Vertebral subluxation complex (VSC), which chiropractors often refer to simply as a subluxation, is a fitting title for a condition that is extremely complex. There are five recognized components that contribute to this condition. To further its complexity, patients may not be aware that they have a problem because, initially, subluxations may not cause pain or discomfort.
Let's take a step back to see where VSC of the lumbar spine occurs. The lumbar makes up the bottom of the spine, starting at your low back and ending just above your buttocks. It's below the thoracic spine, which makes up the mid back, and the cervical spine, which makes up the neck.
VSC in the lumbar spine occurs when vertebrae in the low back lose their normal motion or position, which can lead to local inflammation and affect the delicate nerves in the spinal cord that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
These nerves, along with the brain, collectively make up the central nervous system. The nerves leave the spinal column through holes, formed between vertebral joints, and branch off and control the health and function of every cell, tissue and organ.
Research suggests that subluxations affect how these parts function by interfering with the brain-body communication system. Imagine a healthy nervous system surrounded by clean water, and the interference as muddy and murky water that starts to pollute it.
A variety of external and internal factors can cause subluxations. Since chiropractic's inception, trauma, toxins and emotional stress have been identified as the primary causes of subluxation. Traumatic causes include car accidents and falls, chemical toxins include alcohol, drugs and environmental pollutants, and emotional stress includes everyday problems like worrying and anxiety.
When any of these is present, it can lead to the beginning of VSC, and possibly the entire five components of the condition. The first stage is kinesiopathology, which begins when spinal joints become stuck, forcing the joints around them to work harder in order to compensate. Unfortunately, this compensation does not change the fact that the spinal joints aren't functioning properly, and thus the spine's normal curvature can distort and the stuck joints can contribute to nerve irritation.
Most often, this occurs when malfunctioning spinal bones stretch, twist or pull nerve tissue. When this is serious enough it can lead to neuropathology, the second stage of VSC, which can involve either extreme nerve irritation or a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves, which are quite rare, can produce feelings patients frequently describe as "pins and needles" or a numb sensation surrounding and even far from the spine. Irritated nerves can affect the parts of the body they communicate with and increase a person's susceptibility to disease.
This interference in the nervous system can lead to the third component of VSC, myopathalogy, which involves abnormal muscle function. With myopathology, nerve impulses can diminish to the point that they under-stimulate muscles, which causes muscles to weaken and atrophy; or, they can become too strong and over-stimulate muscles, which causes muscles to work too hard and tighten, to become strained and potentially to go into spasm. Either of these problems can lead to inflammation in muscles and joints, which can cause further complications by spreading to the rest of the soft tissues in the spine.If that happens, it can lead to the fourth stage of VSC, histopathology, which involves abnormal function of soft tissue. This occurs when abnormal spinal joint function diminishes blood supply and leads to long-term swelling of structures like ligaments, disks and other soft tissues.
If people don't seek care during any of these stages, VSC can affect the whole body. This is pathophysiology, the fifth and final stage of VSC, when degenerative changes in the spine begin to spread. At this stage, calcium deposits may have built up, and are eventually recognizable as bone spurs and other abnormal growths. When this happens, your body has gone to the extreme of compensating for a malfunctioning or traumatized joint by actually creating a growth reminiscent of new bone. It has slowly transformed immobile, untreated joints into solid blocks of calcium. Known as subluxation degeneration, this final component of VSC becomes more common as people get older.
While it takes many years for someone to develop problems associated with the final component of VSC, the condition can begin at any age. That's why it's important to visit your chiropractor, as he or she can check for subluxations and provide you with ideal care. Your chiropractor will use an adjustment to correct your subluxations, which involves a high-speed thrust that realigns faulty joints and allows the body to heal. Combined with proper spinal care, this can prevent VSC from progressing into a more serious condition.