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Subluxation: Dislocation Impacting Other Parts of Body

Vertebral Subluxation
Subluxation – Painful Injury

Subluxation occurs when one or more bones in the spine move out of position.  Also called a vertebral subluxation, this partial dislocation moves the bones out of position creating pressure on or irritation of spinal nerves.

Medical authorities define it as partial dislocation of any joint in the body.  It could be a shoulder or a knee.  Here, though, we focus on spinal subluxation.

What are the symptoms?

How serious is subluxation?

Above all, what do medical and legal authorities tell us about the problem?

Subluxation: The Medical View

First of all, misalignment of one or more or the vertebrae in your spine produce the condition known as subluxation.  The resulting nerve interference hinders communication between the brain and the rest of the body.  Every neurological impulse between the brain and the rest of the body pass through the spinal cord.  As a result this injury hinders the brain’s signals from fully getting through, challenging various body functions.

What Causes Subluxation?

Misalignment known as subluxation results from numerous causes, often physical trauma.  Trauma sources include car accidents, sports injuries, repetitive stress injuries, work-related injuries or others.  The forces of a car accident, head rest or not, push the body and the neck in opposite directions.  As a result of this force vertebrae can move out of position.  Besides that, other tissue injuries can take place.

Finally, this can actually occur at any point along the spine.  It can happen at the top, also known as the cervical spine.  Similarly the issue can hit the mid-back or thoracic spine, or the lower back, called the lumbar vertebrae.

Subluxation Recognized in the Law

Here’s how a Massachusetts court explained the phenomena in one case:

“Subluxation: ‘an incomplete luxation or dislocation; though a relationship is altered, contact between joint surfaces remain.” Stedman’s Medical Dictionary 1356 (5th law ed. 1982). The accompanying diagrams in the dictionary show a subluxation to be a “partial contact of apposing articular surfaces,’ in contrast to ‘a complete loss of contact.’

Commonwealth v. Aviles, 664 N.E.2d 877, 40 Mass.App.Ct. 440 (1996).

Also, another court rejected an insurance company’s claim that an award for injuries including a subluxation was arbitrary and capricious.  The insurance company took its argument to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.  However, in “Lynch’s Case”, the appeals court upheld a workers compensation award for damages which included subluxation.

Nevada laws include a definition:

“’Subluxation complex’ means a biomechanical skeletal misalignment or dysfunction in a part of the body which results in aberrant nerve transmission and expression.”

Nevada NRS  § 634.0175

These exemplify only a few of many references in the law confirming the reality of subluxation as an injury requiring attention.

Medical Experts on Subluxation

Established medical authorities document subluxation and its effects.  When spinal vertebrae and discs become misaligned, according to the Spinal Check Foundation, irritation results in the nervous system.  Here’s what the venerable Gray’s anatomy says:

“The nervous system controls and coordinates all organs and structures of the human body.”

Gray’s Anatomy, 29th Ed., page 4.

In other words subluxation can impact pretty much any body function or organ.  We’ve included a chart in the footnotes at the bottom of this blog article.

It makes sense.  All nervous system commands from the brain travel down the spinal cord.  Therefore even a partial dislocation of the vertebra in the neck or back are likely to pinch the nerves.  Those nerves transmit crucial electrical control messages just like the wiring system in your home or car.

Symptoms of vertebral subluxation can include:

  • Balance problems
  • Dizziness
  • Restricted spine flexibility or mobility
  • Back Pain
  • Muscle spasms, tightness or weakness in the spine
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Joint pain, tenderness or stiffness

Subluxation Treatment

Chiropractors apply various techniques to treat this injury.  Spinal manipulation or adjustment targets the vertebrae, moving them back into their correct position or loosening them in order that they move freely.  As a result, adjustment frees the vertebrae from the misaligned position.  This returns it to the correct alignment in relation to the whole of the spine.

Such techniques are used by chiropractors, whose practices have existed in the U.S. for over a century.  Licensed doctors, chiropractors take a series of four national board exams.  After that, chiropractors are overseen by licensing boards or agencies in each state.

Is Chiropractic Treatment For Real?

In reality, critics exist, questioning or outright challenging the chiropractors.  In one of my first trials after law school the insurance defense lawyer sharply interrogated my client on the witness stand. “After the emergency room you only saw a chiropractor, didn’t you?”  “You never saw a real doctor did you?” Over my objection the attack continued. “You never had any real medical treatment did you?”

Finally the judge called the attorneys for a bench conference.   He told us he was a veteran, and when he returned home from service persistent back pain plagued his daily life.  A medical doctor prescribed various things including strong pain killers which had no long term effect.  Even more, surgery was recommended.  However, its potential for success was said to be 50-50.

Finally, at the suggestion of a friend he saw a chiropractor.  In time, the pain fully resolved.  So, those who disparage chiropractic need to think hard.

Subluxation Summed Up

Common injuries from trauma including rear end car accidents include subluxation.  Broadly defined the injury represents partial dislocation of any joint in the human body.   Partial dislocation especially in the cervical vertebra of the neck impacts functions throughout the body.  It’s true some critics question various treatments.  But bear in mind subluxation represents an objective observable injury, contrasted with merely subjective complaints of pain.

In a related topic: Sports Injuries, recovery for pain & suffering and what is assumption of the risk?

Model Credit:  Zoe Collazo


How To Detect Vertebral Subluxation in the Spine, Laser Spine Institute.

In Re: Lynch’s Case, 975 N.E.2d 905, 82 Mass.App.Ct 115 (2012).

Vertebral Subluxation and Nerve Chart , Spinal Check Foundation.

What is a Subluxation? echiropractic.net

World Health Organization Guidelines on Basic Training and Safety in Chiropractic.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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