What is Chiropractic Manipulation?

Vanessa Harvey
Vanessa Harvey
Chiropractors specialize in spinal adjustments, or spinal manipulation.
Chiropractors specialize in spinal adjustments, or spinal manipulation.

Chiropractic manipulation, also known as spinal manipulation, is a technique involving the delivery of a high speed, low amplitude thrust usually to some part of the spinal column, commonly called the backbone. This therapy, which often is employed to treat and correct pain in the lower back, can be carried out by hand after the chiropractor palpates the vertebrae to detect problems with alignment. It also can be performed using a handheld tool connected to a computer and used to scan the spine to diagnose any abnormalities in alignment. The purpose of chiropractic manipulation is to restore a joint's range of motion to normal, because misalignment can interfere with a person's ability to move.

Chiropractic manipulation sometimes produces a popping or cracking noise as various gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide are released, but it rarely is a painful procedure. Patients who are not relaxed might experience some discomfort during the treatment because of spasmic muscle tissue surrounding the joint. Various methods to induce muscle relaxation can be used to ensure that the manipulation is effective. A chiropractor might massage the area, do electrical stimulation or simply encourage the patient to rest for a while before the procedure. The release of these gases relieves pressure on the joint.

Generally, the patient is instructed to lie on his or her stomach. Often the table that is used is specialized and heavily padded to aid the doctor, who might need to change positions to properly deliver chiropractic manipulation. The number of treatments a patient could need depends on the severity of the misalignment of the entire spine or parts of it. Obtaining relief from pain usually is of the highest priority when beginning treatments, so manipulation techniques typically center on this goal. Chiropractic manipulation could involve other treatments and therapies, such as massage and nutritional counseling, to aid or speed up recovery.

Although chiropractic therapy has corrected some conditions involving misalignment of the spine, it is not a treatment that should be used in cases involving fractures. Patients who suffer from conditions that affect the skeletal system, such as osteoporosis, also should exercise extreme caution regarding chiropractic care. Side effects of receiving such treatments could include aches, pain and spasms that occur within days after the manipulation was performed. Headaches and fatigue also could develop, but they should not last for very long and should be relieved with over-the-counter medications.

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Discussion Comments


Chiropractic is a unique profession as it is the only profession that provides "adjustments." All others who pop bones do "manipulations."

Chiropractors have the most training so they can find certain segments or bone and adjust precisely in a certain direction with a certain force and at the right time.

All others who learn chiropractic do so as manipulators and that is the general motion --to move bones and make them pop.

To say you "adjust" is completely different than "manipulating." It is a totally different experience, too.

It's in your best interests to ask the person what kind they do. It reveals their level of expertise.

Because, remember, you can manipulate and get release, but actually make it worse. Hope that clarifies things.

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    • Chiropractors specialize in spinal adjustments, or spinal manipulation.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Chiropractors specialize in spinal adjustments, or spinal manipulation.