Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
I often get asked by patients why their spine goes out of alignment. Why is it that chiropractors correct spinal misalignments and posture over multiple visits only to have patients’ alignment problems come back again weeks or months later even without back pain? It’s a valid question, as it would be easy to think you can just get your spine adjusted once and realigned like a wheel misalignment on your car. However, human beings are more complex than a car. As a human being, you are bombarded by a variety of stressors on a daily basis. As well, you just can’t order replacement parts for your body like you can with your car. Although that would be nice. In this post, I will discuss what stressors you have to deal with on a daily basis and why your spine goes out of alignment regularly as a result of those stressors.
How does your chiropractor know if your spine goes out of alignment?
Before I discuss why your spine goes out of alignment, I think it’s important to touch on how your chiropractor knows if your spine is out of alignment. When you first visit your chiropractor with a health problem you will likely receive a thorough health history and exam. By doing a thorough health history and exam, your chiropractor can determine if your health problem could be related to your spine being out of alignment.
The following exam procedures are often used by chiropractors:
- Posture exam – if your head, shoulders, and hips are unlevel or if your shoulders and head are drawn forward you likely have spinal bones out of alignment (subluxations).
- Range of motion – loss of flexibility in how your spine moves can show there is tension in your nerves, muscles, and spinal misalignments.
- Muscle testing – loss of strength in a muscle can indicate the nerve signal from your brain to your muscle is weak which is often cause by a spinal misalignment.
- Palpation – your chiropractor will feel (palpate) your spine to see if the bones in your spine are in alignment (move well) or out of alignment (not moving well).
- Balance and coordination – poor balance and coordination can indicate your brain, nerves, and muscles aren’t working well because your spine is out of alignment.
- Orthopedic tests – tests that put the body in positions of stress to help focus in on what tissue may be injured
- X-rays – can be used to determine if the spine has misalignments, degeneration, and arthritis.
What causes your spine to go out of alignment?
Your spine goes out of alignment because your nervous system (brain and nerves) gets stuck in a stressed or tense state. Increased nerve tension will cause your muscles to get more tense. So this extra muscle tension will pull your spinal bones out of alignment and cause poor posture. As well, extra muscle tension will make your spine stiff and less flexible.
Furthermore, when your spine does go out of alignment it impedes the function of your brain and nerves. As a result, your muscles can become weak and your balance and coordination can get worse. Weak muscles and poor balance and coordination cause your spine to become unstable. This is another reason you could be prone to going out of alignment.
What makes your nervous system stressed or tense?
Here are a list some top stressors that cause your nervous system to become tense causing spinal and posture misalignments. Keep in mind there are other stressors, but these would be the most common:
Sedentary lifestyle causes your spine to go out of alignment
Prolonged sitting at a desk and lack of exercise create tension in your nervous system, muscles, and spine. Your spine will stiffen up if you sit six to eight hours a day, five days a week. Furthermore, if you go home and sit another three or four hours in front of the TV or computer, your spine will get even more stiff. It won’t take long for your spine to go out of alignment in these circumstances.
Mental stress is rampant in our modern day world. It can stem from deadlines, relationships, financial burden, health problems, sick family members, school exams, and even checking our phones for texts, emails, and social media regularly. If you have a hard time coping and rebounding quickly from mental stress you will put your brain and nervous system into a constant state of stress. This stressed state causes your muscles to become tense and your spine and posture will go out of alignment.
Poor Eating Habits
Eating foods low in nutrients leads to poor brain, nerve and muscle function. Poor posture and going out of alignment will follow. Foods low in nutrients include the following:
- Refined flour (bread, baked goods, pizza, beer)
- Refined sugar (candy, pop, table sugar)
- Vegetable and industrial seed oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, soybean, safflower, sunflower, sesame)
Unfortunately, these foods make up more than 50% of the total daily calories consumed by the average person in the industrial world today. (1)
Furthermore, these foods promote inflammation (swelling) in your body when you eat them. Inflammation causes a stress response in your body which can cause your spine to go out of alignment.
Being overweight causes your spine to go out of alignment
54 -70% of North American adults are overweight or obese. (2, 3, 4) If you are overweight or obese you will have extra stress on your spine, muscles, and nerves. As well, being overweight or obese leads to underlying inflammation. (5) For these reasons, it’s not hard to figure out how being overweight or obese will create poor posture and cause your spine to go out of alignment.
One-third to two-thirds of adults in developed nations don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night during the week. (6, 7, 8) If you struggle with sleep deprivation, it will change your brain and nerves in such a way that you become more sensitive to pain. As well, loss of sleep puts your brain and nervous system into the stressed state we have talked about. Furthermore, poor sleep increases inflammation, and suppresses your immune system (your system that fights off bad germs and heals injured tissue).
Flat feet makes your spine go out of alignment
26-70% of the population in the modern industrial world have flat feet. (9, 10) If you have flat feet (dropped arches), it means your feet are not in an ideal alignment for proper weight-bearing and gait. So if your feet are out of alignment it will create stress and alignment problems up to your knees, hips, spines, shoulders, and head.
Previous injuries and damage to your spine
Previous injuries to your spine that were either not treated properly or have created significant arthritis or degeneration will cause ongoing alignment problems and inflammation.
There are also other causes of inflammation other than being overweight and poor eating habits. Inflammation can also arise from the following:
- underlying gut problems (eg. irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, Crohn’s)
- problems with stress hormones
- mold toxicity
- heavy metal toxicity
- chronic conditions like Lyme disease.
Again, inflammation puts your nervous system and body into a stressed state which can cause your spine to go out of alignment.
Too Much Exercise
Too much exercise or overtraining can cause tension in your spine and spinal misalignments. If you overtrain, you won’t give your brain and body enough time to recover and heal. Poor healing will cause your nervous system and spine to tense up.
Furthermore, overtraining can lead to increased injury, inflammation, insomnia, cognitive decline, decreased immune function, slower fat metabolism, and reduced cardiovascular health.
As a human being, living in the modern industrial world, your nervous system and spine are exposed to many stressors on a daily basis. These stressors put your nervous system and spine in a constant state of stress and tension. As a result, your spine goes out of alignment on a regular basis.
Now that you know some of the main causes of why your spine goes out of alignment, you can probably guess what you can do to keep your spine more stable and in good alignment.
In the next article, I will go into more depth on action steps you can take to keep your spine in better alignment.
To learn more about how chiropractic care could help you and your family click on Edmonton chiropractor Dr. Dean Collins’ complete guide to chiropractic care.