Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation
By Mark Studin
William J. Owens
Citation: Studin M., Owens W. (2018) Vertebral Subluxation Complex, American Chiropractor, 40 (7) 12, 14-16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26-27
A report on the scientific literature
Chiropractic was discovered in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer and further developed by his son, Bartlett James Palmer. Together, they helped coin the phrase “vertebral subluxation,” yet to date, there has been little evidence of it in the literature. When we consider neuro-biomechanical pathological lesions that will degenerate (please refer to Wolff’s Law) based upon homeostatic mechanisms in the human body we will better understand and be able to define the chiropractic vertebral subluxation and more specifically, the chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex (VSC). In addition, the literature has provided us with a vast amount of evidence on both the biomechanical dysfunction of the spine as well as the neurological consequence as sequelae to that biomechanical dysfunction.
Despite over a century of reported and literature-based clinical results, detractors both outside and inside the chiropractic profession argue to limit the scope of these spinal lesions because the literature has not yet caught up to the results. Additionally, the lack of contemporary literature has been reflected in “underperforming” chiropractic utilization in the United States for conditions that have been well-documented as responding successfully in outcome studies with chiropractic care.
Murphy, Justice, Paskowski, Perle and Schneider (2011) reported:
Spine-related disorders (SRDs) are among the most common, costly and disabling problems in Western society. For the purpose of this commentary, we define SRDs as the group of conditions that include back pain, neck pain, many types of headache, radiculopathy, and other symptoms directly related to the spine. Virtually 100% of the population is affected by this group of disorders at some time in life. Low back pain (LBP) in the adult population is estimated to have a point prevalence of 28%-37%, a 1-year prevalence of 76% and a lifetime prevalence of 85%. Up to 85% of these individuals seek care from some type of health professional. Two-thirds of adults will experience neck pain some time in their lives, with 22% having neck pain at any given point in time.
The burden of SRDs on individuals and society is huge. Direct costs in the United States (US) are US$102 billion annually and $14 billion in lost wages were estimated for the years 2002-4. (p. 1)
In 2017, based upon Alioth Education, dollars adjusted for inflation equates to $18,141, 895,182.64 in direct costs for spinal-related conditions that fall within the chiropractic treatment category and have proven to outperform other forms of care. When considering outcome assessments for efficacy of chiropractic in a population-based study, both Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) and Blanchette, Rivard, Dionne, Hogg-Johnson, and Steenstra (2017) offered evidence that the results are rooted in a “first healthcare provider” or “primary spine care” solution.
Cifuentes et al. (2011) compared different treatments of recurrent or chronic low back pain. They considered any condition recurrent or chronic if there was a recurrent disability episode after a 15-day absence and return to disability. Anyone with less than a 15-day absence of disability was excluded from the study. Please note that we kept disability outcomes for all reported treatment and did not limit this to physical therapy. However, the statistic for physical therapy was significant.
According to the Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) study, chiropractic care during the disability episode resulted in:
Cifuentes et al. (2011) started by stating, “Given that chiropractors are proponents of health maintenance care...patients with work-related LBP [low back pain] who are treated by chiropractors would have a lower risk of recurrent disability because that specific approach would be used” (p. 396). The authors concluded by stating, “After controlling for demographic factors and multiple severity indicators, patients suffering nonspecific work-related LBP who received health services mostly or only from a chiropractor had a lower risk of recurrent disability than the risk of any other provider type” (Cifuentes et al., 2011, p. 404).
Blanchette, Rivard, Dionne, Hogg-Johnson and Steenstra (2017) reported:
The type of first healthcare provider was a significant predictor of the duration of the first episode of compensation only during the first 5 months of compensation. When compared with medical doctors, chiropractors were associated with shorter durations of compensation and physiotherapists with longer ones. Physiotherapists were also associated with higher odds of a second episode of financial compensation. (p. 388)
Despite compelling evidence of chiropractic being the best option for primary spine care treatment of injuries related to disabilities and pain based upon outcomes, the reasons why chiropractic works have been elusive. Despite the lack of literature-based evidence, answers are still being sought because positive results are consistently being realized in clinical chiropractic practices. When Keating et al. (2005) wrote an opinion or debate article, they concluded, “Subluxation syndrome is a legitimate, potentially testable, theoretical construct for which there is little experimental evidence” (p. 13).
This statement is one of the most unifying statements that could serve to reduce pain and opiate utilization, prevent premature degeneration and increase bio-neuromechanical function for our society, while significantly increasing our utilization because chiropractic is part of the answer. However, the simple question is, “Why aren’t we doing this specific research because the pieces of what is considered subluxation have been verified in the literature for quite some time?”
VSC starts with spinal biomechanics and when considering a pathological model, we need to define the normal functioning of the spine.
Panjabi (2006) reported:
The spinal column, consisting of ligaments (spinal ligaments, discs annulus and facet capsules) and vertebrae, is one of the three subsystems of the spinal stabilizing system. The other two are the spinal muscles and neuromuscular control unit. The spinal column has two functions: structural and transducer. The structural function provides stiffness to the spine. The transducer function provides the information needed to precisely characterize the spinal posture, vertebral motions, spinal loads etc. to the neuromuscular control unit via innumerable mechanoreceptors present in the spinal column ligaments, facet capsules and the disc annulus. These mechanical transducers provide information to the neuromuscular control unit which helps to generate muscular spinal stability via the spinal muscle system and neuromuscular control unit. The criterion used by the neuromuscular unit is hypothesized to be the need for adequate and overall mechanical stability of the spine. If the structural function is compromised, due to injury or degeneration, then the muscular stability is increased to compensate the loss. (p. 669)
Panjabi (2003) also reported:
It has been conceptualized that the overall mechanical stability of the spinal column, especially in dynamic conditions and under heavy loads, is provided by the spinal column and the precisely coordinated surrounding muscles. As a result, the spinal stabilizing system of the spine was conceptualized by Panjabi to consist of three subsystems: spinal column providing intrinsic stability, spinal muscles, surrounding the spinal column, providing dynamic stability, and neural control unit evaluating and determining the requirements for stability and coordinating the muscle response. (p. 372)
In defining spinal clinical instability, Panjabi (1992) previously reported:
Clinical instability is defined as a significant decrease in the capacity of the stabilizing system of the spine to maintain the intervertebral neutral zones within the physiological limits so that there is no neurological dysfunction, no major deformity, and no incapacitating pain. (p. 394)
Anatomically, we are starting with the vertebrate and more specifically, the articular facets indicating that VSC is a “complex” and not a simple problem as the anatomical pathology occurs in opposing facets. When looking at normal vertebral structures,
Cervical spine meniscoids, also referred to as synovial folds or intra-articular inclusions, are folds of synovium that extend between the articular surfaces of the joints of the cervical spine. These structures have been identified within cervical zygapophyseal, lateral atlantoaxial and atlanto-occipital joints, and have been hypothesised to be of clinical significance in neck pain through their mechanical impingement or displacement, as a result of fibrotic changes, or via injury as a result of trauma to the cervical spine. (p. 939)
An understanding of the basic structure of meniscoids is necessary to assess their potential role in cervical spine pathology. As described above, cervical spine meniscoids are folds of synovium that protrude into a joint from its margins. Meniscoids lie between the articular surfaces at the ventral and dorsal poles of their enclosing joint. Their basic structure includes a base, which attaches to the joint capsule, a middle region and an apex that protrudes approximately 1–5 mm into the joint cavity. In sagittal cross section, these structures are triangular in shape, and when viewed superiorly they often appear crescent-shaped or semi-circular. Cervical spine meniscoids are thought to function to improve the congruence of articular structures, and to ensure the lubrication of articular surfaces with synovial fluid. (p. 940)
Should these synovial folds or “plicas” become trapped or “pinched” as described by Evans (2002), it would be the beginning of a “negative neurological cascade.”
