What does an animal chiropractor do?
Updated: Sep 1
Many people ask me, "How does an adjustment even work?" To an untrained eye, it looks like I wrestle your animal, mash around on a few spots, charge you money, and then continue on my way. However, adjusting is an art that requires many years of practice (kind of like bowling, golf, riding a bike, etc.)
I have been adjusting spines of all sizes (humans and animals) for many years. For that reason, I am intimately aware of how different spines work as well as their similarities and their differences. For the most part, joints function the same in all vertebrates, but there are a few key differences when caring for different species.
Today I am going to outline:
A. What is happening in the joint during an adjustment and do pets pop like people?
B. How does an adjustment affect structure?
C. How are the brain and the spine connected?
D. Why adjustments? What does an adjustment do?
What happens in the joint / do pets pop like people?
Depending what joint you are adjusting, the bones are held together by a mixture of rubbery and dense fibrous structures called tendons and ligaments. Most joints that get adjusted are synovial, which means that they have a web of ligaments around the junction of two bones (called a joint capsule) and within that capsule is full of lubricating jelly (called synovial fluid.)
Think of joints in the body like your knuckles. When you move two bones apart, or rapidly separate a joint (ex: popping your knuckles), it creates an air bubble in synovial fluid due to the pressure change. This creates a loud noise known as the cavitation.
Many humans experience cavitations during their adjustments. The reason for this is we walk upright against gravity. Gravity acts on our spine in a "stacking" nature. Throughout the day, we fight gravity as our bones creep closer and closer together. This "jams" things together. So, when you get adjusted, the joints open with a LOT of built up pressure.
However, in animals, gravity acts on the spine in a "sliding" nature. Unless the joints are load bearing (like the shoulders, hips, knees, toes, etc) the cavitation often does NOT happen. There is usually a POOF instead of a POP! Many people think it is the POP that makes an adjustment "effective" but the goal of an adjustment is to restore proper motion and alignment, not to make noise.
How does an adjustment affect structure?
When considering structure, many people subscribe to a biomechanical model AKA alignment theory. In the spine, proper form will lend to proper function.
Just like the alignment of your tires or the alignment of your teeth, it is important to take care of the things we use everyday. In this model, improper alignment will cause premature break down. Premature break down causes degenerative disorders to begin (such as arthritis.)
Adjustments have been shown to change how the body moves and, in certain cases, change our structure. Adjustments gaps the joints and will break the body of chronic improper motion via freeing up the joints and removing spasms / adhesions in the surrounding musculature.
If you use something everyday, it makes sense that it will show wear in direct correlation to how it was used. Therefore, it is important to correct improper structure to optimize function and longevity. Think of tread on a tire: it is far easier to maintain what you have rather than gain back what is already lost.
[[When it comes to people, other factors help tremendously, too: like better daily posture, removing certain everyday stressors (like sitting at a desk/looking down at a cellphone all day), and adding the right exercises / stretches.]]
How the brain and spine are connected?
Every living animal with a spine has a brain and spinal cord. So, just like every computer, the brain is like the main frame: it is the command center where everything connects. The spinal cord / nerves that connect to the brain are like wires: they connect to the keyboard, the mouse, the external hard drive, etc. Electricity AKA nerve signals rely on this connection of wires to main frame in order to carry out proper function. If this connection is lost, so is the function of whatever that wire connected to.
An adjustment connects the brain and the body.
When the bones of the spine get stuck in improper alignment or aren't moving properly, it causes loss of stimulation of that nerve at that level. Then, the brain cannot control that part of the body (and what connects to it) because the nerves are not communicating correctly. It's like trying to type on a keyboard that isn't plugged in or trying to talk on a cellphone with no service. You need connection in order for the system to work.
If this connection is restricted or disrupted, the body will adapt, but only up until a certain point. After that, it will lead to many of the symptoms and diseases we, and our pets, experience everyday: tight muscles, joint pain, arthritis, organ dysfunction, etc.
Why adjustments? What does an adjustment do?
This section is going to be just a little bit technical. So, bear with me! Adjustments are SO IMPORTANT because the effects they have are multifactoral.
Based upon a recent human research study [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30142458 ], adjustments are effective through the following mechanisms:
1. Biomechanical changes (via joint gapping) causes improved motion
When you open up a joint/correct the alignment, you free up its motion. This will cause it to move better which, long term, will help to correct alignment, prevent premature wear down, and ward of degeneration. In this particular study, subjects improved in all 3 measured ranges of motion post adjustment.
2. Psychological relaxation due to touch/energy exchange
Physical touch and a calming demeanor aids in healing and relaxation. That is why babies like to be held and people feel relaxed around certain family members. With adjustments, there is a hands on component that comes into play with the psychological element of recovery.
3. Inhibition of nociceptive tracts through pain gating
When it comes to nerves, we have several different types. You have motor nerves, autonomic nerves, and sensory nerves. These different types of nerves travel in bundles called tracts. Some tracts are bigger than others.
Motor nerves: control your MOTION and MUSCLES
Autonomic nerves: control AUTOMATIC things you don't think about
Sensory nerves: control your SENSES (pain, touch, temperature)
I love these two pictures because they show the sizes of these nerve types and tracts. The top picture depicts why I say pain is NOT a good indicator of the need for an adjustment. (This is because the sensory nerves make up such a small percentage in comparison to the motor nerves.)
In this bottom picture, the BLUE and RED are motor nerve tracts and the GREEN are sensory tracts. Notice how the green is 1/2 of the size of the other two combined.
So, the GREEN tracts are your pet's sense of pain and the BLUE and RED tracts are your pet's balance, reflexes, ability to control muscles, and a whole host of other important things. The more one tract is firing, the less energy available for the other tracts to work.
So, here's how it works: adjustments TURN ON all of the BLUE and RED tracts and TURN OFF the GREEN.
In doctor lingo: this is inhibition / pain gating of ascending nociceptive pathways.
In normal person talk: this is TURNS OFF the body's ability to feel pain (at least temporarily).
4. Reflexive muscle changes (relaxation) due to the muscle spindle reflex
Muscle fibers have tiny string like receptors called muscle spindles. They sense and limit stretch in muscles. If a muscle is dangerously close to overstretching, a muscle spindle will cause muscles to re-actively contract and guard.
If a muscle fiber is stretched quickly and with enough force, it will cause confusion and sudden relaxation. This can aid in breaking myofascial adhesion, spasms, and abnormal muscle tone. (I liken this to slapping someone who is hysterical.)
I want to let you know you came to the right place for integrative and holistic therapies for your pet!
We are certified by the AVCA which is a top notch and rigorous certification program of 200+ hours class time followed by a written and practical board exam. We take 10 yearly hours of continuing education because we value knowing the most in order to provide the best.
When choosing adjustments for your pet, choose someone licensed, trained, and certified.