The Chiropractic Subluxation

If you have ever seen a chiropractor, chances are that you have heard the word ‘subluxation’, or that the chiropractor talked to you about ‘subluxated joints’. This isn’t a word that you’ll hear out on the playground, at work, or in the grocery store – unless people are discussing chiropractic, and it has a very specific meaning within chiropractic. So let’s unpack it a little, so that you understand exactly what it means and how it relates to your health.

So what is a subluxation?

The simplest explanation for the term ‘subluxated’ or ‘subluxation’ is to describe a joint that is not moving optimally. Most joints in the human body are designed for movement. The degree of movement varies depending on many factors such as age and the specific joint in question (for example, your knee joint is designed for more motion than the joints in your pelvis). If a chiropractor examines you and finds joints that have lost their optimal kinaesthetic (movement) patterns, they may say that the joint is “subluxated”. Or they may use words that convey a similar meaning relating specifically to the biomechanic changes such as “fixated”, “stuck” or “restricted”. However, as the New Zealand Chiropractic Association notes, “these synonyms are overly mechanical and fall short of describing the true nature, complexity and global health implications of the vertebral subluxation.


So a subluxation is just about a joint?

Although the principal finding that is most often thought of and spoken of when talking of subluxations relates to a joint that has lost its normal motion pattern, there are four other features that accompany this clinical finding which impact health and function. These collective 5 findings are referred to as a ‘complex’, as they often present together,  or as a consequence of one another. Indeed, ‘vertebral subluxation complex’ is a recognized diagnostic term according to the ICD 10.


The 5 features of the Vertebral Subluxation Complex

The first feature of the vertebral subluxation complex is the altered mechanics of the joint itself  (described in the sections above). When specifically referring to spinal joints, this is properly referred to as spinal kinesiopathology.

The second feature is neuropathology / neuropathophysiology and refers to the changes in how nerve tissue functions when a subluxation is present. Sometimes it can become facilitated (meaning the activity of the nerve increases), or sometimes it can become depressed (decreased activity). Other times it can become irritated and inflamed (often translating to pain sensations).

Myopathology – problems with the muscle at the site of a subluxation such as spasm, tightness, or weakness occur. Sometimes the problem with the muscle precedes the loss of motion at the joint, and sometimes the problem with the muscle is in response to the loss of motion at the joint.

The changes that happen on a deeper cellular level, including edema and inflammation are referred to as histopathology. Again, these can impact and contribute to the perception of pain at the area.

The last component, pathology / pathophysiology often is the result of the first four features combined. If left alone and uncorrected, over time pathological changes can develop such as fibrosis and scarring, affecting not only the motion of the original subluxated joint(s), but also joints adjacent to the area.


In a nutshell…

A subluxation is a loss of normal joint motion, impacting most, if not all, surround structures. The combination of these changes detract from how healthy you feel and how well you function.


What causes a subluxation?

Many events and stresses can directly cause or promote subluxations including but not limited to:

  • Physical stresses, such as poor posture and ergonomics
  • Birth trauma
  • Repetitive activities
  • Sports and injuries
  • Lifting and carrying children / babies
  • Chemical causes (such as increased relaxin in pregnancy)
  • Emotional causes (such as stress which alters tissue tone)


How is a subluxation fixed?

The best way to detect and remedy subluxated joints is to see a chiropractor. Chiropractors spend four years of rigorous study learning to detect and remedy, typically via adjustments, the altered mechanics of a subluxated joint. Although there are many different styles of adjusting to fix a subluxation, no one method or style is superior, and you should pick a method which resonates and feels good for you. Honest communication with your chiropractor can be immensely useful in this regard. Additionally, some chiropractors also use other techniques such as soft tissue work or nutritional support to help the body heal the other features that accompany a subluxation.


If you would like to learn more about how chiropractic can enhance your well-being and optimize your health, reach out to Dr. Alyssa and book a complimentary meet & greet.



Flesia, JM. 1992. The Vertebral Subluxation Complex Part I – An Integrative Perspective. ICA International Review of Chiropractic. March: 25-27. Accessed at: on Feb 11 2019.

Gatterman M. 1992. The Vertebral Subluxation Syndrome: Is a Rose By Another Name Less Thorny? Jour of CCA. 6: 2 (102-104). Accessed at: on Feb 11, 2019.

Kent, C. 1996. Models of Vertebral Subluxation – A Review. Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research. 1(1): 1-6. Accessed at: on Feb 11 2019.

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