The Spine--an integrated structure
in∙te∙grat∙ed (ĭnʹtĭgrātʹĕd) v. combining or coordinating separate elements to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole.
Many people go to a doctor of chiropractic because of backaches or neck problems. In the process of obtaining improvement of the spinal pain, they find relief for other health problems. It could be a long-term menstrual problem, a kidney or digestive problem; or maybe it is a headache, sinus or hay fever problem that responds favorably. This happens because correcting the spine often improves the nervous system and other controlling factors of the body.
Many people are aware that the small bones of the spine, known as vertebrae, can become misaligned and cause irritation to the nerves that come from between the vertebrae. This irritation may cause abnormal nerve function, affecting whatever organ, gland, or tissue is supplied by that nerve. This is the basic principle upon which chiropractic was founded and this natural approach to health has expanded in a very short time.
As examination procedures continue to improve, we find that not only can spinal misalignments affect various areas in the body, but that various areas of the body can affect the spine when they malfunction. Let’s look at some of the integrations present in spinal function.
Synergism Within the Spine
In the case of a low back problem, doctors often confine a spinal examination to the area of complaint and direct correction to the localized problem. In most cases this produces satisfactory results. Sometimes, however, the improvement may not last, and the recurring problem needs further treatment.
The answer to this perplexing situation may be found in the fact that the entire spine was not examined. The spine works as an integrated whole rather than as segmental unit. As a result, remote area dysfunction may cause loss of correction. During spinal movement, breathing, and general activity, there is a synergistic movement of the bottom vertebra of the spine with the top vertebra. If the bottom vertebras malfunction, it may cause the top vertebras to malfunction also. The upper and lower vertebrae will then be working synergistically because they will be malfunctioning in harmony. The upper area may or may not cause symptoms. If the doctor locates and corrects the problem in the lower area but does not correct the problem in the upper area, the upper area will tend to recreate the original lower problem to restore the synergism of malfunction. This synergistic action is present throughout the entire spinal column.
The Foundation of the Spine
Your spine sits on a foundation formed by the pelvis and legs. This foundation must be balanced and working normally or it will create strain throughout your spine. If the cause of your spinal imbalance is an imbalance in the foundation, the spinal balance will recur until the foundation is balanced.
An excellent example of this principle is a house sitting on a crooked, shifting foundation. As the foundation shifts, the walls of the house distort, the plaster cracks, the doors don’t fit, and the windows won’t open. An accomplished carpenter can come in, patch the cracks in the walls, trim the doors and windows to fit, and everything looks and functions well—temporarily. If the foundation is not corrected, it won’t be long before the walls crack again, the doors won’t fit, and the windows won’t open.
The pelvis is made up of three bones—the two larger bones that form the hips and a triangular-shaped bone joining them called the sacrum. This structure is called the pelvic girdle. When a torsion or misalignment occurs in this structural foundation, it causes strain throughout the body, especially the pelvic girdle. In addition to spinal movement, an adaptive torsion of the shoulder girdle takes place that can cause shoulder, arm, and hand symptoms. Here again we find the integration within the body; the shoulder problem will not respond adequately until the pelvic torsion or misalignment is corrected.
Feet and Legs
The cause of a spinal problem may be in the feet, ankles, calves of the legs, knees, or even the thighs. The foot and ankle have nerve endings that send information throughout the body for muscular coordination. If there is a problem, such as flat feet or ankle instability, these nerve endings send confused information that causes poor coordination of body movement.
The knee, although not involved as often as the foot and ankle, can also cause structural imbalance throughout the body. Knee dysfunction is usually correlated with a disturbed gait when walking or running. It may create strain throughout the spine and the rest of the body.
Muscles of the Legs
There are many muscles in the legs that support pelvic and general body balance. When these muscles do not adequately support the structures above them, such as the pelvis, the situation is similar to a television antenna with imbalanced guy wires. The structure moves out of its normal position and is in constant strain.
With the spine being a truly integrated structure, it is important that the doctor examine both the upper and lower areas of your spine. Your chiropractor is professionally trained not only to examine your spine, but to take into account the integration of the spine with the rest of the body.¹
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