I know, I know. That sounds as boring as boring can be. A real snooze fest! I understand why most of us would be bored by the subject. In high school and college, physiology class brings un images of detailed explanations of the Krebs cycle, the electron transport chain, etc.
But that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to help you understand how the chiropractic adjustment works with your brain and nervous system, and why it is so effective in pain relief.
We used to think that a chiropractic adjustment worked mostly at the local level; i.e. the area of the spine or extremity the chiropractor was adjusting. Thus, we would talk about the simple, and easy to understand analogy of a bone on a nerve, and how a chiropractic adjustment would move the bone off the nerve, then relieve the pressure on the nerve so that is can work properly. Most patients could understand that concept, unfortunately, we now know today that it is wrong – that is not how chiropractic works most of the time.
The Brain and Chiropractic
To understand who chiropractic works, we must first understand how the brain works.
To be as simple as possible and not bore you to death, we need to think of the brain as a “Stimulus Dependent Organ”. That means that in order for the brain to be healthy, it needs frequent, complex stimulation (in neurology, it is called activation). The brain receives important stimulation from all of our senses (i.e., sight, smell, taste, touch, etc). But we know that the biggest stimulation to the brain, by far, is movement. Every joint (especially spinal joints) has loads of nerve receptors that send the brain information about position, movement, load, and every tendon tells the brain exactly what the muscle attached to it is doing: its tone, elasticity, etc. The brain then takes all this information and “lights up” (becomes active) not only telling all the muscles what to do in response to the situation, but also directing our balance, coordination, digestion, and circulation. All this based on joints which are working correctly.
Chiropractic, the Brain, and Pain
When these joints don’t work right, when there is an injury (whether traumatic like a car accident or cumulative like working at a computer 8 hours a day), inflammation forms, glues, adhesions, and scar tissue is laid down, and now the joint which used to move freely, ratchets and grates and grinds its way to adapting to our environment. This altered movement is relayed to the brain with decreased input and stimulation and a whole cascade of events occur in the brain which contribute to the sensation of pain and stiffness in our body, but also, because of the decreased stimulation, cause our brain to slow atropy and other symptoms un-related to pain. Baliki et.al, (2008) state “the alterations in the patient’s brain…could be related to symptoms (other than pain) commonly exhibited by chronic pain patients, including depression and anxiety, sleep disturbances, and decision-making abnormalities, which significantly diminish their quality of life”
To anyone who has ever suffered chronic pain, whether it is back pain, headaches or digestive pain, this statement comes as no surprise. But as in all things science, common sense usually proceeds research.
The interesting thing to note is that all pain has a similar effect on brain function; pain disrupts normal physiology of the brain, and over a longer period of time (chronic pain described here as pain lasting longer than 3months) has significant effects on higher brain functions (functions that make us human).
Next blog we’ll look at how a chiropractic adjustment enhances joint movement and stimulates/activates the brain in hugely beneficial way.
Until then, see your chiropractor and get adjusted! It is good for your brain.