Evans (2002) reported:
Intra-articular formations have been identified throughout the vertebral column. Giles and Taylor demonstrated by light and transmission electron microscopy the presence of nerve fibers (0.6 to 1 mm in diameter) coursing through synovial folds, remote from blood vessels, that were most likely nociceptive. They concluded, “Should the synovial folds become pinched between the articulating facet surfaces of the zygapophyseal joint, the small nerves demonstrated in this study may have clinical importance as a source of low back pain.” (p. 252)
Figure 1: Images of meniscoid entrapment on flexion, on attempted extension, involving flexion and gapping and realigned.
Evans (2002) explained the images above as follows:
Meniscoid entrapment. 1) On flexion, the inferior articular process of a zygapophyseal joint moves upward, taking a meniscoid with It. 2) On attempted extension, the inferior articular process returns toward its neutral position, but instead of re-entering the joint cavity, the meniscoid impacts against the edge of the articular cartilage and buckles, forming a space-occupying "lesion" under the capsule. Pain occurs as a result of capsular tension, and extension is inhibited. 3) Manipulation of the joint involving flexion and gapping, reduces the impaction and opens the joint to encourage re-entry of the meniscoid into the joint space (4) [Realignment of the joint.] (p. 253)
Evans (2002) continued:
Bogduk and Jull reviewed the likelihood of intra-articular entrapments within zygapophyseal joints as potential sources of pain…Fibro-adipose meniscoids have also been identified as structures capable of creating a painful situation. Bogduk and Jull reviewed the possible role of fibro-adipose meniscoids causing pain purely by creating a tractioning effect on the zygapophyseal joint capsule, again after intra-articular pinching of tissue(p. 252)
Evans (2002) also noted:
A large number of type III and type IV nerve fibers (nociceptors) have been observed within capsules of zygapophyseal joints. Pain occurs as distension of the joint capsule provides a sufficient stimulus for these nociceptors to depolarize. Muscle spasm would then occur to prevent impaction of the meniscoid. The patient would tend to be more comfortable with the spine maintained in a flexed position, because this will disengage the meniscoid. Extension would therefore tend to be inhibited. This condition has also been termed a “joint lock” or “facet-lock,” the latter of which indicates the involvement of the zygapophyseal joint…
An HVLAT manipulation [chiropractic spinal adjustment CSA], involving gapping of the zygapophyseal joint, reduces the impaction and opens the joint, so encouraging the meniscoid to return to its normal anatomic position in the joint cavity. This ceases the distension of the joint capsule, thus reducing pain. (p. 252-253)
When considering VSC in its entirety, we must consider the etiology as these forces can lead to complex patho-biomechanical components of the spine and supporting tissues. As a result, a neurological cascade can ensue that would further define VSC beyond the inter-articulation entrapments. Panjabi (2006) reported:
Abnormal mechanics of the spinal column has been hypothesized to lead to back pain via nociceptive sensors. The path from abnormal mechanics to nociceptive sensation may go via inflammation, biochemical and nutritional changes, immunological factors, and changes in the structure and material of the endplates and discs, and neural structures, such as nerve ingrowth into diseased intervertebral disc. The abnormal mechanics of the spine may be due to degenerative changes of the spinal column and/or injury of the ligaments. Most likely, the initiating event is some kind of trauma involving the spine. It may be a single trauma due to an accident or microtrauma caused by repetitive motion over a long time. It is also possible that spinal muscles will fire in an uncoordinated way in response to sudden fear of injury, such as when one misjudges the depth of a step. All these events may cause spinal ligament injury. (p.668-669).
Panjabi (2006) goes on to explain what happens when the spinal column is affected by trauma:
The structural function provides stiffness to the spine. The transducer function provides the information needed to precisely characterize the spinal posture, vertebral motions, spinal loads etc. to the neuromuscular control unit via innumerable mechanoreceptors present in the spinal column ligaments, facet capsules and the disc annulus. These mechanical transducers provide information to the neuromuscular control unit which helps to generate muscular spinal stability via the spinal muscle system and neuromuscular control unit. The criterion used by the neuromuscular unit is hypothesized to be the need for adequate and overall mechanical stability of the spine. If the structural function is compromised, due to injury or degeneration, then the muscular stability is increased to compensate the loss. What happens if the transducer function of the ligaments of the spinal column is compromised? This has not been explored. There is evidence from animal studies that the stimulation of the ligaments of the spine (disc and facets, and ligaments) results in spinal muscle firing. (p. 669).
Panjabi (2006) described the mechanism that, coupled with the inter-articulation nociceptor “firing,” further defines the “negative neurological cascade”:
The hypothesis consists of the following sequential steps:
One hallmark of determining vertebral subluxation complex for the chiropractic profession has been ranges of motion of individual motor units. Both hypo- and hypermobility have been clinically associated with muscle spasticity and have offered a piece of clinical history in the practice setting. NOTE: Ranges of motion, like any other findings, are no more than pieces of evidence, all of which must clinically correlate.
