Vertebral Subluxation Complex

The Vertebral Subluxation is a Chiropractic Term used to describe an aberration of normal spinal biomechanics, usually involving a restriction or loss of normal movement of a motion segment, and associated aberrations in the tissues which support articular motion. (e.g., nerve, muscle, connective tissue and vascular).

This type of lesion that can alter neurological function, which in turn, is believed to cause neuromusculoskeletal pain and dysfunction as well as visceral disorders through the autonomic nervous system.

The World Health Organization defines the Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation as:

“A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity.”

The presidents of at least a dozen chiropractic colleges of the Association of Chiropractic Colleges developed a consensus definition of “subluxation” in 1996. It reads:

“Chiropractic is concerned with the preservation and restoration of health, and focuses particular attention on the subluxation. A subluxation is a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health. A subluxation is evaluated, diagnosed, and managed through the use of chiropractic procedures based on the best available rational and empirical evidence.”

Subluxations may be caused by many factors including:

•Lifestyle - Repetitive stress from normal daily activities can compromise spinal integrity. Repetitive injury to the disc, facet joints, muscles and ligaments of the spine can result from chronic lifting, twisting and torqueing, poor posture, repeatedly sleeping or sitting in awkward positions for long periods of time. This chronic biomechanical strain on the structures of the neck or back can contribute to subluxations.

•Trauma - Both micro and/or macro traumatic injury. Blunt force trauma to the spine caused by a severe impact injury can easily throw the alignment of joints out of place. Car accidents are a common cause of trauma-induced subluxation. Horseback riders, wrestlers, football players and other athletes in high-impact sports frequently suffer subluxation from blunt trauma. Dancers, cheerleaders and gymnasts occasionally experience subluxation in their ankles or hips as a result of a fall or performing a trick and not being caught properly.

•Degeneration - Changes in joint articulation due to arthritis, and muscular and connective tissues due to sedentary living. Repetitive wear from heavy lifting in a person's occupation is a common cause of subluxation in the spine, hips and legs, as is poor posture that slowly wears away at joints in the person's spine. These actions cause subluxation as the bones in the joints slowly slip out of place, as opposed to being quickly jolted out of alignment by trauma.

•Stress - Much like drug use and poor diet, depletes the body's ability to defend itself against daily wear and blunt trauma. Stress causes the coping functions of the body to wear away, as the body's energy goes to boosting energy as opposed to protecting joints and muscles. Stress also decreases the immune system, leading to illness and overall weakness, leaving the body unprotected against daily wear and trauma.

•Inflammation - May be perpetuated by a nutritional status that is pro-inflammatory in nature. Poor diet is not usually one of the final triggers of subluxation, but it contributes to subluxation and makes joints much more susceptible to subluxation caused by trauma or repetitive wear. Poor diet weakens the joints by not supplying enough vitamins and nutrients to the area, slowly wearing away at the area and allowing daily trauma to push the bones in the joints out of place. People often complain of localized pain and digestive disturbance as a result of subluxation in association with poor diet.

The image below depicts a typical vertebral joint in both normal and subluxated states.

The interference caused by these minor alterations in physiology can add up over time. Misalignment of spinal vertebrae may cause irritation to the nervous system which could affect the structures, organs and functions innerviated and are associated with malfunctions of the areas noted. Alterations to the autonomic nervous system can lead to or worsen conditions such as Asthma, Hypertension, Gastrointestinal distress, Dysmenorrhea and many others.

Changes in joint function can lead to or worsen Degenerative Joint Disease. DJD of the spine is known as Spondylosis and is associated with:


•Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs


•Weakness of the arms or legs

The image below shows the four phases of spinal degeneration in the cervical region as an example of potential damage caused by chronic subluxations over many years.