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Subluxation, Subluxated & Subluxation - What's the Difference?

Posted in Chiropractic, Neck Pain Disorders on Feb 16, 2016

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure to work with a few great chiropractors in South Brisbane and a few more aspiring CQU chiropractic students. We were talking briefly about the use of the word "subluxation" and what is means in a chiropractic vs medical context. I don't think I gave the best explanation at the time, and so I wanted to clarify a bit here. Chiropractic Lexion - Why does it Matter?

Firstly, a precursor question arose: "Why does chiropractic terminology matter?" I need to find the exact reference, but I recall distinctly hearing a talk about the effects of European expansion through North America and Australia hundreds of years ago on the native and aboriginal cultures (which are almost extinct today). To paraphrase the point of the discussion:

The only thing that you need to do if you want to destroy a tribe in less than 100 years is to prevent the current generation from sharing its unique culture and LANGUAGE to the next generation.

And then in two, maybe three generations, that tribe, its culture, knowledge and language will be extinct. Chiropractic was founded on principles and philosophy distinct from medical practice. Its purpose is different. Its language is different.

And if we, as chiropractors change our language in an effort to be "accepted" by others, we are on the fast track to changing the very principles that we stand for. It is a slippery slope, which is the very reason that learning and maintaining a correct chiropractic lexicon is important for the viability of the unique chiropractic profession.

Subluxation - Part 1 We could discuss any number of chiropractic words, but the big one I want to mention here is the word "subluxation" which chiropractors use in two ways. (Note: these are my own descriptions based as accurately as I can on the historical use of the terms. These definitions are not complete but are open for discussion with other chiropractors, whom may or may not fully agree … and that's okay!)

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  • Subluxation: 1 The mechanical misalignment of a joint, which in turn affects the nervous system and disrupts normal physiological function.

This definition is the way that chiropractors generally use the term. To contrast, a "misalignment" is a joint also not properly aligned, but not one that negatively affects the nervous system. Often, "misalignments" are mechanical compensations for genuine "subluxations."  While misalignments may still "click" if they are thrust upon with a chiropractic adjustment, they seldom hold for prolonged periods, but continuously re-appear because the cause of their existence (e.g., the primary subluxation is still present).

In the medical world, there is no distinction between a misalignment and a chiropractic subluxation. Moreover, they do not examine the spine in the same way as a chiropractor does. Therefore, for a chiropractor to allow a medical physician to define a chiropractic term (and scope of practice) can be likened to allowing the inmates to run an asylum. Subluxations do exist, and they can be demonstrated empirically and objectively IF/when you use the tools to do so.

Subluxation - Part 2 The confusing part for many chiropractic students is that chiropractors use the word "subluxation" in a second way:

  • Subluxation: 2 A state of being subluxated.

So what's the definition of "subluxated?"

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  • Subluxated: A state of neurophysiological incoordination, whereby the body's normal functions (homeostasis) continue to operate, but at a less than optimal level.

So in a chiropractic sense, we could say that "a subluxation (the misalignment) causes a person to be subluxated (the state of reduced health)." Or to make it a bit harder, "the cause of subluxation is subluxation." I think that it is this kind of statement that so confused chiropractic students to the point that they question is a subluxation is even real.

However, if you see that we are using the same word with two different meanings, it clarifies things a bit. I can go on-and-on about this topic, but I think that will be a good point to stop. In short, "subluxation" in the chiropractic sense refers to two related but distinct concepts. Moreover, it is in part but not 100% the same as the way that the medical community use the term. And that's the way I hope it continues to be.

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