How do you do a chiropractic self-adjustment?
Let me ask you an odd question: can a cardiologist do their own open-heart surgery?
The obvious answer is “No.” And it’s the same answer with doing a chiropractic adjustment on your own. You can’t do it… plus it’s a bad idea in the first place.
Of course, you can also “crack” your own neck or back (which is a horrible thing to do, by the way!). But just because it makes noise does not mean that you fixed the actual problem.
Even a chiropractor or neck specialist with all kinds of advanced degrees and years of expertise can’t adjust their own neck or back.
You can exercise, you can stretch and you can strengthen all on your own.
It has to do with what an adjustment is, what it is not … and also why it is NOT the same thing as exercise or physiotherapy either.
Many times, when people experience neck pain, shoulder pain, vertigo, low back pain, fibromyalgia, or other body problems that the solution is seeing a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. Like they basically do the same thing, but different ways.
But if you have a physiotherapy problem, you need to see a physiotherapist … NOT a chiropractor.
And if you have a chiropractic problem, you need to see chiropractic … NOT a physiotherapist.
So what is the difference? And what does this have to do with not being able to do your own chiropractic adjustment?
That is what I hope you answer to you in this article.
The difference between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor
(Note: You will get a few opinions if you ask different physiotherapists or chiropractors about the differences between them. Indeed, there are a few areas of overlap. Nevertheless, I am coming from a historical perspective from where each profession shines purest and brightest in its original form).
Physiotherapy, aka physical therapy, focuses on the rehabilitation and prevention of physical injuries. Its origins trace back to nurses and specialized practitioners in Europe, who assisted post-surgical patients that required physical exercise and movement to restore normal function.
Physiotherapy encompasses a variety of manual rehabilitation methods including physical exercise (strengthening and stretching), stimulation, and inhibition (e.g., ultrasound) and also certain forms of traditional manipulation (not unlike methods used by traditional osteopaths).
In brief, the focus of physiotherapy is on the rehabilitation of muscles and ligaments.
Chiropractic focuses on the function of the spine and its impact on the nerve system. The nerve system (i.e., brain and spinal cord) is essentially the electrical control system that allows the body to work.
Chiropractic’s origins trace back to the late 19th century in the USA to practitioners, who specialized in a specific type of spinal manipulation for the purpose of restoring health by restoring normal nerve communication between the brain and body.
This type of manipulation, which is now known as an “adjustment,” contrasts with generic mobilization in its specific direction, degree, and application.
Typically, the people who responded best to these chiropractic adjustments were the “medical failures:” i.e., the people who had tried all the standard medical approaches of the day first, but without success.
In brief, the focus of chiropractic is on the normal function of the spine and nerve system.
… How fascinating it is that both physiotherapy and chiropractic are now regarded as treatments for neck pain, back pain, vertigo, dizziness, shoulder pain, and the like when both of their origins provide an ability to help people achieve so much greater things in life!
Not so say that helping people overcame pain is not important, but what it means for a person to actually enjoy a greater quality of life, so much of that vision has since been lost where practitioners are not seen as mere technicians.
When do I need a physiotherapist or a chiropractor?
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. However, I want to give you a really good rule of thumb to help explain when you need a physiotherapist or a chiropractor.
Let’s look at it in terms of the degree and nature of physical injuries. First, let’s say that you tripped while taking your dog for a walk, and the only thing that you did was bruise your elbow. Would you rush to the doctor? Unless you had other signs or symptoms, probably not.
Why? Because your body is normally capable of healing itself!
Keep that very important thought in mind.
However, let’s now say that you tripped, landed on your forearm, and felt the thing snap in two. The same mechanism of injury (i.e., a fall), but a completely different consequence … and one that requires an immediate visit to the emergency room and/or orthopaedist.
Now, think about this one before you answer: if you break your arm but do not get it cast, will it still heal?
The answer is yes, it will still heal! The problem may be that it does not heal the right way, and the result of that could cause significant disability.
So, somewhere between a little bruise and broken bones are a wide variety of different injuries that may require different therapies. From least to most invasive, let’s see how we do:
- Sore muscles (aka bruise) - (Probably no treatment required)
- Sprain/strains (incl repetitive injuries) - Massage Therapist
- Partial Muscle tear - Physiotherapist
- Joint Misalignment that the body can fix on its own - Physiotherapist/Osteopath
- Joint Misalignment that the body cannot fix on its own - Chiropractor
- Fracture, Dislocation or Full Muscle Tear - Surgeon
So pay attention that there is a difference between the physiotherapist and chiropractor when it comes to muscle and joint conditions:
A physiotherapist will prescribe stretching and strengthening activities that you are able to do yourself to enable your body to self-heal, the way that it is supposed to.
