A friend of D.D.’s, Reverend Samuel Weed, will go on to coin the name “chiropractic” from the Greek meaning “to do or to make by hand.” But it was D.D. himself who introduced the world to the spinal lesion he called subluxation. And let the confusion begin.
In Dorland’s Medical Dictionary a subluxation is a joint that is out of position, but less than a luxation (or less than a dislocation). So a subluxation is an incomplete dislocation. That fit with the early ideas of D.D. and his students and colleagues, but not with later scientific discoveries. In the 70’s we began to understand that in the vast majority of cases, the chiropractic subluxation was not a bone out of place pressing on a nerve. It was something much more complex. In fact, only in a very few cases is the alignment of the bone important.
In the vast majority of cases the spinal and extraspinal lesions that we chiropractors adjust is a joint or joints that have lost their mobility. They have been damaged by injury, by repetitive trauma, by posture, and by gravity. They are in perfectly good alignment but the damage has resulted in inflammation which has resulted in scar tissue, which has glued and tied up the joints so they can’t do their job any longer. And this leads to three consequences.
1) Pain – When the dysfunction is high enough it hurts, sometimes unbearably. More health care dollars are spent chasing this down than any other medical condition, by far.
2) Degeneration – A joint that has lost its mobility will begin to wear out in just 2 weeks, at the microscopic level. Left unfixed, the cartilage will eventually wear out. This is the single largest cause of disability in the world.
3) Disease – Your entire health is determined by how well your nervous system communicates with all your parts. If you damage this system, parts will begin to break down because they cannot keep up with metabolic demands. Any and every disease can have a spinal cause or partial component.
So perhaps D.D. got the name wrong, but when it comes to the cause of pain, disability, and disease, he was exactly correct. Subluxation is absolutely the single largest cause of pain and disability, and a large component of disease. My profession discusses changing the name all the time, but as incorrect as subluxation is, we just can’t think of a better one. Got any ideas?