Radziminska, Weber-Rajek, Srączyńska and Zukow (2017) reported:
The definition of the neutral zone explains that it as a small range of motion near the zero position of the joint, where no proprioreceptors are stimulated around the joint and osteoligamentous resistance is minimal (lack of centripetal response and, consequently, lack of central muscle stimulation).
Increasing the range of motion of the neutral zone is detrimental to the joint - it can lead to its damage. Delayed proprioceptive information about the current joint position that reaches the central system will give a muscle tone response, but it may turn out to be incompatible with external force acting on the joint. The reduced range of motion of the neutral zone is also unfavorable. If the stimulation of proprioreceptors is too early it will result in an increased muscle tension around the joint. The neutral zone is disturbed by traumas, degenerative processes, and muscle stabilization weakness. (p. 72)
With VSC, the joint that has been misplaced creates abnormal biomechanics and abnormal pressure to the joint. This is called Wolff’s Law, formulated and accepted since the 1800’s, and is explained by Kohata, Itoha, Horiuchia, Yoshiokab and Yamashita (2017):
When mechanical stress is impressed upon bone, an electrical potential is induced; the area of bone under compression develops negative potential, whereas that under tension develops positive potential. This phenomenon is generated by collagen piezoelectricity, and the electrical potential generated in bone by collagen displacement has been well documented. (p. 65)
VSC is based upon both the macro- and microtrauma induced motor unit pathology, creating interarticular meniscoid nociceptor entrapment that triggers nociceptors and affects the lateral horn for a local reflex. It then innervates the thalamus through the spinothalamic tracts and periaqueductal grey matter which is then further distributed to various cortical regions to process in the body’s attempt to compensate biomechanically. This, coupled with aberrant motor unit ranges of motion (hypo or hyper), subfailure injuries to the ligaments and the corrupted mechanoreceptors and nociceptor messages that innervate the lateral horn cause a “negative neurological cascade” both reflexively at the cord and the brain. This cascade can cause pain and inflammation and will cause premature degeneration if left uncorrected based upon Wolff’s Law because of improper motor unit biomechanical failure. Should the correction be made after remodelling of the vertebrate, then care changes from corrective to management as the spine can never be perfectly biomechanically balanced as the segments (building blocks for homeostasis) have been permanently remodelled.
The research for VSC exists in its components. However, there needs to be a concise research program that combines all the pieces to further conclude the evidence that exists. Furthermore, we need more conclusive answers as to why chiropractic patients get well, answers that goes beyond pain or aberrant curves.
1. Murphy, D. R., Justice, B. D., Paskowski, I. C., Perle, S. M., & Schneider, M. J. (2011). The establishment of a primary spine care practitioner and its benefits to health care reform in the United States. Chiropractic & manual therapies, 19(1), 17.
2. FinanceRef Inflation Calendar, Alioth Finance. (2017). $14,000,000,000 in 2004 → 2017 | Inflation Calculator. Retrieved from http://www.in2013dollars.com/2004-dollars-in-2017?amount=14000000000
3. Cifuentes, M., Willets, J., & Wasiak, R. (2011). Health maintenance care in work-related low back pain and its association with disability recurrence. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(4), 396-404.
4. Blanchette, M. A., Rivard, M., Dionne, C. E., Hogg-Johnson, S., & Steenstra, I. (2017). Association between the type of first healthcare provider and the duration of financial compensation for occupational back pain. Journal of occupational rehabilitation, 27(3), 382-392.
5. Keating, J. C., Charlton, K. H., Grod, J. P., Perle, S. M., Sikorski, D., & Winterstein, J. F. (2005). Subluxation: Dogma or science? Chiropractic & Osteopathy, 13(1), 17.
6. Panjabi, M. M. (2006). A hypothesis of chronic back pain: Ligament subfailure injuries lead to muscle control dysfunction. European Spine Journal, 15(5), 668-676.
7. Panjabi, M. M. (1992). The stabilizing system of the spine. Part II. Neutral zone and instability hypothesis. Journal of Spinal Disorders, 5, 390-397
8. Panjabi, M. M. (2003). Clinical spinal instability and low back pain. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 13(4), 371-379.
9. Farrell, S. F., Osmotherly, P. G., Cornwall, J., Sterling, M., & Rivett, D. A. (2017). Cervical spine meniscoids: an update on their morphological characteristics and potential clinical significance. European Spine Journal, (26) 939-947
10. Evans, D. W. (2002). Mechanisms and effects of spinal high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust manipulation: Previous theories. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 25(4), 251-262.
11. Radziminska, A., Weber-Rajek, M., Strączyńska, A., & Zukow, W. (2017). The stabilizing system of the spine. Journal of Education, Health and Sport, 7(11), 67-76.
12. Kohata, K., Itoh, S., Horiuchi, N., Yoshioka, T., & Yamashita, K. (2017). Influences of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis on the electrical properties of human bones as in vivo electrets produced due to Wolff's law. Bio-Medical Materials and Engineering, 28(1), 65-74.
Case Report: Establishing the Efficacy for Trauma Trained Chiropractors as Primary Spine Care Physicians
Donald A. Capoferri, D.C., DAAMLP
Abstract: The objective of this case report is to explore the use of chiropractic and chiropractors as a primary spine care specialty and the efficacy of early referral to a properly trained and credentialed chiropractor. Diagnostic studies included physical examination, radiographic examinations, cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine MRI studies and brain MRI study. Treatments included non-surgical axial decompression and low-level laser treatments. Once a clinical examination and diagnosis was formed, a favorable prognosis was expected. With appropriate chiropractic management, the outcome proved excellent in pain reduction and had minimal effect on the numbness and weakness of the patient’s left upper and lower extremities.
Key Words: Disc herniation, syringomyelia, multiple sclerosis, disc bulge, demyelination.
Introduction: On 8/23/2017, a 49-year-old female presented for examination and treatment of chronic left sided lumbar spine pain that began on 8/1/1983 after a slip and fall incident. The pain was described as sharp, burning, and deep with radiation into the back of the left leg with an 8 out of 10 on the VAS (visual analog scale) scale, worsening since its onset.
