Ask the Chiro: Three Reasons to Re-Think Self-Adjusting.

As one of the blog series I want to begin, I will be opening up a Q&A for the services I provide and the thoughts and reasoning behind them. To begin we will start off with some of the most common questions I am asked. I hope to spark conversation and look forward to answering each of your questions.

I pop myself all the time. Why do I need you?

Most everyone self-adjusts themselves. Depending on the location you are self-adjusting, there may not be an issue with it at all. Many are familiar with laying on a foam roller and having a few “freebies” cavitate. Personally, I’m all for that. For one, this affirms to the person that adjustments of the spine are beneficial to them. This is also the easiest location for most people to self-adjust safely and find relief in certain cases. Sometimes a problem is as simple as needing a little pressure and then getting a release. That being said, there are vast differences between adjusting yourself and being adjusted by a properly trained physician that may make you reconsider the next time you go to push on your chin until something goes.

1. You are not able to relax while self-adjusting.

One of the biggest factors in the success of trying to restore proper motion to a specific segment is that an adjustment requires you to be completely relaxed. Contrary to popular belief from the hundreds of times we have seen our favorite hollywood hero snap someone’s neck, the amount of guarding that muscle is capable of to keep the joints it controls from dislocating or fracturing are only surmountable by a handful of situations (car wrecks, falls, diving into a pool, etc). In the same context, a patient who is not relaxed makes it challenging, if not impossible to adjust the segments involved. To make matters worse, a fixated segment is almost always accompanied with increased muscle spasm and tension. This is a protective mechanism, as just mentioned, and is usually involuntary. So imagine someone trying to relax while at the same time inducing movement with either their hands or body to get themselves to adjust. It would be very difficult for the muscles guarding at the fixated segment to relax enough to restore proper motion.


Cervical - Jen
Relaxation is key!


2. You may not be adjusting the segment that needs to move.

The human body is essentially a multi-operational system with a Type A personality. By that I mean that it is so focused on maintaining the ability to perform particular tasks that it will adapt (or more accurately sacrifice) a function of lesser importance for one of greater importance. Let’s take muscle and joint interactions in the spine for an example of this sacrifice.

The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae. Each vertebra in the spine articulates with the one above and below it to form a joint. Each joint has a specific range of motion that it accomplishes at an individual or segmental level that is dependent on its region in the spine. Each of these individual joints work together to achieve a global range of motion. This global range of motion allows us to stabilize and move to accomplish a given task. In the discussion of global vs. local movement, the body is more focused on global range of motion in the spine as opposed to specific segmental range of motion. If there is an instance in which one joint becomes over irritated or fixated (this could be from bad posture, sleeping wrong, incorrectly stabilizing on a squat in the gym, etc.), the body will adapt by changing its motor patterns to lock down the segment that is not moving correctly and inducing increased motion at a segment above or below the fixated one. This leads to a state of local increased motion (hyper-mobile) in this segment and decreased motion (hypo-mobility) in the fixated segment.

IF this fixation is present long enough, the ensuing increase in muscle spasm and inflammation can cause the person to experience pain and look towards self-adjusting to fix the problem. Self-adjusting, which is typically twisting or applying pressure globally to the spine, is more likely to cause the hyper-mobile segment to move rather than the fixated one because it is again a globally applied force and is not specific to one segment vs. another. This means that the cavitation or popping felt when self-adjusting is probably going to be the hyper-mobile segment(s) rather than the one which is fixated as it again is being programmed in this dysfunctional state to accept more motion anyways.

3. You are reinforcing a faulty movement pattern

Building on the point made above, when an adjustment is made on the incorrect joint (i.e. the hyper-mobile joint vs. the fixated joint), the result will be that the hyper-mobile joint becomes more hyper-mobile, while the fixated joint continues to move incorrectly. A good sign that this is occurring is the sensation of relief after self-adjusting that is only temporary. This is followed by the return of the same tightness and pain from before and is why some feel to the need to self-adjust themselves multiple times a day. The trade off for short term relief is that as a person continually reinforces these patterns, more and more abnormal stress will be placed on the involved joints. This can lead to early wear on the joints (osteoarthritis), disc related injury, or soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament) related injury. Also, when a dysfunctional pattern is reinforced over a long enough period of time, the body begins to accept it as the new “normal” way of moving. When the problem is actually addressed, this faulty motor pattern must be overridden to avoid a relapse. This is why addressing the problem early on will lead to a better, less complicated outcome.

The concept to be learned here is not necessarily that you are causing direct harm by the act of self-adjusting, but that you are more likely reinforcing an improper compensatory pattern without addressing the root cause. By having a chiropractor who is trained to identify these signs of a fixated segment (pain, inflammation, local muscle spasm, lack of motion, etc.) adjust you, the cycle of hyper- and hypo-mobility can be broken and you can return to a more normal, pain-free movement pattern.

As I said, please feel free to comment and send me any questions you may have at I will try to address each question in this blog in the order they are received.

Related Posts

1 Response

Leave a Reply