Vertebral subluxation sciatica describes symptoms that are suspected of being caused by small shifts in what is subjectively considered to be the optimal spinal bone alignment. These scenarios are also known as subluxated vertebrae.
Subluxation of the spinal bones is a very controversial topic, since it is a diagnosis made almost exclusively by chiropractic practitioners and is a theory often scorned by traditional medical providers. In fact, some of the most outspoken medical doctors say blatantly that vertebral subluxations do not exist and if they did, could never be corrected with the subtle manipulations used by chiropractors.
Meanwhile, most chiropractors cite spinal bone subluxation as one of the primary reasons to explain sciatica. In fact, most chiropractors report that subluxations are almost universally found in humans and this explains why everyone should undergo chiropractic evaluation and treatment, as part of a recommended preventative healthcare program.
Since these two ideologies seem diametrically opposed, we decided to devote this essay to exploring the possibility of sciatica being caused by the chiropractic definition of vertebral subluxation in an objective and fact-based manner.
As we have previously defined and explained throughout this website, sciatica describes symptoms that originate in the lower spine and lead to expressions in the buttocks, legs and feet of affected patients. This is the textbook definition of sciatica, as opposed to pseudo-sciatica that originates elsewhere.
Therefore, although chiropractors say that vertebral subluxation can happen anywhere in the backbone, we must focus our study on the bones between L4 and the sacrum, since the sciatic nerve is composed of the joining of 5 nerve roots originating at L4, L5, S1, S2 and S3. Being that the sacrum is one piece of bone, this only leaves 3 possibilities for vertebral subluxation to cause true sciatica.
However, most chiropractors cite that the L4 and L5 vertebral are 2 of the vertebral bones that are most often found to be subluxated upon typical exam. Additionally, some patients demonstrate subluxation of the entire sacrum from its optimal alignment.
According to widely accepted chiropractic theory, any abnormal movement of the vertebral bones from their intended placement can impinge on nerves, decreasing functionality and possibly causing nasty symptoms, such as sciatica, to result.
In fact, depending on the exact manner in which the spinal bone is deemed to be out of alignment, the vertebra might be blamed for causing single level nerve involvement by encroaching on the foraminal opening, or multiple nerve root compression by misaligning and narrowing the central canal, thereby influencing the many nerves of the cauda equina structure.
Most medical doctors use the term subluxation to describe large and noticeable vertebral movements that are obviously visualized on x-ray imaging after acute trauma. Some doctors use the term dislocation to denote the same diagnosis and refrain from using the word subluxation at all, due to its chiropractic connotations.
The majority of medical physicians do not subscribe to the idea that the vertebral bones have an ideal alignment, nor that tiny discrepancies from this subjective ideal placement will cause any negative effects. Furthermore, citing basic physics, these same physicians tell that the force of a chiropractic adjustment could never change the position of a vertebral bone, even if it were “subluxated”. Some go on to tell that if enough force was utilized to change the positioning of a vertebra, grievous injury would result.
Physicians tend to focus their idea of spinal causation of sciatica on more easily and objectively diagnosed conditions, such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, atypical spinal curvatures and gross misalignments of the lumbar region, such as spondylolisthesis. However, facts show that these many spinal abnormalities are generally asymptomatic and blameless upon objective correlation of symptoms to suspected causation. The idea of chiropractic subluxation does not exist in traditional medical practice, which is ironic, since many medical doctors visit chiropractors for their own back pain and sciatica, despite not actually believing in the mechanics of treatment!
We tend to stay out of the fighting between healing arts and concentrate on providing research, education and advocacy for patients. We really do not care if either chiropractors or medical doctors are “more correct” when it comes to their view on subluxations potentially causing sciatica or being non-factors. What we do care about is that their treatment efforts may help people to recover and so it is our job to report the facts and allow patients to make up their own minds about the best therapy for their needs. To this end, we propose the following suggestions:
Do your own research. Believe what makes sense to you. Even if a treatment is truly worthless from a scientific-point of view (and many, many are…), if you believe in its efficacy, it can work well for you, just by the proven power of suggestion and placebo. This is medical fact.
Chiropractic is holistic and generally safe, although it is still considered almost universally to be symptomatic care for pain. The best chiropractors circumvent this argument altogether by telling that chiropractic should not be used to treat pain, but instead should be utilized to optimize overall health. Chiropractic does not involve the use of drugs, injections or surgical barbarism, which gives it positive bonus points in our book.
However, all is not perfect when it comes to the theory of vertebral subluxation and its supposed horrific consequences either. A bit of objective reading will educate any reader to the many discrepancies in chiropractic theory in relation to known anatomical facts. We make no claims on these arguments, nor take sides. We simply tell it like it is and it seems that chiropractic subluxations fall somewhere in between a verifiable and 100% real medical problem and a complete smoke and mirrors invention.
In our final thoughts, we also feel that individual circumstances can sway this argument towards one side or the other. Some people might demonstrate more vertebral movement than others, while some subluxations might be much ado about nothing at all.
We provide extensive coverage of subluxations and chiropractic treatment of all types on The Cure Back Pain Network. Feel free to use our site search or site maps to see all the results of our research work. You can learn more about vertebral subluxation and then you can decide for yourself.