Types Of Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractic care focuses on making sure the body’s underlying structure, including the skeleton and joints, is properly aligned and functioning. More than 100 different types of chiropractic adjustments are utilized to achieve these goals, but each chiropractor generally has about ten that he or she focuses on and uses in the practice to help patients.

Although most chiropractic techniques involve the spine, they can also be applied to other parts of the body. The ultimate purpose is to promote the body’s natural healing abilities and ensure a healthy range of motion.

Chiropractors operate under the premise that pain results from problems in the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Headaches, back, neck, and joint pain often result from improper alignment, muscle or joint tightness, inflammation, or other problems that disrupt the body’s natural flow.

Because of this emphasis on health and balance, chiropractors often recommend complementary therapies to patients, such as lifestyle and diet modifications, that support the success of chiropractic adjustments.

Here is an overview of common chiropractic adjustments.

Direct thrust technique

This technique, also referred to as spinal manipulation, focuses on the spine and is perhaps the most well-known chiropractic adjustment. The chiropractor uses a high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, which is a swift, short movement to encourage proper vertebral alignment because misaligned spinal components may cause restricted motion and resulting pain.

This technique frequently produces the cracking sound that many people have come to associate with chiropractic care. The popping sound is nothing to worry about and is actually the release of gas trapped between joints.

The noise results from the joint’s movement, which causes a change in pressure and the resulting release of gas bubbles. Usually this technique does not involve pain or discomfort.

Chiropractors work with each patient to determine the appropriate amount of pressure and ensure the technique supports health and helps to reduce pain. This procedure may be done with the hands or a small, specially designed instrument to apply the pressure.

Spinal mobilization

For patients with conditions such as osteoporosis who require a gentler approach, spinal mobilization may be used in place of the direct thrust technique, although the goal of proper spinal alignment and optimal joint functioning is the same.

With this form of chiropractic adjustment, slow movements including gentle stretches or firm pressure—as opposed to thrusts—are used to encourage spinal components into their rightful places.


Articulatory chiropractic adjustments target injured joints and help to restore them to their full range of motion. To achieve this goal, the chiropractor slowly moves the arm, leg, or other extremity through its range of motions while applying force.

Moving the joint through the full range of motion helps to remedy stiffness and improve mobility.

Myofascial release

This chiropractic adjustment targets myofascial tissue, which is a layer of membranes that cover, support, and connect the body’s muscles. This type of therapy is also sometimes done in massage. Stress or other causes can lead to stiff areas in myofascial tissue, called trigger points, which lead to pain.

Pain is not always present at the area of the trigger point. Sometimes, the patient will feel it in another area of the body, which can make the points difficult to find. A chiropractor works with patients to uncover these stiff areas and release tension to reduce pain.

In addition to causing stiffness, trigger points may further restrict the movement of joints and muscles, which can cause problems and pain throughout the body.

During myofascial release, the chiropractor finds these stiff areas and applies pressure to loosen them up, free movement, and reduce pain.

Muscle energy technique

This type of chiropractic adjustment is a form of myofascial release, but is active because it requires patient participation. It targets stiff areas of the body that have developed into trigger points and cause pain.

As the patient uses specific muscles, the chiropractor applies counter-pressure. This technique is repeated several times, with each repetition lasting for several seconds followed by a brief period of rest. After each repetition, the chiropractor will shift the position slightly to ensure the technique targets the complete range of motion.

Muscle energy technique strengthens weak areas, promotes mobility, works to release trigger points, and improves blood flow to promote healing and flexibility. The goal is to provide full mobility and reduce pain.

Indirect positional technique

Some people suffer pain from hypertonic muscles, which means they are overly toned. Many times, people think of muscle tone as a good thing, but too much muscle tone, or uneven tone, can lead to tightness and pain.

For example, a mostly sedentary person with a desk job who then lifts weights several times each week may have overly developed pectoral muscles that result in poor posture, with the shoulders rolled forward. In this case, the pectoral muscles would be considered hypertonic.

The indirect positional technique seeks to correct hypertonic muscles and help the surrounding joints regain the full range of motion. This chiropractic adjustment involves the practitioner holding the joint in a neutral position before applying a specific force. Sometimes, the force is used to lengthen the muscle and other times it’s intended only to release tightness and encourage the muscle’s return to health.

Cervical spine manipulation

Problems in the cervical spine, which is the portion in the neck, may lead to headaches, upper back pain, discomfort in the shoulders or arms, or diminished range of motion. Chiropractors manipulating the cervical spine use the same techniques as with direct thrust or the more gentle chiropractic adjustment, spinal mobilization.

Functional technique

Functional technique targets joints to free them from restriction and improve overall mobility. To achieve this goal, chiropractors use a gentle force as they move the joint through its natural range of motion. Once a restriction is detected, the practitioner holds the joint at the point of restriction until it releases.

This technique, like other chiropractic adjustments, is as much an art as it is science and requires an in-depth knowledge of the body’s systems to perform safely and effectively.

Have you ever tried any of these chiropractic adjustments?

Image by Allan Ferguson via Flickr