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Proprioception and the Adjustment

Much of what an adjustment does has to do with the central and peripheral nervous systems. Proprioception is a key in this relationship. What is proprioception, it is the ability to have a conscious awareness of joint position, movement, pressure and tension. This ties in with the reflex loop we talked about earlier.

OK, so you still may not understand what proprioception is. Let's try this: without looking put your hand up in the air, anywhere. Now I want to close your eyes and tell me where your hand is. You know exactly where it is in space, you know it is, for example, directly over your head, the fingers are slightly spread, and the elbow is bent, how do you know this if you did not look? The answer in part is due to proprioception and reflex arcs. Without getting into any physiological detail, what happens is your joint has proprioceptors which detect position, movement, pressure and tension. When these proprioceptors are stimulated (e.g.: you raised your hand) they send messages back to the central nervous system (in this case the spinal column). The central nervous system then sends messages back to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments telling them how much to contract, and where to contract.

How about another example most of you are familiar with. Have any of you ever sprained your ankle? What is the mechanism? Well of course there is the simple mechanism of gravity, and maybe a little push from the a member of the opposing basketball team, but what really happens? What is the difference between someone who sprains their ankle (maybe repeatedly) and someone who recovers in time to avoid a sprain. One cause could be a proprioceptive system which is not working at its full potential. Lets zoom in on the ankle, you go off balance, you start to invert (bending the ankle inward so the bottom of the foot faces up, this is the most common ankle sprain) your ankle, your proprioceptors sense there is too much angle, movement, and pressure, they send a message to your central nervous system which feeds back a message to certain muscles around the joint to tighten and bring the ankle back to normal to avoid injury. Now this happens in fractions of a second, but the difference in the person who gets the sprain and the one who doesn't could be due to the speed, or lack of speed, of the proprioceptive messages.

OK, so how does this relate to adjustment. Well there could be many causes of disturbed proprioception including tissue injury, pain, inflammation, loss of motion and/or degeneration. By adjusting a joint input can be introduced through the proprioceptive pathways to reprogram the pathway, sort of like working out your muscles to become more efficient. An adjustment will also reduce inflammation, pain (which we will talk extensively about), increases motion, speeds healing, and minimizes degeneration.


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