Other Presenting Concerns: The patient also presented with sub-acute chest pain with radiation into the left upper arm. She described the pain as 8 out of 10 and has stayed the same since 7/1/2017 and is of unknown origin. The patient also reported numbness and tingling of the left lower extremity since 7/1/2017 of unknown origin. The final reported complaint was numbness and tingling of the left lower arm since 7/1/2017 that seems to start in the left upper back and shoulder and travels to the left lower arm rated at 8/10 on the VAS scale. The reported symptoms have made sleeping and staying asleep, bending over, using a computer, and concentrating very difficult.
Prior Treatments: Medical care including orthopedic specialist, neurology with prescription medications, chiropractic care, and physical therapy.
Past Medical History: The patient’s past history includes use of prescription and over the counter medications. Surgical history includes tonsils and adenoids in 2008, wisdom tooth extraction in 1990, partial hysterectomy in 2002 and C-section in 1998. The family health history includes Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Clinical Findings: The patient presents as a 49-year-old female of average build, clean and neat and well groomed. The vitals are: Height: 61 inches, Weight: 168 lbs, Pulse: 74 bpm, BP: 168/117 mm/Hg in left arm. The patient’s appearance is visibly uncomfortable and restless.
Physical Findings: Palpation of the paraspinal musculature revealed moderate to severe spasms on the left neck, upper thoracic, and lumbosacral regions. Orthopedic testing produced pain and dizziness with foraminal compression. Upper thoracic pain with Soto Hall’s test and Sternal compression produced pain on the left anterior chest. Percussion test produced pain in the upper thoracic spine.
Neurologic Testing: Diminished right patella reflex and 3/5 weakness of the left deltoid muscle group and left hamstring muscle group with hypersensitivity to light touch along the C6, C8, T1, L3, L4 and L5 dermatomes were the only positive neurologic findings. All other tests are within normal limits. Digital muscle testing was ordered following up on the initial manual findings of muscle weakness. The results were profound left sided deficits in the upper and lower extremities; deltoids 35% weaker than right side, left biceps 68% weaker than right, left triceps 26% weaker than right, wrist extensors 47% weaker than right. The left hamstring group was 25% weaker than right, left quadriceps 40% weaker than right, left anterior tibialis 44% weaker than right.
Radiographic Findings: I personally reviewed cervical spine and thoracic spine x-rays taken on 8/14/17 and found the following: A severe loss of the cervical lordosis, translation of C3 on C4, C4 on C5 in extension. T3 is laterally flexed on T4 with body rotations to the left of T3, T4, and T5. A bifid spinous is noted of C6. Mild posterior osteophyte is noted on C3 and C4. Lumbar x-rays taken on 8/23/2017 revealed pelvic unleveling with right inferiority, anteriority of L5 on S1, an inferior Schmoral’s node on L5 and mild demineralization, disc degeneration and joint degeneration of the lumbar spine. Moderate to severe foraminal encroachment of L4/L5, L5/S1 is noted.
MRI findings by radiologist:
Cervical spine: MRI taken at 2.5 mm slice thickness, with gradient echo and STIR studies revealed C4-C5 right paracentral herniated disc measuring 2 x 3 mm not indenting the cord. A small syrinx of the cord is noted at level of C6-C7 interspace and extending above and below for a total of 15mm in length and 2mm in width. (Fig. 1A) (3)
Thoracic Spine: MRI taken at 3.0 mm slice thickness, angled to the disc with STIR and T2 axial views revealed a T4-T5 central protrusion measuring 2 x 4 mm in size in the midline.
Lumbar Spine: MRI taken at 3.0 mm slice thickness, angled to the disc with STIR and T2 Axial views. L5/S1 demonstrates a central disc herniation with annular tear measuring 3x 6 mm indenting the epidural space and very mildly touching the thecal sac.
I personally reviewed the MRI studies and my impression is as follows:
Cervical spine also demonstrated a C3-C4 disc bulge compressing the thecal sac and deforming the normal shape of the cord by altered CSF pressure. (Fig. 1B) (1). C5-C6 demonstrates a central protrusion with annular tear compressing the ventral cord in the midline by altered CSF pressure.
In addition to the radiologist findings, the thoracic study demonstrated significant facet arthritis at the level of T10 that indents the thecal sac and compresses the left posterolateral aspect of the cord. (Fig. 2.) In addition to the radiologist’s findings, I reviewed the lumbar spine and reported an L4-L5 left asymmetric bulge with compression of the left aspect of the thecal sac. (1)
MRI Discussion: After review of the clinical examination findings, the patient’s subjective complaints and the X-ray and MRI imaging studies, the findings were reported to the patient. I subsequently ordered a brain MRI since I did find an adequate explanation of the left sided sensation and motor deficits. The brain MRI demonstrates a right frontal/parietal subcortical white matter demyelinating lesion in T2/FLAIR images. (Fig 3).
Fig. 1A: Shows a demyelination of the central cord assessed as a syrinx by radiologist
Fig. 1B: C3-C4 disc bulge, thecal sac compression, deforming the cord shape and apparent CSF in the central canal of the cord.
Fig. 2: T10 left facet arthritis indenting the thecal sac and compressing the left posterolateral cord.
Fig. 3: T2/FLAIR shows left frontal / parietal area of demyelination
Diagnostic Impression: When arriving at a diagnosis all objective findings along with subjective complaints should be considered. When I considered the profound left sided sensory and motor deficits, the clinical findings and the imaging findings I referred the patient to a neurologist for evaluation of late onset multiple sclerosis. (3) The patient consulted the lead Neurologist in the M.S. Department at Shepard Center in Atlanta who confirmed the diagnosis.
Therapeutic Focus and Assessment: At the report of findings it was explained to the patient that she did have spinal findings that were treatable and that did contribute to her pain. It was further explained that the care provided is not expected to affect the symptoms that are caused by the M.S. condition. An 8-week course of non-surgical axial decompression was completed, aimed at reduction of the C3-C4, C4-C5, C5-6, L4-L5 and L5-S1 disc displacements. At discharge, the patient reported a 90% reduction of spine pain and improvements of the left sided upper and lower extremity weaknesses. She was discharged into the care of her neurologist at that time.
Discussion: Properly trained chiropractors are the perfect fit to be the primary spine care provider. Our education includes extensive training in identifying biomechanical and anatomical lesions of the spine in order to arrive at an accurate diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan. This includes proper triage to other healthcare providers.
In this case the patient presented with a biomechanical issue, disc herniation and degeneration, with facet arthritis, but also with a significant non-spinal pathology that was identified properly and referred appropriately.
