Basics of chiropractic medicine (Proceedings)


Chiropractic is a form of health care that has long been used in man and animals.

Chiropractic is a form of health care that has long been used in man and animals. It is a method that works by restoring the spine and the spinal motor units to normal function. When spinal motor units are functioning normally, the patient's innate healing powers are allowed to repair tissues and thus return the body to a state of physiologic balance, helping to restore and maintain overall holistic wellness.

What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic care is a holistic, alternative approach that helps correct many of the dis-eases and performance problems of animals. It is a drugless method of health care that focuses on the health and proper functioning of the spinal column (and joints of the extremities).

Chiropractic care is directed toward returning a vertebral motor unit to normal function. Chiropractors use the term subluxation to describe a specific problem or disease of the spinal column. A subluxation is defined as a misaligned vertebra that is "stuck" or unable to move correctly. Note that a chiropractically "subluxed" hip (a hip that is improperly aligned with the sacrum) is different from the luxated hip in regular veterinary terminology (femoral head luxated from the acetabulum).

When movement between two vertebra is restricted, the animal will not have total flexibility of the spine. Stiffness, resistance, and lack of ability results. Misaligned vertebra can also result in pain — pain that can be directly observable or that is seen as slight changes affecting performance success. In addition, subluxations between spinal vertebra may also inhibit the normal flow of neuronal information to areas peripheral to the spinal cord.

Subluxations in the spine may cause the animal to compensate in movement or posture. The animal may attempt to avoid the pain of a subluxation by shifting weight or by avoiding certain movements. When the spine is not functioning correctly in one area, stress is placed on other vertebral joints. Secondary subluxations can occur in other areas of the column, further complicating the problems of the animal.

A brief history of chiropractic

Although chiropractic adjustments have been used for thousands of years, chiropractic in the U.S. is considered to have started with D.D. Palmer in the late 1800's. (Palmer later founded the still-active Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa.)

Since its early beginnings in Iowa, chiropractic has spread across the country, and today — with at least several dozen specific methods of chiropractic — it has become a highly diversified healing method. All of the many chiropractic methods available, however, are directed toward one goal: To make the spine and its motor units functionally healthy ... so that the body's innate ability to heal itself can be utilized.

How are subluxations identified?

In veterinary chiropractic we first examine the gait and stance of the animal. Abnormal posture is noted, as are any restrictions to the animal's normal motion. For example, pain in the right sacroiliac joint causes an animal to shift forward onto its left forelimb. This same animal would likely resist turning to the right and would be restricted in the extension phase of the right hind leg...or it might actually limp on its right hind.

Muscle areas are then palpated for tenseness, laxity, heat, coolness, and/or pain. The above animal with sacroiliac pain, for example, would likely have muscle heat, tenseness and pain in the gluteals and lower lumbars, and might have pain in the opposite hamstring muscles — and possibly compensatory pain somewhere further up along the thoracics or in the opposite side foreleg.

Finally, the joint itself is palpated. The joint (or vertebra) is first palpated in its static position to feel if it appears to be out of its normal anatomic alignment. Then the joint is motioned through its normal range of motion, feeling for a normal -vs- a "stuck" range of motion.

When a joint is determined to be subluxated (using a combination of all the methods above), that joint is chiropractically adjusted to return it to its normal state.

What is an adjustment?

A chiropractic adjustment is a short, rapid thrust onto a specific anatomical part of a vertebra in the precise direction that will replace the vertebra into a normal position.

Chiropractic is very specific, and adjustments are made on vertebra directly. Jerking on legs or tails, use of pieces of two-by-four and a hammer, etc. are not, in my opinion, chiropractic adjustments ... and I consider them brutal and inhumane. Chiropractic, correctly done, uses a controlled force, applied in a correct angle. Incorrectly applied "adjustments" can be more harmful than helpful.

The purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to release the "stuck" vertebra and restore alignment, thus eliminating nerve pressure. The body can then repair tissues and restore function.

Why so many adjustments?

One of the common complaints against chiropractic is that it may take several adjustments to get the vertebra back into normally functioning motor units. Remember that the purpose of an adjustment is to realign the spine. The muscles and ligaments of the patient must be able to maintain the correct spinal alignment. When an orthodontist works to straighten the teeth, he applies a rigid brace directly to the teeth. Chiropractors cannot do this for the spine.

Several adjustments may be needed until the body accepts and maintains the correct alignment of bone, muscle, tendon and ligament. Animals seem to respond quicker than do most humans, and oftentimes three or four adjustments are all that are required for most cases. Chronic and severe cases may take longer.

Typical uses for chiropractic

Chiropractic care is specifically used for musculo-skeletal conditions and to help maintain the performance animal in top condition. The following are some of the examples of cases where I have found chiropractic to be particularly helpful:

  • Acute and chronic pain. Excellent results when used for pain due to mis-aligned vertebrae and/or joints of the extremities. When I was actively practicing, I often combined chiropractic with acupuncture and herbal medicines. It is my opinion that musculo-skeletal pain responds so well to chiropractic that it is just plain bad medicine and perhaps even malpractice not to use it.

  • Routine maintenance for the performance animal — canine or equine. Athletes of all ilk (human and animal) have found chiropractic to enhance their performance and to prolong their longevity as an active athlete.

  • Routine maintenance for the animal predisposed to chronic structural problems — hip dysplasia, as one possible example. While it is unlikely that chiropractic care will alleviate structural problems (Chiropractic helps function; it does not generally alter structural abnormalities), the impact of structural problems on the function on the animal can be lessened by keeping that animal's physical body balanced and chiropractically aligned.

  • Misc. uses for chiropractic: Over the years I have found that chiropractic, because it helps to correct abnormal nerve function, can be helpful for many dis-eases I would not have previously considered to be chiropractic cases. Examples include: Inappropriate urination, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal upset, chronic skin irritations (hot spots), epileptiform seizures, heart irregularities, etc.

My experience with animal chiropractic

When I was actively practicing in my holistic practice, I chiropractically evaluated (and adjusted if necessary) every animal I treated. I have seen dramatic results with chiropractic alone. However, since my practice used a ten-step holistic approach that empowered clients to develop their own wellness programs for their family of animals, I couldn't always be sure that chiropractic was the sole cause of the good results I observed.

I found that most animals (some cats may be the exceptions) seemed to enjoy chiropractic, especially after the first visit where they could feel the results. As I developed my chiropractic area of interest, I became especially impressed with results we got with routine adjustments (from once a month during the hard-work season to every couple of months or so), given to the athletic animal — the obedience or agility dog, the hunting, jumping, cutting, racing horse, etc.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, I feel I personally got more from chiropractic than from any other modality I used. Chiropractic allowed me to touch the animals, to feel them from stem to stern, to open my heart to theirs — all aspects of veterinary medicine I had forgotten about in my normal, allopathic practice.

To be an animal chiropractor

Veterinary chiropractic is a highly specific healing method that requires additional training for both chiropractors and veterinarians. There are now several courses that veterinarians or chiropractors can attend. The best of these courses (ie the ones with the most academic and hands-on rigor such as the one where I teach, Options for Animals) offer a 200+ hour certifying course. Students who have successfully completed the course work and have shown their competency on animals can become certified with either the American Veterinary Chiropractic Assn. or the International Veterinary Chiropractic Assn.


The following resources have listings of veterinarians who offer chiropractic (AHVMA) and veterinarians and chiropractors who have completed their courses and/or are currently certified by the certifying agency:

AHVMA American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association –

AVCA; American Veterinary Chiropractic Association –

International Veterinary Chiropractic Association –

Options for Animals

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