A vertebral misalignment or chiropractic subluxation is when one vertebrae in the moves out of it’s designed placement and creates dysfunction to the joint and associated structures. A chiropractic subluxation is different from a medical subluxation. A medical subluxation refers to a significant displacement of a joint while a chiropractic subluxation is a much smaller misalignment and can be easily overlooked.
A simple definition of a vertebral subluxation is the loss of co-ordination of the nervous system with the body, altering the neurological function thereby changing the physiological function locally and remotely in the body.
 Structural Misalignment

  A subluxation does not just impact the vertebra themselves. There is evidence that a subluxation will influence muscle, connective, vascular, neurologic, and lymphatic tissue. The effects of the subluxation can often be observed by an experienced physician with the various test and exams they elect to perform. 

 A typical vertebra has 6 articulations or joints with the vertebra above and below. These joints allow for proper range of motion. As long as the vertebra is out of proper alignment, the body will be in a process of remodeling the joint. Over time this may include degeneration of the joint and dysfunction of the adjoining tissue. In addition, pain, arthritis, poor posture, tight muscles, and other physical stresses may manifest.

Image of an upper cervical misalignment that may lead to a subluxation.

Neurological Component

 Besides the anatomical damage that is caused by a subluxation there is a neurological component. The spinal column houses the spinal cord which carries nerves to every part of our body. These nerves send and receive information or impulses about the internal and external environment. Vertebral subluxations alter the conduction of nerve impulses, and therefore interfere with the quantity and/or quality of the mental and special sense impulses being transmitted over the nerve system.

The autonomic nervous system controls and co-ordinates many processes in our body necessary for life. As and example, there have been multiple research articles published that show the effectiveness of upper cervical chiropractic with decreasing blood pressure. Blood pressure is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Imagine all the other systems that are influenced by the autonomic nervous system that are being suppressed by a subluxation.

Range Of Motion

Range of motion (ROM) is evaluated for the segment in question, putting that joint through all the planes of motion and noting any abnormal or limited movement. A subluxation will usually cause aberrant motion, whether restricted or painful, due to the joint not seated properly. This is mechanical joint dysfunction. If a joint is not articulating properly, it will damage the joint itself as well as adjacent structures and create further problems in time. Think of a tire on a wheel that is out of alignment. The wear on that tire will not be even and it will need to be replaced sooner.


 An organism that can adapt is one of the cardinal signs of life. The human body has an inherent ability to adapt to many of the stresses put on it. In fact, stress is essential for the healthy growth of muscle and bone tissue. In normal anatomy, the body will adapt to the limitations it encounters. If the anatomy is not aligned, the body will have to remodel the problematic areas, which may result in dysfunction.

Due to the small displacement size of a chiropractic subluxation, often care is not immediately sought out. In time, a subluxation will become a chronic condition and the joint disfunction will be ever more prominent. The surrounding structures may also be adversely effected such as spinal nerves, intervertebral discs, and the joint capsules. Common signs of joint dysfunction are seen as various musculoskeletal and neurological symptoms in the body. 

Additional Views

  • Anterior view of an upper cervical misalignment.
  • Posterior view of an upper cervical misalignment.
  • Unmarked view of upper cervical region on x-ray.
  • Highlighted position of key features in upper cervical spine.
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