Numerous other physicians and chiropractors evaluated this patient, all of whom treated the obvious without finding the underlying cause of her numbness and weakness, which may have delayed necessary care. A Doctor of Chiropractic, who is well trained and credentialed as a Primary Spine Care physician knows to look beyond the obvious, taking all findings and patient subjective complaints into consideration in order to obtain a proper diagnosis, prognosis, and appropriate plan of treatment for each patient.
1. Fardon DF, Williams AL, Dohring EJ, Murtagh FR, Gabriel Rothman SL, Sze GK. Nomenclature 2.0 for Disc Pathology, Spine J. 2014 Nov 1;14 (11):2525-45.doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2014.04.022. Epub 2014 Apr 24.
2. Schippling S. Neurodegener Dis Manag. MRI for multiple sclerosis diagnosis and prognosis. 2017 Nov;7(6s):27-29. doi: 10.2217/nmt-2017-0038
3. Pillich D, El Refaee E, Mueller JU, Safwat A, Schroeder HWS, Baldauf J. Syringomyelia associated with cervical spondylotic myelopathy causing canal stenosis. A rare association.
Neurol Neurochir Pol. 2017 Nov - Dec; 51(6): 471-475. doi: 10.1016/j.pjnns.2017.08.002.Epub 2017 Aug 14.
Should Chiropractic Follow the
American Chiropractic Association
/ American Board of Internal Medicine’s
Recommendations on X-Ray?
By Mark Studin
William J. Owens
In reviewing the American Chiropractic Associations’ (ACA) position on x-ray and adopting the posture of the American Board of Internal Medicine’s (ABIM) initiative, “Choosing Wisely,” regarding x-ray, we must consider both the far-reaching effects of those recommendations as well as the education of the originators of the recommendations. In addition, the ACA in their 2017 published article Five Things Clinicians and Patients Should Question, they state, “The recommendations are not intended to prohibit any particular treatment in all scenarios or to dictate care decisions. They are also not intended to establish coverage decisions or exclusions” (https://www.acatoday.org/Patients-Choosing-Wisely?utm_campaign=sniply).
The ACA, a highly-regarded chiropractic political organization that has done a great deal in advancing the profession, is adopting the ABIM’s current position and regardless of the wording of the policy which, in the form of a disclaimer, is opining and setting precedent that can be used against individual practitioners or the entire profession. Granted, the underlying tone is to prevent unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation, but at what cost to patient care?
The scientific evidence has shown, and continues to show, chiropractic as being highly effective for managing and treating non-specific or mechanical spine pain. 2-3-4-5-6-7 In this article, we are only considering acute low back pain treatment to meet the scope of the ACA/ABIM policy and are therefore excluding all other conditions treated within the lawful scope of chiropractic. Mechanical spine pain, pain of non-anatomical origin, is defined as spine pain not originating from fracture, tumor, infection or specifically co-related to an anatomical lesion such as degenerative intervertebral disc disease, intervertebral disc bulge or intervertebral disc herniation. The ACA/ABIM states in the absence of “red flags,” imaging should not be considered for at least 6 weeks of care. Some of these “red flags” are clearly present on physical examination, others may not reveal themselves without radiographic evidence.
The definition of red flags by the American Chiropractic Association (2017):
Red flags include history of cancer, fracture or suspected fracture based on clinical history, progressive neurologic symptoms and infection, as well as conditions that potentially preclude a dynamic thrust to the spine, such as osteopenia, osteoporosis, axial spondyloarthritis and tumors. (https://www.acatoday.org/Patients-Choosing-Wisely?utm_campaign=sniply)
When considering the training of internal medicine physicians, we recognize they are focused on the diagnosis and management of systemic disease. However, when considering musculoskeletal diagnosis, basic medical training for internal medicine residency is quite the opposite. Although it is understandable given the current climate of spine pain management in the United States that the American Board of Internal Medicine would take a stance on spine care, I would consider the opinion of an internal medicine board valuable, but less authoritative than a board comprised of practicing spine specialists that is trained in the diagnosis and management of mechanical spine pain with specific treatment designed to deliver high velocity-low amplitude thrusts (chiropractic spinal adjustments). Interestingly, in this specific case, we have a chiropractic political organization agreeing with a medical board that is specifically trained on the diagnosis of internal medicine disorders with little or no training on the management of acute spine pain.
In an article written by Humphreys, Sulkowski, McIntyre, Kasiban, and Patrick (2007), they stated:
In the United States, approximately 10% to 25% of all visits to primary care medical doctors are for MSK [musculoskeletal] complaints, making it one of the most common reasons for consulting a physician...Specifically, it has been estimated that less than 5% of the undergraduate and graduate medical curriculum in the United States and 2.26% in Canadian medical schools is devoted to MSK medicine. (p. 44)
It should be noted that primary care medical doctors are not spine specialists and are generally comprised of family or internal medicine physicians. Medical school is lacking in musculoskeletal education, particularly in spine. Graduate level medical education including residency and fellowship training, only provides spine specialty training in those boards that are focused on spine care, namely orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery. It should also be noted that both orthopedic and neurosurgery disciplines are focused on the anatomical lesion in the spine as a primary method of determining the medical necessity of intervention.
Research has shown musculoskeletal complaints have a major impact on the healthcare system. Many patients believe that traditional medical providers are highly trained in diagnosis and management of musculoskeletal conditions and trust the referrals they provide to physical therapy as the best care path. A recent publication relating to basic competency have shown otherwise.
Humphreys et al. (2007) state:
A study by Childs et al on the physical therapists’ knowledge in managing MSK conditions found that only 21% of students working on their master’s degree in physical therapy and 25% of students working on their doctorate degree in physical therapy achieved a passing mark on the BCE [Basic Competency Examination]. (p. 45)
Humphreys et al. (2007) continued by reporting a comparative analysis:
The typical chiropractic curriculum consists of 4800 hours of education composed of courses in the biological sciences (i.e., anatomy, embryology, histology, microbiology, pathology, laboratory diagnosis, biochemistry, nutrition, and psychology), chiropractic sciences, and clinical sciences (i.e., clinical diagnosis, neurodiagnosis, orthorheumatology, radiology, and psychology). As the diagnosis, treatment, and management of MSK [musculoskeletal] disorders are the primary focus of the undergraduate curriculum as well as future clinical practice, it seems logical that chiropractic graduates should possess competence in basic MSK medicine. The objective of this study was to examine the cognitive (knowledge) competency of final-year chiropractic students in MSK medicine. (p. 45).
