What Is Vertebral Subluxation Complex?

What Is Vertebral Subluxation Complex?

Vertebral subluxation complex is a condition in which the vertebrae of the spine do not align normally and fail to move properly in relation to each other. Because of the abnormal alignment, muscles, tendons and ligaments undergo additional stress during movement. The dysfunction results in changes to the tissues, nerves and biochemistry of the spine and spinal function.

Vertebral subluxation complex can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that impact comfort and mobility for everyday tasks and which can worsen over time. Proper treatment can help to eliminate symptoms and reduce the risk of increasing damage from dysfunctional movement of spinal structures.

Table of Contents

What is vertebral subluxation complex

Classification of vertebral subluxation complex

A vertebral subluxation complex can run from minor to severe. In the early stages, dislocation of a spinal vertebra may be in evidence, though no symptoms are being experienced. As the damage worsens, structural changes become more evident. A subluxation may be anterior, that is, displaced toward the front of the body, posterior, displaced toward the back of the body or downward, displaced in a lowered position.

Etiology of vertebral subluxation complex

Vertebral subluxation complex may have multiple causes, such as underlying structural weakness, impacts or injuries to the spine, repetitive motions that damage spinal tissues, nutritional deficiencies, toxins that weaken structures in the body and degenerative conditions, such as aging or diseases that affect the bones. Chiropractors generally recognize a “first episode” that indicates a subluxation has occurred, which may causes increasing problems over time.

Pathophysiology of vertebral subluxation complex

Inflammation involved in vertebral subluxation can cause a number of physical changes in the tissues surrounding a subluxation. The resulting edema can cause a change in the normal exchange of nutrients and waste products of the tissues. Lactic acid buildup from muscles can also occur in tissues, along with a buildup of urea, creatinine and other waste products. This can lead to deficient nutrients to the nerves, along with poor oxygen delivery.

Symptoms of vertebral subluxation complex

Back pain

A vertebral subluxation can cause back pain, stiffness, tenderness and general soreness.

Stiffness and reduced range of motion in the spine

You may experience limitations in your range of motion of spinal function. The condition can also cause stiffness during movement.

Muscle tension, spasms, or soreness along the spine or in the neck and shoulders.

Muscle spasms can occur as a result of a vertebral subluxation that may cause discomfort or may limit your movement.

Headaches that originate in the neck or radiate from the upper back and neck.

You may have frequent headaches as a result of a subluxation of the spinal vertebrae.

Numbness, tingling sensations, or radiating pain in the arms or legs.

If the misaligned vertebra is pressing on a nerve root, you may experience numbness or tingling in the extremities.

Reduced flexibility and mobility during activity or exercise.

Your ability to bend over or twist your body during normal activities may be limited.

Poor posture, like forward head position or rounded shoulders.

The reduced range of motion and poor flexibility that occurs with a subluxation of the vertebrae may cause changes in posture that thrust the head further forward or cause rounding of the shoulders.

Problems with balance and coordination in movement

Nerve compression and pain that result from vertebral subluxation complex can lead to problems with balance and coordination. Awkward movement or frequent falls can result.

Treatment of vertebral subluxation complex

Chiropractic adjustment

Manual adjustment of the spine is an essential technique in chiropractic care, and it can be an effective method for dealing with vertebral subluxations. Manual adjustment by a trained chiropractor realigns spinal structures to restore normal function and reduce the nerve compression produced by displacement of the vertebrae.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist creates a specialized care plan that includes exercises that focus on strengthening spinal structures to provide greater comfort and increased flexibility and range of motion.

Massage therapy

Massage is an ancient healing practice that continues to offer benefits to health and physical function. As a therapeutic measure, massage helps to facilitate circulation and the production of healing natural chemicals, which aid in healing of damaged tissues.

Traction/decompression therapy

Chiropractors use traction and other decompression therapy measures to gently separate the spinal vertebrae to relieve pain and reduce troublesome nerve compression symptoms. This type of therapy involves lying on a segmented table with a harness attached to the pelvis, which then mechanically moves in very small increments to separate the spinal bones.

Spinal bracing/taping

Spinal bracing or taping can provide additional support for the vertebrae and can help to reduce pain and nerve involvement.

Lifestyle measures

A number of lifestyle changes can help to reduce discomfort from vertebral subluxation complex. Weight management measures and eating a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods, such as green, leafy vegetables, colorful fruits, olive oil and whole grains can reduce pressure on vertebrae and the inflammatory response in the body. Regular exercise, stretching and other back and core strengthening exercises. Supplements of vitamin D and calcium can help to strengthen spinal bones.


Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications such as over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen can be helpful in relieving discomfort from vertebral subluxation problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is vertebral subluxation serious

A vertebral subluxation is not always a serious health issue, particularly in the early stages. However, over time, the dysfunctional movement and damage to spinal structures can worsen, leading to increasingly debilitating symptoms.

How do you fix a vertebral subluxation

Essentially, fixing a vertebral subluxation requires restoring the spinal bones to their natural position. This can be done in a number of ways, such as receiving manual spinal adjustments from a chiropractor or doing corrective exercises under the care of a physical therapist. Rest may be part of your treatment for vertebral subluxation. Discomfort can be treated with heat and cold therapy or over-the-counter pain medications. You may need to see an orthopedist for prescription medications or injections. For severe subluxations, surgery may be necessary.

