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Chiropractic Terms and Definitions


This glossary contains some of the more common chiropractic terms and their definitions. Even if you don’t know your coccyx from a hole in the ground, this list of chiropractic terms can help you make sense of things.

Chiropractic Terms: A - E

Acute Back Pain: Back pain that is temporary, lasting less than three months. Acute back pain will generally heal itself over time.

Adjustment: A specific application of force to correct the cause of nerve interference and assist the body’s healing ability.

Atlas: The uppermost vertebrae of the neck that support the head.

Axis: The second cervical vertebra in your neck. The axis is a joint that determines your neck’s full range of motion.

Biomechanics: An overall view of the mechanics of the body, such as how muscles, tendons, and ligaments work with bones to produce movement.

Cavitation: The popping sound that occurs when nitrogen gas rushes to fill the vacuum created by separating vertebrae.

Cervical Spine: The seven vertebrae of the spine that make up the neck.

Chiropractic: The health care profession devoted to non-surgical, drug-free treatment of the body to enhance its natural healing ability. Chiropractic focuses on the anatomy and articulation of the spine, as well as the treatment of nerve interference.

Chronic Back Pain: Back pain that persists for longer than three months. Chronic back pain is often a symptom of another (sometimes serious) condition.

Coccyx: The four separate (but fused) vertebrae that make up the tailbone, or bottommost part of the spine.

DC: “Doctor of chiropractic,” an academic degree bestowed upon a chiropractor who completes his or her premed requirements and graduates from a chiropractic school.

Dynamic Thrust: A chiropractic adjustment that’s delivered forcefully and suddenly to move the vertebrae, often resulting in cavitation.

Chiropractic Terms: F - M

Flexion-Distraction Technique: A chiropractic technique where the patient is placed face down on a table and specific segments of the spine are manually (and gently) stretched.

Full-Spine Technique: A chiropractic technique used for adjusting any of the vertebrae, from the neck down.

Herniated Disk: When the outer ring of an invertebral disk ruptures, allowing the soft center to protrude. Occasionally, this protrusion may press against a nerve, causing pain, tingling, or numbness.

Intervertebral Disk: A ring of tough, fibrous cartilage that’s filled with a gelatinous center of water and collagen. These disks are located between the vertebrae and act as cushions to keep them from bumping or rubbing together.

Joint: The meeting of two or more bones in the body. Many joints are flexible, allowing movement. Occasionally, joints may become stuck or otherwise hindered and require treatment.

Ligament: A strong tissue that attaches bone to bone, providing structural support to joints.

Locked Spinal Joint: A binding that occurs in the back when an awkward movement triggers a muscle spasm, causing two joint surfaces to shift out of their normal alignment.

Long-Lever Manipulation: A chiropractic technique that stretches or loosens several vertebrae at once.

Lumbar Vertebrae: The five vertebrae making up the lower back.

Lumbosacral Strain: An injury or strain of the ligaments or joints at the base of the spine where the lumbar is connected to the sacrum. Lumbosacral strain is probably the most common cause of low back pain.

Manipulation: A passive, yet forceful, movement of a joint beyond its usual range of motion. Manipulation is a broad term that includes (but is not synonymous with) chiropractic adjustment. In other words, an adjustment is a manipulation, but a manipulation may not be an adjustment.

Mobilization: Manipulation, stretching, or other movement (not involving a high velocity thrust) designed to increase the range of motion in joints and muscles.

Motion Palpation: A method of location problem areas in the spine by feeling the motion of the segments as the patient moves.

Muscle: Soft tissue that contracts, allowing parts of the body to move.

Chiropractic Terms: N - Z

Nerve Root: One of two nerve bundles (cranial or spinal) leaving the central nervous system to branch out throughout the body.

Nimmo Method: A chiropractic technique in which pressure is applied to trigger points to relax the misbehaving muscles that are pulling vertebrae out of alignment.

Nonforce Techniques: Various chiropractic muscle-treatment methods and reflex techniques that don’t involve forceful manipulation.

Short-Lever Manipulation: A spinal manipulation method that focuses on moving a single vertebra.

Spinal Adjustment: A precise, specific correction made to the spine, either by hand or with an instrument.

Spinal Manipulation: A high-velocity thrust—delivered with great force—that stretches the vertebrae beyond their passive movement range to increase their mobility. Spinal manipulation is often accompanied by a click or pop caused by cavitation.

Spine: The backbone, which supports your body and protects the spinal cord and nerves. The spine consists of 33 vertebrae divided into the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal regions.

Subluxation: A vertebra that is misaligned or otherwise out of place, causing interference with nerve function and affecting the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

Thompson Terminal Point Technique: An adjustment performed on a special table with cushions designed to drop an inch or two when force is applied to the spine.

Thoracic Vertebrae: The twelve vertebrae that compose the upper-back portion of the spine.

Toggle Recoil Technique: A manipulation performed by applying a sudden, shallow thrust followed by a quick withdrawal while the patient is relaxed.

Vertebra: Spinal segment composed of bone that surrounds and protects the spinal cord and nerves. The plural of vertebra is vertebrae.

Although far from all-inclusive, hopefully this list of chiropractic terms will help you gain a better understanding of the jargon associated with chiropractic care.

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