BUT WHAT IF, DESPITE YOUR BEST EFFORTS, THINGS ARE JUST NOT QUITE HEALING THE WAY THAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO?
In that case, it suggests that there is something that is getting in the way of your body being able to do what it is supposed to, in which case it may be necessary to up the ante.
The purpose of chiropractic then is to deal with those types of problems that could affect your body’s ability to heal and then to provide a precise correction or “adjustment” in order to restore that normal function.
So what does that mean in practical terms?
In my opinion, what it means is that if you do all the things that you are supposed to, including physiotherapy, stretching, and strengthening, but things are still not improving, it could be because you need to see the chiropractor FIRST … THEN go back and do the physiotherapy work. And odds are, THEN it will work the way that it is supposed to.
So you see, despite the common belief that physiotherapy and chiropractic are at odds with each other, the reality is that the two are complements of each other!
Why you can’t self adjust your own neck
What I recommend people do before seeing the chiropractor is to try doing exercises on your own.
Stretch the muscles. Strengthen the muscles. It doesn’t cost you anything!
However, if the problem persists without substantial improvement beyond a few days, then odds are that there’s something stuck that needs a little more precise application to get it unjammed.
And that is the key point of difference with a chiropractor and why even a chiropractor or neck specialist can’t adjust their own neck or back.
If the joints in your spine get jammed at just the wrong angle, even a few millimeters, despite your best efforts, the muscles can’t quite pull them back on their own. As a result, it takes an external application to get them unstuck.
Part of the reason has to do with what is called “muscle spindles.” Muscle spindles are nerve sensors in muscle bellies that contract when stretched or consciously activated. Their purpose is to protect joints against injury.
So if/when you consciously stretch or strengthen your neck -or even try to self-manipulate your neck - the fact that you know what you are trying to do causes these nerve receptors to fire. The result is that the muscles in your neck lockdown, and prohibit movement in the very place that you are trying to move.
So hat happens instead is that all the force of the stretch of self-manipulation goes into the adjacent areas in your neck. So even if you do feel a “crack” or release, odds are it was not the right one that released.
And yes, it might feel good or even looser for a little while. However, because the underlying problem is still there, the whole thing tightens back up again shortly thereafter for the cycle to repeat itself.
A chiropractor is not different. Even if they know the exact angle and degree of misalignment, the second they would attempt to chiropractic self adjust their own neck, those muscles would tighten and thwart their best efforts.
It is one of the reasons why chiropractors too need to see other chiropractors for their own personal care.
What to do if you feel you need to chiropractic self adjust your own neck
First, don’t do it.
Cracking your own neck is never a good idea. It is the reason that it is a licensed profession that takes years of doctorate or specialist study. Odds are that only cause more harm than good if you try to self adjust your own neck.
In the same breath, the reason you feel it is necessary is that you have that intuitive sense that there is something there that is stuck and needs to move.
So, step #1 is to try some basic stretched to see if moving your neck is able to unjam the problem on its own. You may be able to do this on your own or with the assistance of a professional physiotherapist. Remember, your body is designed to heal itself!
Now, if you do the stretches but that doesn’t fix the problem, then odds are that your body may need just a little more help. Here is where a special division known as upper cervical chiropractic may be able to help.
An upper cervical chiropractor is a chiropractic doctor who has completed additional advanced certifications in the role of the upper neck and nerve system.
Unlike general manipulation, an upper cervical chiropractor performs a series of assessments including specialized x-rays that show the exact direction and degree of any misalignments in your neck so that the issue can be addressed as precisely, gently, and safely as possible.
Furthermore, the procedure can usually be accomplished without the need to use spinal manipulation. In other words, there is no twisting, popping, or cracking the neck with an upper cervical specific correction.
At Atlas Health, we are the premier upper cervical healthcare center in Brisbane. We believe in the innate potential for every human being to be well. Our focus is on providing hope for people who have been dealing with health issues - who have been everywhere else without answers - to help them find long term solutions to enjoy the life that they desire.
To find out if upper cervical care may be right for you, we would like to invite you for a complimentary 15-minute over-the-phone consultation with our principal chiropractic doctor to discuss your condition and answer any question you may have.
Simply call our office at 07 3188 9329 to schedule a consultation. Alternatively, you can click the Contact Us, and one of our staff will reply to your email as soon as possible.
Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”