Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Are Subluxations Real?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

A chiropractor told me I have several subluxations and should have a series of spinal "adjustments" to correct them. Are subluxations real; and, if so, what exactly are they?

Answer

The medical definition of subluxation is "partial dislocation without loss of contact between joint surfaces." The occurrence of partial dislocation has been recognized for over 2000 years. In 1895, however, chiropractors began describing subluxations as displaced vertebrae that cause 95% of all diseases by shutting down the flow of nerve energy ("Innate intelligence") from the brain to the body's organs.

Today, the North American Association of Chiropractic Colleges defines a subluxation as "a complex of functional and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health"—a vague and all-inclusive definition that continues to embrace a broad scope of human ailments.

Unlike a medical subluxation that causes obvious mechanical-type symptoms that can be measured objectively, a chiropractic subluxation is often asymptomatic and not visible on an x-ray film.

Many of us have slightly misaligned vertebrae caused by disc degeneration, scoliosis, or some other joint or structural abnormality. These sometimes cause mechanical-type problems that can benefit from spinal manipulation.

Spur formation, disc herniation, thickened ligaments, fractures, tumors, and dislocations in the spine often encroach upon spinal nerves to cause radiation of pain and other symptoms into musculoskeletal structures, but organic disease does not occur.

There is no evidence to indicate that simple vertebral misalignment, or any joint dysfunction in the spine, can cause organic disease. Chiropractic subluxations, as opposed to medical subluxations, cannot be confirmed or demonstrated in a scientific context. There certainly is no reason to manipulate the spine in patients who have no spine-related symptoms, or to adjust the vertebrae as a treatment for disease. For further information, see "Subluxation: Chiropractic's Elusive Buzzword."

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on April 16, 2002.