How Does Chiropractic Work?

Chiropractors make adjustments to the spine to correct the alignment and to remove irritation to the nerves. When the spine is aligned the nervous system can run and regulate body function by sending messages from the brain without interference.

Could you start us off by giving us a basic understanding of what chiropractic care is?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Sure, that should be pretty easy. I’ve been doing it for just about 30 years now so if I don’t know by now, I might be in a little bit of trouble.

A basic understanding of what chiropractic is, if you walk up to 9 out of 10 people on the street and you ask them what a chiropractor is, most people are going to tell you that chiropractors are back doctors. But what I’m here to share with you is that it’s really more about your nerve system.

Chiropractors make adjustments to the spine to correct the alignment, but the reason for that is really important. Typically, we’ll see stress, tension, poor posture, accidents, and falls can create misalignments to the vertebrae, and that can happen to children as well as adults. When the vertebrae misalign, they actually irritate the same nerves that they’re designed to protect. The spinal cord runs down through the center of the vertebrae and exiting from in between two adjacent vertebrae are these delicate spinal nerves. When those bones misalign, it can put pressure or irritate them, which changes the communication in that nerve. It creates static in the line. So, a message that originates in your brain that’s going to your stomach to help you digest food might be blocked out or dammed back, and that message doesn’t get through, and that’s going to cause problems with digestion.

So, it’s really about removing the irritation to the nerve themselves to allow your body and your nerve system to heal, run and regulate your body. Really when you think about it, everything is controlled by the brain and the nervous system. So, the better the flow of information from the brain to the tissue cell and the better the flow of information from the tissue cell back to the brain will keep the body in that condition of homeostasis or balance where it’s healing, running and regulating optimally. So, chiropractic basically works by optimizing the nerve system’s communication in the body to make sure that your body is healing, running and regulating at its optimum potential.

I think that’s the simplest and best way, but most people tend to think about chiropractic as just about care for back pain and neck pain. While chiropractic is great and helps tons of people with those conditions, it’s so much more important to remember that if you’re only using chiropractic for your back aches and neck aches, you’re probably only getting 10% of what we have to offer.

For someone with back pain, how does chiropractic care work to help alleviate the pain?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, that’s a really good question, and I kind of touched on that. Obviously, if a vertebrae is misaligned and it’s pinching a nerve, it causes pain or discomfort. If there’s enough pressure on something that carries those messages and it gets irritated, the pain receptors fire, and the pain message goes up to the brain.

Now with chiropractic, if we can realign the vertebrae and get some of the pressure or irritation off that nerve, obviously that pain should start to go away once we alleviate that pressure. But it also sets the body up to win. Because when we get pressure off the nerve, understanding that your nerve system regulates the healing and the tissue repair in your body, it’s actually going to go more efficiently and smoother so your body should heal faster than when it has pressure or irritation to the nerve system.

That’s why a lot of people will come to me. They’ve had back pain for years and years and years, and though it might wax and wane and there are certain days where they might not have any discomfort, it never really goes away because the body’s ability to heal is impaired when there’s pressure on those nerves. So, by clearing the pressure off the nerves, that should alleviate some of the discomfort and set the body up in a condition where it can heal and regulate itself at its optimum potential. That’s what helps healing go a little bit faster, and that’s why people do so well under chiropractic care.

How does upper cervical chiropractic work, and what conditions does it help with?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Upper cervical chiropractic work is extremely important. It’s hard to do it without pictures and to really show the anatomy, but upper cervical pertains to C1 and C2, which are also known as the atlas and the axis. The top cervical vertebrae is the one that your globe or your head sits on, and that’s why they call it atlas. If you’ve ever seen a statue of Atlas, he’s got the world on his back. So, our globe, or our world, our head, is situated right on top of that first cervical vertebrae.

Now that vertebrae is the most freely movable vertebrae in the body, hence, it becomes the most vulnerable to getting misaligned or what we call subluxated. Because where it sits right at the very top of the spinal column, right next to the brainstem, if that is misaligned, it can put pressure, cause irritation in the brainstem area, and the brainstem is basically the seed of life. Everything that goes on in your body is basically regulated at the brainstem level. It’s not in the cerebral cortex where we do all our thinking. It’s really more at the center of the brain, what they call the primitive brain or the brainstem. When you look at animals that we consider lower, like cats or dogs or birds, their cortex isn’t as big, but the brainstem in relationship is always comparable in size because that’s what basically runs, regulates, and controls everything.

You could actually cut away the entire cerebral cortex, and that person would never move, walk or talk again, but their body would continue to function, run, heal and regulate itself as long as the brainstem is intact. So upper cervical chiropractic focuses on alleviating pressure there, and because every nerve in your body passes through the ring of atlas, you could affect things going down all the way to the toes or all the way up to the nose, by working with that upper cervical area.

As a matter of fact, when we look at someone like Chris Reeves, we saw that he had damage to the upper cervical region and look how it affected his body. He couldn’t use his legs, but that’s not really where the attachment comes from. He couldn’t use his arms, he couldn’t use his lungs. It was really about the pressure at the highest level in the upper cervical spine. So, because of the intense amount of neurology in that area, pressure in that area has much more deleterious effects on your health, and that’s why it’s so important to keep that upper cervical spine clear.

