation exists without correction (via chiropractic adjustment), the longer the muscles stay in a tightened and inflexible state. Although this initial protective mechanism is ideal for preventing further injury, it can begin causing more problems when it goes unchecked. The muscles become overworked -- and even weak -- because they are carrying too much of the load of motion and support.


Inflammation and swelling often accompany subluxations. Inflammation is a response by the body to protect itself and repair from injury and/or invaders. This process, in and of itself, is not bad because it is a protective and healing mechanism. The problem arises when the injury is not corrected and the inflammatory process becomes chronic and/or uncontrolled. Swelling of the joint and surrounding area can occur with the inflammation because of increased production of cellular and/or joint fluid.


Spinal nerves exit a small hole called the vertebral foramen. This space is formed near the back of the vertebrae and off the side. The hole is small. When the spinal joints become subluxated, the size of that hole decreases. In addition, the tightened muscles, inflammation, and swelling that often accompany the subluxation all create increased pressure. This improper joint function and increase in pressure interferes with communication from the brain to the portions of the body that the nerve is traveling to. When this pressure rises to a certain point, the nerve itself, as well as nociceptors (pain) within the joint, can be irritated, thereby creating pain and discomfort. The longer the subluxation is present, and the more severe it is or becomes, the more discomfort is felt.

Harmful Effects

When a subluxation goes untreated, the situation worsens. As the forces on the bones of the spine are dysfunctional and moving improperly, spinal degeneration eventually occurs if the subluxations are not corrected. The interference with brain-body communication continues to progress and, clearly, that is negative. The health effects vary and can be deep and serious. It is imperative to note that nearly 90 percent of the nervous system is unable to transmit pain; transmitting pain is not the nervous system’s job. It is not wise to use pain as the primary indicator as to whether or not subluxations are present.

The vertebral subluxation complex is multi-faceted and has real health side effects. Your body and your health suffer when you have a subluxation. The single-best thing you can do is to get your spine checked by a chiropractor to see if subluxations are present, and then get a regular adjustment to correct the problem in order to improve your health.

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