What exactly is subluxation

A subluxation is a partial dislocation of spinal bones. It occurs when vertebrae of the spine go out of alignment, leading to pressure on neighboring structures and tissues. The unnatural displacement of the vertebrae can cause a variety of problems with both comfort and mobility, as nerves can become compressed and muscles, tendons and ligaments are forced to work harder to compensate for the dysfunctional movement.

Can a subluxation heal on its own

Minor subluxations of the vertebrae may heal on their own, but this is not always the case. You may need treatment to realignment the vertebrae to avoid troublesome symptoms.

What is the best treatment for subluxation

The best treatment for subluxation of the vertebrae depends on the underlying cause of the problem. Chiropractic adjustment over a period of time can often provide the most lasting relief from symptoms. The use of massage therapy, electric stimulation and decompression therapy can also be useful methods for dealing with subluxations. Over-the-counter pain medications can be helpful in reducing discomfort until the underlying misalignment is resolved.

Is subluxation good or bad

A subluxation is generally bad. Initially, it may not cause symptoms, but over time, the misalignment can worsen and lead to pain, spasms, numbness and weakness.

What exercises are good for vertebral subluxation

Curls, crunches and roll-ups are all good exercises to improve core strength and avoid problems with subluxation. Exercises to improve spinal health include lying on the floor with one leg extended and the other legs bent and flat on the floor. Support your lower back with your hands as you lift your head, shoulders and chest off the floor as if they were in one piece. Hold for 10 seconds and then, slowly lower to the floor. The bird-dog exercise has you get on hands and knees on the floor. Extend your right hand and left leg outward, balancing as you stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and then, lower your arm and leg. Repeat on the other side.

What is the cause of vertebral subluxation

A vertebral subluxation can be caused by poor posture, which, over time can cause damage to tissues and bones. Some subluxations are caused by injury, such as from impacts during car crashes or impacts from athletic activities. Repetitive motions can also cause a subluxation of the vertebrae. Aging and natural degenerative processes can lead to vertebral subluxation. Poor diet, stress and inflammatory processes within the body can also lead to subluxation. Some individuals may have genetic factors that lead to weakness in the spinal vertebrae.

What are the symptoms of a vertebral subluxation

You may experience tenderness and inflammation in the neck or back. Numbness, tingling in the extremities or a burning sensation in the back may be present. You may feel shooting pains in areas of the back. You may experience instability in the vertebrae of the spine.

What happens if you don’t treat a subluxation

Without treatment, a subluxation that is causing symptoms will worsen, causing increasing pain, numbness in the extremities, weakness and possible loss of bowel or bladder control.

What are the risks of subluxation

Genetic factors can put individuals at greater risk of subluxation, when spinal structures have abnormalities that affect strength or flexibility. An injury to the spine can increase the risk of developing a subluxation. Poor diet, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weakness in the spine and greater risk for subluxation.

Can subluxation be permanent

Yes, a vertebral subluxation can be permanent, if it is severe enough not to be able to heal on its own and whether appropriate treatment is administered.

How long can subluxation last

Vertebral subluxation can be an ongoing problem, or it can resolve on its own over a period of weeks or months. The severity of the problem depends on the underlying cause of the displacement, which can cause symptoms to worsen. If the underlying causes are reduced, a subluxation may be able to resolve in a short amount of time.

What type of doctor treats subluxation

Chiropractors are trained in techniques that help to manage subluxations and improve spinal function. Orthopedic specialists also treat disorders of spine and joints and can provide care for subluxations.

: Does subluxation need surgery

Generally, vertebral subluxation complex does not require surgery to provide relief from uncomfortable symptoms. However, in some cases, surgery may necessary, such as with the subluxation is a result from an injury from an auto accident, when tissue or bone may be damaged by the impact.

How long does subluxation take to heal

Subluxations can take up to 12 to 16 weeks to fully heal. You may be required to use a sling or brace for one to two weeks to allow the vertebrae to stabilize as it heals. The length of treatment generally depends on the underlying causes of the problem.

What are the dangers of subluxation

Vertebral subluxations can become more displaced, leading to increasing pain, poor flexibility and limited range of motion. Compression of nerves caused by the displaced bones can cause problems with walking and balance. In some cases, loss of bladder or bowel function can occur. Severe subluxations can lead to paralysis.

What is the immediate treatment for subluxation

Heat and cold therapy can begin to provide immediate relief from symptoms of subluxation. Vertebral subluxations also respond well to spinal adjustment and decompression therapy. Relieving pain with non-steroid, anti-inflammatory medications, or corticosteroid drugs is also helpful as immediate treatment.

Can subluxation cause paralysis

A severe subluxation can lead to damage to the spinal cord and paralysis of the arms and legs or loss of control of bladder or bowel function.

Vertebral subluxation vs spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a type of subluxation in which one vertebra slips and moves over an adjacent vertebra. You may not know you have spondylolisthesis in the early stages, where there may be no symptoms. However, as the condition worsens, an individual may experience increasing pain, numbness and incontinence. Conservative treatment can help relieve symptoms, except in severe cases where surgery may be necessary.

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