Someone once said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” And while this is generally true, sometimes a name provides more questions than answers.
In this office, we try to explain chiropractic terms as they arise in conversation, but some are downright confusing, especially if you’ve never been to a chiropractor before. And to make matters worse, some chiropractors disagree on how some terms should be defined. The last thing we want to do is confuse our patients, so we thought we’d go over a few basic terms. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but we hope it provides some clarity.
Vertebrae are a series of small bones that form the backbone or spine. These bones give the body support and protect the spinal cord. There are 33 vertebrae make up the spine: seven in the neck (cervical vertebrae), 12 that attach the ribs (thoracic vertebrae), five in the lower back (lumbar vertebrae), five in the sacrum and four in the tailbone (coccyx).
- Spinal Disks
Between the vertebrae in your spine are cushions or disks made out of cartilage. They have a thick outer layer and a gel-like center, and connect each vertebra to the next.
- Herniated and Bulging Disks
Believe it or not, these are not the same thing. When you have a bulging disk, the tougher outer layer of the disk goes outside of its usual space. A herniated disk (which is sometimes called a slipped or a ruptured disk) happens when a crack in the outer layer causes the softer gel-like layer to protrude outward. Patients with these conditions often experience pain, weakness or tingling when the affected disk puts pressure on the surrounding nerves.
- Spinal Decompression
When your spine becomes compressed, due to accidents, injuries or the natural aging process, it puts pressure on the spinal disks and nerves between each vertebra. This pressure causes disks to bulge or become herniated, which can put pressure on your nerves. Spinal decompression gently stretches the spine, encouraging the disk to return to its proper place in the spine. Some chiropractors use a machine like the DRX900 to facilitate this process.
- Flexion Distraction
In flexion distraction, you lie on a table that bends and stretches your body. As your body moves, the chiropractor applies pressure in concert with the motion of the table. Like spinal decompression, the goal of flexion distraction is to create some space between compressed vertebrae. This increases the flow of blood and oxygen and encourages any bulging or slipped disks to resume their natural position in the spine.
- Intersegmental Traction
Intersegmental traction isn’t as complicated as it sounds. All you have to do is lie on a table and let the vibrating rollers beneath the table work their magic on the length of your spine. This rolling action stretches and opens up the spaces between the vertebrae, loosing up the spinal and preparing it for chiropractic adjustments.
- Chiropractic Adjustments
Also known as spinal manipulation, and spinal adjustments, this is the #1 treatment that people associate with chiropractors. Chiropractor adjustments usually take the form of a quick, controlled thrust or application of pressure to a vertebra. This action returns any misaligned vertebrae to proper alignment so the irritation to the surrounded nerves and muscles can be alleviated. When your vertebrae are back in their proper position, blood, oxygen, and nutrients can flow more freely, enabling the body to heal itself more quickly.
While chiropractors use this term in different ways, for us, it is simply a misalignment in the spine that is interfering with the nervous system in some way. Since the spine is the great connector in the body, issues in this area of the body can cause issues in many different areas, depending on where the misalignment resides.
- Spinal Analysis
In a spinal analysis, your chiropractor examines your spinal column and nearby joint for subluxations and other types of chiropractic conditions that may need treatment. You can expert a complete spinal analysis on the day of your first appointment.
- Trigger Points
When a muscle is injured due to overuse or trauma, trigger points can form. A trigger point is a tight area within the muscle causes chronic pain and stiffness that can spread to other muscles in the body. Chiropractors treat trigger points by applying pressure directly with their fingers until the muscle relaxes. Therapeutic massage may follow. In some cases, acupuncture may also be used.
In our offices, we try to keep things simple and explain the not so simple, but it’s always a work in progress. If you have a question about a procedure, a diagnosis or any other confusing chiropractic term, please feel free to ask us about it. We’re here for you.
About The Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.