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Vertebral Joint Dysfunction - What is it?

Updated: Mar 5

The most simple explanation of Vertebral Joint Dysfunction is that your joint is "stuck"(not moving properly) and the muscles surrounding it are tight. This causes pain in the joint, and a "stiff" feeling in the region of joint dysfunction.


There are different levels of severity. Most people that come in for regular adjustments will have mild to moderate joint dysfunction in their problem areas, which will be fairly simple to adjust and to relax the surrounding muscles. In severe cases, the joint capsule can get stuck in the wrong position. Think of if your brake pad isn't lined up and is stuck so it won't move. This is called facet capsulitis and it creates severe pain, and causes the person to maintain a position of leaning away from the joint. This may take 3-4 chiropractic adjustments with muscle work to resolve and to regain full, pain-free range of motion.


It is generally believed amongst chiropractors that there are three main components that cause a Vertebral Joint Dysfunction, also known as a Subluxation:

1. Physiological / Mechanical (i.e. the joint doesn’t move properly).

2. Mental (i.e. stress)

3. Emotional (i.e. response to pain)


There are many other definitions of the Vertebral Joint Dysfunction, a.k.a. Subluxation:


The World Health Organization (WHO) Definition of a Subluxation: “A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity.”


Wikipedia.com: “The vertebral subluxation has been described as a syndrome with signs and symptomswhich include: altered alignment; aberrant motion; palpable soft tissue changes; localized/referred pain; muscle contraction or imbalance; altered physiological function; reversible with adjustment/manipulation; focal tenderness.


V. Strang, D.C. has several hypotheses on how a misaligned vertebra may cause interference to the nervous system in his book, Essential Principles of Chiropractic:

Nerve compression hypothesis: suggests that when the vertebrae are out of alignment, the nerve roots and/or spinal cord can become pinched or irritated. While the most commonly referenced hypothesis, and easiest for a patient to understand, it may be the least likely to occur.


Proprioceptive insult hypothesis: focuses on articular alterations causing hyperactivity of the sensory nerve fibers.


Somatosympathetic reflex hypothesis: all the visceral organ functions can be reflexly affected by cutaneous or muscular stimulation.


Somatosomatic reflex hypothesis: afferent impulses from one part of the body can result in reflex activity in other parts of the body.


Viscerosomatic reflex hypothesis: visceral afferent fibers cause reflex somatic problems.


Somatopsychic hypothesis: the effects of a subluxation on the ascending paths of the reticular activating system.


Neurodystrophic hypothesis: focuses on lowered tissue resistance that results from abnormal innervation.


Dentate ligament-cord distortion hypothesis: upper cervical misalignments can cause the dentate ligaments to put a stress on the spinal cord.


Psychogenic hypothesis: emotions, such as stress, causing contraction in skeletal muscles.”


Again, I hope you found this article useful!





#chiropractic #vertebra #backpain #subluxation #neckpain


Author: Casey Campbell BSc., D.C.

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