The following results were published in the article by Humphreys et al. (2007) relating to the Basic Competency Examination and evaluating the various professions that are on the “front line” in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Passing grades were attained by 22% of recent medical graduates, 20.7% of medical students, residents, and staff physicians, 33% of osteopathic students, 21% of MSc [masters] level physical therapy students, and 26 % of DPT [doctors of physical therapy] level physical therapy and chiropractic student 64.7%…
This indicates, that unless a “boarded internist” goes back for advanced education in physical medicine, neurology, orthopedics or neurosurgery, his/her basic competency is between 20% and 33% (if a DO) at best and it is the guidelines of that profession’s board that are being adopted by the ACA. In addition, no profession, inclusive of the ACA, is discussing the difference between a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment plan for mechanical spine pain. The only discussion is related to anatomical origins and anatomical spinal pathology. They are only considering the “red flags” of non-mechanical spine pain (to the detriment of the patient with mechanical spine pain), which only drives triage to medical specialists and ignores clinically necessary treatment plans focusing on the mechanical sources of pain found within chiropractic clinics globally.
The ACA/ABIM guidelines are very specific to low back pain and refer to the “routine use of imaging,” which is understood to be x-ray as the article uses the term “ionizing imaging.” However, it is not clear if they are also including CAT scan imaging as well. What their suggested “evidence-based recommendations” omits is the diagnosis of spinal biomechanical pathology and the osseous pathology that is discovered because of a complete clinical evaluation inclusive of spinal biomechanics, which ultimately protects our patients with an accurate spinal diagnosis. That consideration is something that board certified internal medicine practitioners do not have to be concerned with as it is outside of their focus of treatment. Typically, internal medicine physicians have less chance of causing harm to their patients in the short-term with a prescription pad (drug abuse is a topic for a different conversation) vs. a high velocity-low amplitude thrust, the primary treatment modality for the doctor of chiropractic. In this specific case it is the specific type of “treatment” that requires a specific level of diagnosis to be safe.
In the process of concluding an accurate diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan, an assessment of the structural and biomechanical integrity of the spine is integral to specific treatment recommendations and visual assessment often fails.
Fedorak, Ashworth, Marshall and Paull (2003) reported:
This study has shown that the visual assessment of cervical and lumbar lordosis is unreliable. This tool only has fair intrarater reliability and poor interrater reliability. Visual assessment of spinal posture was previously shown to be inaccurate, and this study has demonstrated that is reliability is poor. (p. 1858)
In contrast, the reliability of x-ray in morphology, measurements and biomechanics has been determined accurate and reproducible.10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19 In addition, Ohara, Miyamoto, Naganawa, Matsumoto and Shimzu (2006) reported, “Assessment of the sagittal alignment of the spine is important in both clinical and research settings… and it is known that the alignment affects the distribution of the load on the intervertebral discs” (p. 2585).
Assessment of distribution or load of spinal biomechanics, if left aberrant, will result in the initiation of the piezoelectric effect and Wolff’s Law remodeling the spine. This is the basis for the subluxation degeneration theory which historically many have scoffed at as it is not considered to be based on scientific principles. We have now verified it based upon the research, and it is now a current and verifiable event that must be taken into consideration when assigning prognosis to a biomechanically flawed spine.
A very recent and timely study by Scheer et al. (2016) takes the biomechanical assessment of the spine to an entirely different level. This concept was originally presented at the 2015 American Academy of Neurosurgery symposium.
Scheer et al. (2016) state:
Several recent studies have demonstrated that regional spinal alignment and pathology can affect other spinal regions. These studies highlight the importance of considering the entire spine when planning for the surgical correction of ASD [adult spinal deformity/scoliosis]. (p. 109)
Scheer et al. (2016) continue:
Furthermore, the cervical spine plays a pivotal role in influencing adjacent and global spinal alignment as compensatory changes occur to maintain horizontal gaze. (p. 109).
Scheer et al. (2016) also wrote:
There has been a shift from the regional view of the spine to a more global perspective, and recent work has found concomitant spinal deformities in patients. Specifically, there is a high prevalence of CD [cervical deformity/loss of cervical lordosis] among adult patients with thoracolumbar spinal deformity. (p. 109).
Finally, according to Scheer et al. (2016):
Concomitant cervical positive sagittal alignment [loss of cervical curve] in adult patients with thoracolumbar deformity is strongly associated with inferior outcomes and failure to reach MCID [minimal clinically important difference] at 2-year follow-up compared with patients without CD [cervical deformity]. (p. 114)
We are seeing that biomechanical assessment is a critical component of spine care and is a trending topic in spine research. These topics are not addressed in the Board of Internal Medicine’s opinions and should be considered strongly prior to any chiropractic advocacy organization taking a position that would give doctors pause when attempting to fully diagnose their patients, no matter the disclaimers.
When it comes to spinal assessment particularly with stress views, Hammouri, Haimes, Simpson, Alqaqa and Grauer (2007) reported, “A survey questionnaire study recently completed by our laboratory confirmed that 43% of practicing spine surgeons also obtain dynamic flexion-extension views in the initial evaluation of those patients” (p. 2361). They later stated, “These findings led to no change in conservative management and no decision to go to surgery based solely from the dynamic flexion-extension radiographs” (p. 2363).
Hammouri et. al. (2007) also discussed the possible cumulative effects of small doses of radiation as another reason to avoid taking flexion-extension x-rays. This has been a position held by practitioners for years despite the evidence that diagnostic ionizing radiation has been proven to be non-carcinogenic. When examining the evidence, Tubiana, Feinendegen, Yang and Karminski (2009) reported:
Several studies in patients after x-ray–based examinations…have not detected any increase in leukemia or solid tumors. The only positive studies were in girls or young women after repeated chest fluoroscopic procedures for chronic tuberculosis…or scoliosis…Among these patients, excess breast cancer was detected only for cumulative doses greater than about 0.5 Gy. No other excess cancer appeared after cumulative doses up to 1 Gy. There was also no increased cancer after cardiac catheterization…
Several studies stressed the risk of cancer after diagnostic irradiation with x-rays by using the LNT [linear no-threshold] model…However, several investigators…have questioned these estimates because of their doubtful assumptions. An overestimate of the diagnostic radiology risk may deprive patients from adequate treatment. (p. 17)
When considering rendering a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan, Hammouri et al. (2007) concluded that flexion-extension x-rays are not a determining factor for spinal surgery. However, chiropractic renders disparate treatment compared to surgeons and medical primary care doctors (family practice and internal medicine).