What type of tools, instruments or equipment do chiropractors use, and how do they work?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Those are good questions, and there are a lot of different tools and instruments, but really when you think about it, the word chiropractic, literally, chiro is the Greek word for hand and practic is the Greek root for practice, so it literally, means to practice by hand. The founders called it chiropractic because they, literally, meant for it to be practiced by hand.

However, over time, other instruments and things have come into chiropractic that are excellent tools that we can use to help people in different ways because not everyone is comfortable with some of the, what we call, osseous techniques that put some pressure into the spine. There are light force and low force and no force techniques that we can use.

One of them uses a series of blocks called SOT, or sacral occipital technique, and those blocks, what we do is we wedge them underneath the pelvis, and we can use gravity to move the bones. It’s a slower process and they rest up on these blocks, and we let gravity reset the position.

We also have a technique called activator, which uses an activator mallet, which is a little bit of a spring load thing, which looks, kind of at the end of it, like a doorstop. It puts a little bit of a recoil force in there, but it’s much gentler and a little bit more precise when it comes to people who may have conditions that are a little bit more sensitive. It’s a way to get a higher psi, or pounds per square inch, into a smaller area without actually having to move the structures involved surrounding the area, which makes it a little bit more comfortable. That’s also another excellent technique.

The other instrument that we use is thermography, which is an excellent tool to determine where subluxations are, when they’re happening, and is also a good way to determine if that patient is clear because there are times when people will come into my office with conditions or discomfort, but they don’t need an adjustment that day. If everything is lined up and there’s no interference to the spine, it’s like going to the dentist and him saying, “Hey, there’s no cavity.”

There are things called the subluxation station and different types of instrumentation and thermography which will let you know if the patient is clear or if there’s interference present. So those things are excellent tools in determining how healthy someone is or how healthy their spine is to determine if they’re clear.

X-ray is another important tool that we use in determining where the misalignments are, what the pattern is, and also in determining how healthy the bones are, which may skew which technique you decide to use with that individual patient. Obviously, for a 90-year-old woman who has osteoporosis, you’re going to use a different technique with her than you would with an 18-year-old football player. So, it’s important to know which techniques will be more effective with which patients and how to modify your technique to make sure that they’re safe and effective for everyone.

We use drop pieces. We have a special piece on the table that drops away for the expecting mom. So, when we work with pregnant women, this piece drops out and supports the baby, and they can lie comfortably flat without putting any pressure on the baby or any other vital organs. So, we do a lot of drop work.

We use upper cervical toggle pieces, which are set to rise up and drop down. We actually use the acceleration of the table and the drop piece to make the corrective adjustment, instead of using just pure energy.

So, there are a lot of different tools that people use in chiropractic. In our office, we primarily stay with the hands. We use the drop work for the expecting ladies, and we use some activator and incorporate a little bit of SOT. We use these other techniques when necessary, but our primary technique is to deliver care by hand, just the way they did it 128 years ago.

How does chiropractic work to help pregnant women have an easier pregnancy and delivery?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, the obvious one is when pregnant women are coming to the office, a lot of them are in pain. They’ve gained 20 or 30 pounds, their center of gravity moves to the anterior. It loads up the spinal joints and the lumbar spine a lot differently, and they can get a lot of discomfort. When you’re expecting, you just can’t be popping pain pills and other medications because those medications will cross the placental barrier, and they’ll affect your growing fetus or the growing baby inside. So, one of the great things about chiropractic is we can alleviate some of their discomfort without using drugs. So that’s an awesome tool to help expecting moms be more comfortable during pregnancy.

The other thing that we utilize is something called the Webster technique. Now we’ve done a whole blog, I think in the past, about the Webster technique. It’s a series of contacts to relax ligaments and some drop work to realign the pelvic and the pelvic girdle to really create as much space as possible to prevent something called intrauterine constraint. That means that there’s not a lot of room inside the mom, and the baby might have trouble turning or getting into the head-down position, and a lot of OB-GYNs will classify them as a pregnancy that is breech.

A lot of times, as long as we can keep everything lined up and make sure there’s enough space using that technique, it optimizes the space inside the mother’s womb, which allows the baby to position usually head-down a lot of times when they’re presenting breach throughout the pregnancy. But it’s not really a technique that turns the baby. All we do is create the optimal situation inside the womb, by using those contacts and relaxing the uterosacral ligaments and the round ligament and making sure everything else is aligned. That usually results in the optimized birthing position and allows the mom to have a more comfortable pregnancy and usually allow them to deliver vaginally. That’s a really important thing.

I tend to work and attract a lot of what I call, for lack of a better term, the crunchy moms who want to have that natural birth or are seeking to have a home birth, and the Webster technique really stack the deck in their favor to have the birth that they want. We get tons of referrals from midwives, doulas, the prenatal yoga center, and even a handful of OB GYNs. So, a lot of women are turning to chiropractic to help them with their discomfort and making sure that they have the natural birth that they’re looking for. It’s much more detailed and goes beyond the scope of today’s topic, but we can always revisit that at a later time.

Learn More

To speak with Dr. Gregg Rubinstein, visit or call (212) 977-7094 to schedule an appointment.

Click here to receive more information & to schedule your consultation.

Call Now Button