Biomechanical vs Subluxation Model of Chiropractic Care: Which Are You?

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Many of us who have sought chiropractic care — either for an injury or as part of wellness care — have heard the terms ‘biomechanical’ and ‘subluxation’ used in one form or another. These words can be understood as synonyms, used to describe similar concepts or ideas.  

Within the practice of chiropractic care, there are 2 present and accepted working “theories” that explain how chiropractic works for overall health and what it can do when applied to the human framework.  In this blog I will attempt to explain the jargon associated with it; how it best describes your physical needs, which in turn determines the appropriate course of care.  For those who are “new” to chiropractic care, please check out my blog on “What to Expect from Your First Chiropractic Appointment”.

Biomechanical Model of Care:

Simply stated, ‘biomechanical’ refers to structural alignment and its functional impact upon the human framework. For example, in the case of a lower back injury from snow shoveling, the trauma to the area may affect the following parts of your body:

  • The articular joint surfaces
  • The supporting muscles
  • The connective ligaments and tendons
  • The nerves and/or blood supply

When your back is under strain, the muscles involved will often become irritated and cause spasms from localized inflammation through the vascular (blood) system.  This in turn may limit the range of motion for the joints affected and cause them to “lock”, resulting in tightness and loss of mobility to the lower back.  

If the muscle spasms are bad enough, then it can lead to further restriction, or what we term a “biomechanical fixation” within the vertebral joint segments. Left in this state over time, further inflammation has the potential to cause localized swelling of the affected joint segments and irritate spinal nerves in that area.

In some case, this may result in neurological pain at the site of injury or further away, i.e. numbness and tingling down the arm or legs (sciatica).

Subluxation Model of Care:

Subluxation is a concept used to describe how a (biomechanical) joint restriction or fixation impacts the organ systems. The impact of subluxation can be biochemical, pathological and/or pathophysiological. It is caused by direct nerve dysfunction through either irritation or impingement.

Basically, the Subluxation Model takes the Biomechanical Model and applies it to the body’s physiology.  Since every cell, organ and system is connected and controlled by the nerves, a dysfunctional ‘biomechanical’ vertebral joint segment can cause a number of localized symptoms including:

  • Irritation
  • Inflammation
  • Distress
  • Dysfunction

The subluxation may even lead to diseases in the organ(s) that are controlled by the affected nerve pathway.

The Subluxation Model takes an approach focused on holistic wellness, which is supported by research on chiropractic care—particularly its positive effects on the Autonomic Nervous System. I remember having a patient who suffered from chronic asthma and, whenever she received a chiropractic adjustment to her upper back, she felt immediate relief from the tension of her asthama .

She reported that she was able to breathe easier after the treatment! Does that mean that chiropractic care can “cure” asthma?  No, but it does help improve the symptoms associated with the condition and, in turn, provides a better quality of life for the person suffering from asthma.

The Wellness Model: The Best of Both Worlds

Co-management with the medical doctor, being up to date on current medication, addressing lifestyle changes such as diet, nutrition, stress reduction and exercise—all these elements are part of what I call the ‘Wellness Model’ of chiropractic care.

After more than 2 decades of clinical practice, I can safely say that every person young and old can potentially benefit from both models of chiropractic care—which is why I incorporate elements of each into my practice.  As the saying goes, “we are more than the sum of our individual parts”.  

I like to refer to myself as a ‘Spinal Mechanic’ who specializes in the structure and function of the human frame.  I believe that routine check-ups and a maintenance schedule will keep you running for many more years to come…after all, the most important game you’ll ever play is in the ‘game of Life’.

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