The authors of this current article recently sent a survey to the chiropractic profession and asked a simple question: Does the clinical use of x-rays change either your diagnosis, prognosis or treatment plan? The question was posed with the understanding that “screening purposes” are not considered clinically necessary and all testing and treatment orders must be consistent with a patient’s presentation and physical examination. The results demonstrated that 98.42% of those surveyed, used x-rays in their clinical practices that changed either the diagnosis, prognosis and/or the treatment plan.
The next question was when should an x-ray or any other type of imaging be considered? Clinically, if the patient has pain with limited range of motion in a spinal region upon either visual evaluation or dual inclinometry testing, the clinician should ask why is there biomechanical failure coupled with pain? In the absence of diagnosing anatomical (osseous or any other space occupying lesion) pathology, the aberrant verified biomechanics indicates failure at the connective tissue level (ligaments and tendons) and the mechanical source/rationale of the ensuing nociceptive, mechanoreceptive and proprioceptive neuro-pathological cascade. This in turn allows the practitioner to conclude an accurate diagnosis, prognosis and/or treatment plan based upon the pathological “listings” visualized. As reflected above with the 98.42% response, it is clear that when considering the biomechanical assessment of the human spine, x-ray analysis outside of simple anatomic pathology can change how a doctor of chiropractic manages and treats their patients.
The following is from a small sampling of responses we received from another survey of doctors nationwide. The instructions were to send over examples of how x-ray had changed their diagnoses, prognoses and/or treatment plans within the last 2-3 months. These responses underscored why chiropractors utilize x-ray and often need it to determine accurate mechanical diagnoses, prognoses and treatment plans prior to rendering care. Please note, the clinical protocols presented and x-ray diagnoses are all taught in CCE accredited chiropractic colleges and underscore the quality of a chiropractic education.
Male 70-year old. Presented in my office for 2nd opinion after the prior doctor of chiropractic did not take films. Focal sacral pain unchanged by position or movement. Plain lumbar/pelvic films revealed large radiolucency in sacrum. Patient referred out to MD/oncology for follow up. Diagnosis: Metastatic in nature.
Here is an example of how x-ray helped save a life. I had a patient 6 weeks ago come in with lumbar pain. The patient is 68yr old male with a history of lumbar pain but the pain recently became worse. During the history the patient relayed that they had recently been to their cardiologist for his regular checkup. I completed a thorough physical exam where the only positive findings were limited range of motion with pain in extension and left lateral flexion. I took lumbar x-rays of the patient. While reviewing the x-rays I noticed the outline of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm that measured 5cm on my lateral films. I immediately told the patient to go to the emergency room and sent the films with him. The patient stated he did not want to go and he just was at his cardiologist. I insisted and the patient finally listened. The patient had immediate surgery to repair the aneurysm and I received a thank you call from the cardiologist!! More important the patient thanked me for saving his life!!
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms have a symptom of back pain. I will never touch a patient without being able to x-ray a patient. Who would have been blamed if my patient's aneurysm ruptured??
We had female patient in her thirties present to our office complaining of severe and unrelenting neck pain, with bilateral pain into her shoulders. She did not want an x-ray, however one of the other associates that I worked with convinced her to have two films, AP and lateral cervical. Those films revealed a lyric metastasis of the C5 vertebra, with almost a complete destruction of the vertebral body. Had she been adjusted without the images; the results would have been catastrophic.
54-year old male post MVA, Primary complaint = Low back pain, examination findings revealed positive orthopedic tests in the cervical and lumbar spine with diminished reflexes, upper and lower muscle strength 5/5. Cervical spine x-rays revealed a 3.28 mm anteriorlisthesis of C4 on C5, flexion view revealed an increased displacement to 8.28 mm. Extension view measured 5.48 mm.
Imaging altered treatment plan: Without the x-ray study, the unstable C4 would go undetected and as a result of the x-ray findings the patient was recommended to wear a c-spine collar and have a c-spine MRI. The MRI revealed a 4 x 10 mm left paracentral herniated disc with annular tear compressing the cord by 75% with myelomalacia. It also leaked into the right neural canal compressing the right C4 nerve root. I called my neurosurgeon and he will be in surgery tomorrow. Given the fragmentation of the cord seen on MRI, I shudder to think what would have happened if a high velocity thrust was introduced to his neck!
A patient presented with mild to moderate low back pain. Images revealed a secondary spondylolesthesis and contraindicated in a lumbar side posture. This has happened many times before and once again, prevented me from hurting my patient.
I had a patient that presented with low back pain. The lumbar film showed a 66mm aneurysm. I immediately sent him to the hospital where he was admitted and went into emergency surgery for repair. This could have ended very badly without those x-rays.
36-year old female with acute neck pain, insidious, limited cervical ROM, positive cervical tests, pain worse at night, pain described as "deep, boring, nauseating". AP and lateral cervical x-rays taken in my office revealed complete absence of C5 vertebral body. I immediately referred patient to the local ER with films in hand.
Parents brought their 10-year old son for a second opinion to evaluate a mass on the side of his neck. Their pediatrician had sent them home and told them to check back in 3 days if it didn't resolve. I took AP and lateral cervical films. Both showed the mass but particularly concerning was the AP showed the laryngeal shadow deviated laterally from the pressure of the mass. I told them not to wait 3 days but to go directly to the local emergency department. The local hospital immediately put him in an ambulance and sent him to the children's hospital in Miami. Pediatricians at the children's hospital told the parents the next day, he wouldn't have survived the night had they not taken him to the E.D. on my recommendation, based on the x-ray findings.
I had a 22-year old male present to my office complaining of bilateral low back pain and occasional mild numbness and tingling in his left leg for about 4 years following an injury at wrestling practice when he was 17 years old. Even though the complaints were moderate and his injury was 4 years old, I decided to take lumbar x-rays including oblique views. The x-rays revealed bilateral L3 and L4 pars fractures. I then took lumbar flexion/extension views which revealed a 5mm anterior translation of L4 on L5. His MRI evaluation was unremarkable and without these x-rays there would have seemed to be no contraindication to diversified adjustments including side posture. Had I not taken these x-rays, I would likely have delivered a high velocity thrust into an unstable region of the patient’s spine, potentially injuring him further. Instead, I sent him for an immediate surgical consultation.
