Chiropractors have been called “bone doctors” since the very beginning of the profession. This is most likely due to the perceived notion that they are actually doing something with the bones. A Doctor of Chiropractic is better described as a “nerve doctor”, because the most powerful effect of joint manipulation involves the body’s brain and nervous system.
A chiropractic treatment, known as a manipulation or adjustment, does not involve “cracking bones”. Instead, Doctors of Chiropractic sometimes “set” bones which have either partially or completely dislocated; in general however, Doctors of Chiropractic manipulate joints.
A joint is an articulation between bones that allows us to move. These articulations consist of the ends of two or more bones which are held together by various tissues, ligaments, and a joint capsule; and, each articulation has a specific way that it moves and functions in order to maintain proper joint stability and motion dynamics.
Why do Doctors of Chiropractic focus so much on joints? It’s not necessarily the joint itself that we’re interested in, but joint stability. If your joints are not working like they should, you won’t be able to move properly. In addition, there are important body parts (such as blood vessels and nerves) in, and around, each joint, which are affected by improper joint movement or placement.
Blood vessels: There are little tubes of oxygen-rich blood called arteries, which bring necessary nutrients to all of the muscles, tissues, glands, organs, and cells surrounding a joint. There are also little tubes of oxygen-depleted blood called veins, which take away waste products from the area.
Lymphatic or “Lymph” vessels: Along with blood vessels, lymph vessels are a different set of little tubes, which act as the body’s sewer system, taking waste products away from the area.
Mechanoreceptors: Every muscle in your body has little sensors that send signals to your brain telling it where you are in space. They let your brain know if you’re sitting, standing, running, falling, etc. Your joints, especially, have a large concentration of these, and other, types of sensors in and around them.
Nerves: Nerves carry signals and information from all over your body into your brain; your brain then compiles all of the data it receives, and sends signals back out to the rest of your body telling everything what to do, and how to do it.
Most people associate nerves with pain. However, pain accounts for only 10% of the information a nerve carries. The remaining 90% of nerve information tells your muscles, organs, and glands how to do their jobs. Nerves use electrical impulses (information) to control every cell of your body. Nerves tell your muscles when, and how to contract so you can hold your tooth brush, raise it to your face, put it into your mouth (without spilling), and brush back and forth. Nerves also carry neurotransmitters such as Dopamine, Serotonin, and GABA, which allow your brain and nervous system to function. Needless to say, nerves are sort of important, and this is what chiropractic is really all about: influencing nerve and brain function.
When a joint slips out of alignment, either through traumatic insult or injury, or through day-to-day stressors (physical, chemical, and emotional), it becomes unstable. The new, incorrect position of the joint can weaken the function of everything around it; which causes further problems.
When a Doctor of Chiropractic delivers a manipulation or adjustment, he or she is not simply putting a bone back where it belongs so you can move properly. At the same time, the doctor is also affecting the health and integrity of the body’s brain and nervous system by sending a barrage of signals through the nervous system straight into the brain. This means the blood vessels, lymph vessels, muscles, organs, and glands can all begin to do their jobs again.