Exploring the Techniques Chiropractors Use to Treat Patients

Chiropractors use a variety of hands-on treatment methods. These include palpation which involves feeling the spine and muscles for areas of tightness or restriction. Manual muscle testing helps chiropractors determine how well specific muscles work by comparing their response to different pressure applied to the muscles.

This survey compares how often graduate chiropractors use certain technique systems to treat common spinal musculoskeletal conditions.

1. Spinal Manipulation

Spinal manipulation, also known as manual therapy, involves moving and jolting joints to relieve pressure on nerves, muscles and ligaments. It has been used for thousands of years, with writings dating back to 2700 B.C. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates promoted manipulative techniques and wrote of their successes with neck pain.

Spinal manipulative therapy has been shown in multiple studies to decrease pain, increase movement and flexibility and improve posture. Studies also show that spinal manipulation can be helpful for patients with a wide variety of conditions including lower back pain, sciatica, arthritis, herniated discs and headaches.

In spinal manipulation, a practitioner uses their hands to apply a sudden force to a joint near the end of its passive range of motion, causing a cracking sound similar to the popping noise you might hear when you crack your knuckles. In some cases, practitioners will use an activator instrument to perform the spinal manipulation. The technique is also known as spinal mobilization or hands-on treatment and can be performed by  chiropractor Essendon, osteopaths and some physical therapists.

2. Spinal Traction

The spinal traction technique involves stretching the spine and muscles. This type of treatment can alleviate neck and back pain and improve posture. It can also reduce weakness, inflammation, numbness, and tingling in the extremities.

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While most people associate spinal manipulation with chiropractic, it is a common treatment among physical therapists and osteopathic physicians as well. This is because traction can help with a wide variety of pain conditions, including sciatica.

Activator Method

Developed by chiropractors, the Activator Method is a hand-held spring-loaded device that delivers a quick impulse to spinal joints. The speed of the impulse prevents the patient’s muscle from tensing in response to treatment, which is a common reaction with many manual manipulation techniques.

Experiential and/or spinal traction are used to address joint fixation in joints outside the spine, such as the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle. During this technique, the chiropractor may use a weight to provide force. Generally, the weight is started low and increased over time. It is believed that traction helps with alignment of the joint and allows for the release of trapped air/gas.

3. Flexion Distraction

This form of therapy manipulates your spinal discs, which are located between the bones of your spine. Without these spongy discs, your vertebrae would rub against each other causing pain and stiffness. Flexion distraction helps reduce intradiscal pressure by gently stretching the spine to separate the vertebrae and allows the spongy discs to return to their healthy state.

The chiropractor uses a segmented table known as the Leander Table to perform the manipulations on your back. The table moves as the chiropractor adjusts and manipulates your spine.

Flexion Distraction is a safe and effective treatment for low back pain, herniated or bulging discs and for stenosis in the spine. It also increases spinal motion and restores function in the spinal joints. It is not a painful procedure and patients often feel immediate relief.

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This technique combines several techniques, including traction. It creates negative pressure in the space that pulls the herniated or bulging disc back into the spine, maintaining healthy discs through imbibition. It has a robust body of research that includes federally funded biomechanical studies and high-level randomized clinical trials.

4. Cox Flexion Distraction

Spinal misalignments, like herniated discs, spinal stenosis and degenerative spine conditions can cause pain and discomfort. Structural issues in the spine can also affect nerve function and lead to numbness, tingling or weakness. This can impact your quality of life and cause severe problems if left untreated.

Cox Flexion Distraction is a technique that uses a specially designed treatment table to gently stretch the lower spine. This stretches the spine and increases space between the vertebrae, decompressing the spine and decreasing pressure on the discs, which in turn can decrease nerve compression and pain.

With the patient lying face down on the Cox treatment table, the doctor will place a hand above the affected spine segment to stabilize the spine. The chiropractor then slowly lowers the lower half of the table, producing a suctioning effect in the spine which relieves the herniated or bulging disc, reduces stenosis and takes pressure off of the nerve. This is a gentle and effective treatment for spinal injuries such as disc herniations, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, facet syndrome and more.

5. Drop Table

Also called Cox Technique or decompression manipulation, this method is used to treat conditions related to the lumbar spine. This adjustment doesn’t require much force, and it helps take pressure off injured spinal nerves, herniated discs, scoliosis, and facet joint pain.

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Drop table technique, which is also known as Thompson terminal point, involves specialized treatment tables that have padded sections that can be cocked up a fraction of an inch and then dropped when the chiropractor applies a quick force to the patient’s body. This assists the thrust and enables chiropractors to get both hands on the patient during the spinal examination.

This method is particularly effective in treating conditions like sacroiliac joint dysfunction, as it enables the chiropractor to adjust the pelvic bones while the patient is in a seated position. It is also beneficial for patients who are wary of hands-on diversified adjustments, or who have limited range of motion in their neck or lower back.