Several days ago, a 30-year old female patient presented with a primary complaint of low back pain, neck stiffness and previous diagnosis of ocular migraines by her Neurologist. Radiographs of her Cervical and Lumbar spine were taken to evaluate her spine. A fracture of the vertebral body of C5 was found at the posterior and inferior aspect with an increase in spacing noted at the fracture site on flexion view.
I had a 15-year-old girl present to my office with severe neck pain. She stated that she had no injuries or trauma that she was aware of. She just "woke up with it". The examination revealed that she was not able to turn her head at all -literally zero range of motion in any direction. Something didn't seem right and I decided to take an x-ray. Her X-ray revealed a burst fracture of C1. It turns out that her mother who signed all the consent forms and dropped her off at my office gave her strict instructions not to tell me about the minor fender bender she was in the day before. Also, the daughter explained later that she had landed on the top of her head during volleyball about a year before. After the volleyball accident she had presented to the emergency room but they decided not to take an x-ray and told her she was fine. I sent her to the emergency room. They took an x-ray and sent her home saying there was no fracture. Later the radiologist called her back insisting she return to the hospital immediately. They confirmed the fracture. I think it is quite safe to assume what would've happened if I tried to adjust her.
I had a patient who was having pain in the mid thoracic region between the spine and the scapula. The patient had been to another chiropractor who did not take x-rays, and who did not get good clinical results. I examined and x-rayed the patient. I saw an abnormal mass in the lung field. I sent the patient to a local radiology center and ordered a plain film chest x-ray, the radiologist confirmed a mass in the right lung.
Based upon the literature, radiation is not cumulative and has rendered no evidence of long term effects. Therefore, the doctor of chiropractic must weigh the risk of treating blindly in the presence of clear biomechanical markers. Treating blindly is often done at the expense of our patients and the malpractice carriers, especially in a scenario where little risk exists. Our concern is the adoption of recommendations or guidelines that are deficient in the published and clinical evidence at hand. There also needs to be a larger clinical and academic conversation interprofessionally, to educate organizations like the ABIM and others who access spine patients, where together we can collaboratively, across professional boundaries, devise care paths to better serve society.
Dr. Mark Studin is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Chiropractic at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Sciences at Texas Chiropractic College and a clinical presenter for the State of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for post-doctoral education, teaching MRI spine interpretation, spinal biomechanical engineering and triaging trauma cases. He is also the president of the Academy of Chiropractic teaching doctors of chiropractic how to interface with the medical and legal communities (www.DoctorsPIProgram.com), teaches MRI interpretation and triaging trauma cases to doctors of all disciplines nationally and studies trends in healthcare on a national scale (www.TeachDoctors.com). He can be reached at DrMark@AcademyOfChiropractic.com or at 631-786-4253.
Dr. Bill Owens is presently in private practice in Buffalo NY and generates the majority of his new patient referrals directly from the primary care medical community. He is an Associate Adjunct Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bridgeport, College of Chiropractic and an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Sciences at Texas Chiropractic College. He also works directly with doctors of chiropractic to help them build relationships with medical providers in their community. He can be reached at email@example.com or www.mdreferralprogram.com or 716-228-3847
Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy
in Treating Low Back Pain
with Spinal Adjustments vs. Exercise Rehabilitation
By: Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
William J. Owens DC, DAAMLP
A report on the scientific literature
In the United Kingdom, Field and Newell (2016) reported that back pain accounts for 4.8% of all social benefit claims with overall costs reaching $7 billion pounds or $9.35 billion US dollars. Boyles (2016) reported that “Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, found that the nation's dramatic rise in expenditures for the diagnosis and treatment of back and neck problems has not led to expected improvements in patient health. Their study appears in the Feb. 13 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. After adjustment for inflation, total estimated medical costs associated with back and neck pain increased by 65% between 1997 and 2005, to about $86 billion a year… Yet during the same period, patients reported more disability from back and neck pain, including more depression and physical limitations.
“We did not observe improvements in health outcomes commensurate with the increasing costs over time," lead researcher Brook I. Martin, MPH, and colleagues wrote. "Spine problems may offer opportunities to reduce expenditures without associated worsening of clinical outcomes." (http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/news/20080212/86-billion-spent-on-back-neck-pain) Part of the explanation for the rise in cost of treatment of low back pain is the utilization of physical therapy by allopath’s (medical primary care providers and medical specialists) as the primary option for the treatment of low back pain vs. the literature verified better alternative of chiropractic based upon outcome studies.
Through the years, both chiropractors and physical therapists have concurrently utilized exercise rehabilitation as a modality to treat low back pain. As a rule, the chiropractic profession has utilized exercise rehabilitation as an adjunct to the spinal adjustment where in physical therapy, it has been the main focus of the treatment plan. In addition, other passive modalities to mitigate pain, such as electrical stimulation and/or hydro/cryotherapy has been utilized as an adjunct to each professions main treatment. As a rule, exercise rehabilitation is a crucial adjunct to the treatment of low back disorders as it adds necessary motion to the joint and helps balance muscle tone required to create a biomechanically stabilized joint over time.
However, Ianuzzi and Khalsa (2005) wrote (pg. 674)
Facet joint capsule strain magnitudes during simulated high velocity low amplitude spinal manipulations were within the range of motion occurred during maximum physiological motions, indicating that the procedure is biomechanically safe and provide a stimulus that is likely sufficient to stimulate facet joint capsule neurons. However, physiological motions of the lumbar spine by themselves (e.g. Exercise) are generally ineffective in treating low back pain, suggesting that facet joint capsule strain magnitude alone would be insufficient in providing a novel stimulus for facet joint capsule afferents.
The high strain rates that occurred during spinal manipulation could provide a novel “yet biomechanically safe” stimulus for afferents innervating given facet joint capsule. Alternatively, during spinal manipulation, the relative magnitudes (patterns) of facet joint capsule strain was in a region of the lumbar spine may be unique, which could result in a novel pattern of facet joint capsule mechanoreceptor firing in the spinal region and subsequently a novel stimulus to the central nervous system.
Simply put, the facet joint capsules are comprised of ligaments where the mechanoreceptors are located. A spinal manipulation (chiropractic spinal adjustment) stimulates the neurons in the capsule where exercise (physiological motion) does not. In addition, it has been shown that chiropractic spinal adjustments are safe to the joint capsule and ligaments that comprise the capsule.