This week we are going to talk about toxins! I have been asked a few times this question, “What toxins are released after a chiropractic adjustment?” and I want to answer it today! In short, the answer to that question is, there are none. The actual “chiropractic adjustment” does not release any toxins. The chiropractic adjustment simply starts a cascade of processes in the body that facilitate how the body heals. When the body is adapting and healing well it will filter out the toxins which may be present in the body. With this article, I do want to explain why some people might be asking this question.
What is a toxin
A toxin is anything that can be ingested, injected, or absorbed into the body which in turn can cause damage to the tissues of the body. Some things are known toxins such as lead. We know, if you ingest lead you can potentially end up in the emergency room with lead poisoning. Other substances are toxic to some but not to others, one example I can think of is shellfish. I can eat shellfish with no problems but others cannot. Shellfish are toxic (they cause damage to the tissues) to some individuals because of a hypersensitivity they have to shellfish. Lastly, some toxins are toxic at certain life stages, the example here is associated with honey. It is recommended that you don’t feed honey to infants under two. This is because of the potential of botulism toxin in the honey. Botulism toxin in high quantities can be deadly to adults but the quantities which are occasionally found in honey are easily broken down by adults, they are, however, potentially toxic to infants. This is simply because of the ability of an adult body to metabolize the toxin. That being said, the amount of any substance changes the toxicity of a given substance. This sounds a little strange but it’s just a fancy way of saying too much of a good thing can be bad, for example, more than 2000mg of vitamin C can potentially cause diarrhea which is just one of your body’s ways to get rid of something it doesn’t need.
How does the body rid itself of toxins?
There are a few ways the body removes toxins, urination, defecation, vomit (in severe cases), and sweat. There are a few organs in the body whose job is to rid the body of unwanted substances. Two of those organs are the liver and the kidneys and their job is to filter the blood. As they filter the blood they remove anything they can, that may be found in excess including potentially toxic materials. These two organs are the primary filters in the body, they remove the toxins and utilize the natural excretion processes of urination and defecation to eliminate toxins. Studies show another way the body rids itself of toxins is through sweat. There is research that has shown quantities of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in the sweat. Those four compounds are not used in any known process in the body. Exposure to them however is connected to a few different disease processes including cancer. Getting them out of the body appears to be in the best interest of the body. Sweating although it may not be the most efficient way of ridding said toxins is effective.
Why might someone think that toxins are released during a chiropractic adjustment?
When I set out to answer this question I had to think, Why would someone ask this? What might be the reason someone would guess that toxins are being released during an adjustment or shortly thereafter? I think the main reason someone might ask this question is because one of the most common less desirable effects of an adjustment is that an individual might become sore in the days following the adjustment. I believe someone might think that it is a toxin causing the soreness following the adjustment. This isn’t the case, allow me to explain.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy involved.
To help explain this I first want to do a little anatomy lesson. We are going to look at the low back, specifically the spinal stabilizers of the low back. In the image below (Image 1) we are looking at a view of the spine from the back right side of an individual’s low back. For reference, you can feel your own spine, the hard bony bumps that you feel are the spinous processes, labeled at the bottom of the image. The large muscles you feel to the right and left of your spinous processes are your erector spinae muscles and in this image, they have been taken away. (This is the same muscle as the back strap for the hunter reading) There are several muscles left behind in the image. Each of these muscles has two jobs, the primary job is stabilization and the secondary job is to provide a small amount of movement. All muscles are designed to contract or shorten, when they contract they act with the joint as levers to pull a bone in a certain direction. On the opposite side of a joint, there is another muscle pulling the bone in the opposite direction. In this image, we can look at the intertransversarii muscle (labeled in Image 1) which when contracted will make you bend to the right or left. Then when the opposite side contracts it will pull the spine to bend in the opposite direction. As you can see with this image this muscle is very short so it cannot get much shorter and therefore does not allow for much joint motion. This muscle simply cannot create much movement and the research has shown that these smaller muscles actually do more work with stabilization than movement. They do a great job at staying put and holding the joint from moving when it is not supposed to move. Here is a link to a video that talks about the importance of these stabilizers, specifically the multifidus as well as some of the research about them.
Break time, stand up, and try this. Feel your stabilizers in action!
Let’s do a little exercise so you can feel how these muscles stabilize the spine. I want you to put one hand on your back feeling the muscle beside your spine. Then drop your other hand by your side. Slowly lift the hand that is not on your back and you should feel the muscle in your spine contract. Your spine isn’t moving but it has to be stabilized during any movement of the limbs and that is the job of these muscles.
What happens with a misalignment?
As you move through your day these muscles work to help keep your back well aligned and your spinal cord, which lies within the bones of the spine, protected. When you experience any sort of trauma that affects the spine there is potential for these bones to get misaligned. This misalignment is known as a subluxation. A subluxation is a very subtle misalignment of one vertebra relative to another. That subtle misalignment forces these small muscles to contract in an attempt to stabilize the area and realign the bone. With a true subluxation these muscles are not able to overcome the force of the trauma so they do what they do best, the contract to stabilize, they do so until alignment is reestablished in the spine. This misalignment also affects the larger erector spinae muscles of the spine and it especially has a massive effect on the nervous system but for now, we are just talking about the small stabilization muscles. We will discuss more on the topic of subluxation and its neurological effects another day.
What does the adjustment do?
At this point, the chiropractic adjustment comes into play. The spine is analyzed to determine where the misalignment is, then depending on how the bone is misaligned the chiropractor applies a calculated force along the plane of the joint to encourage the body to restore mobility and alignment. When the body achieves alignment these muscles can relax and therefore move. These muscles likely have been contracted for a long time and there is potential for lactic acid build-up in the muscle which can cause soreness. This is just like going to the gym and exercising muscles that haven’t been exercised in a while, they will get sore.
Again, what toxins are released after a chiropractic adjustment?
Now we know that the chiropractic adjustment does not release toxins. That simply does not happen. It does however help restore lost motion and improve alignment, and therefore allow muscles that have been working too hard attempting to stabilize the spine a chance to relax. When that occurs those muscles can get sore. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about this! I would love to help you and be your chiropractor in Juneau.