Understanding Chiropractic Terminology: A Guide


For individuals suffering from back pain, can knowing basic chiropractic terminology help in understanding diagnosis and treatment plan development?

Chiropractic Terminology

The chiropractic principle is that a properly aligned spine positively affects an individual’s overall health. One of the main aspects of chiropractic care is applying calculated force to the spinal joints to restore correct spinal alignment. Chiropractic terminology describes specific types of techniques and care.

General Subluxation

A subluxation can mean different things for various doctors. In general, a subluxation is a significant structural displacement or an incomplete or partial dislocation of a joint or organ.

  • To medical doctors, a subluxation refers to a partial dislocation of ​a vertebrae.
  • This is a serious condition, usually brought on by trauma, that can result in a spinal cord injury, paralysis, and/or death.
  • X-rays show a conventional subluxation as an obvious disconnect between the vertebrae.

Chiropractic Subluxation

  • The chiropractic interpretation is more subtle and refers to the misalignment of adjacent spinal vertebrae.
  • Subluxations are the main pathology treated by chiropractors. (Charles N.R. Henderson 2012)
  • Subluxation in this context refers to position changes in the joints and soft tissues of the spine.
  • Vertebral misalignment is believed to lead to pain and abnormal intervertebral joint motion.
  • This difference between the serious subluxation medical condition and the chiropractic version may cause individuals to dismiss seeking back pain treatments.

Motion Segment

  • Chiropractors and surgeons use it as a technical term.
  • Motion segment refers to two adjacent vertebrae and the intervertebral disc between them.
  • This is the area chiropractors assess and adjust.


  • The chiropractor performs a spinal manual adjustment to realign joint subluxations.
  • Adjustments involve applying force to motion segments to bring them back into a centered alignment.
  • The goal for adjustments and realigning the vertebrae includes:
  • Nerves can transmit signals without interruption.
  • Positively affects overall health. (Marc-André Blanchette et al., 2016)


Spinal manipulation is a technique used by chiropractors to provide relief for musculoskeletal pain related to the back and neck. Manipulation provides mild to moderate relief and works as well as some conventional treatments like pain-relieving medications. (Sidney M. Rubinstein et al., 2012)

  • Spinal manipulation is divided into grades of mobilization.
  • Depending on their training, practitioners of various medical disciplines may be licensed to perform grade 1 to grade 4 mobilizations.
  • Only physical therapists, osteopathic physicians, and chiropractors are licensed to perform grade 5 mobilizations, which are high-velocity thrust techniques.​
  • Most massage therapists, athletic trainers, and personal trainers are not licensed to perform spinal manipulations.

Based on a systematic review, the effectiveness of these treatments found that there is quality evidence that manipulation and mobilization can help reduce pain and improve function for individuals with chronic low back pain, with manipulation appearing to produce a more profound effect than mobilization. Both therapies are safe, with multimodal treatments potentially being an effective option. (Ian D. Coulter et al., 2018)

As with any treatment, results vary from person to person and with different chiropractors. There are also potential risks with spinal manipulation. Though rare, cervical, carotid, and vertebral artery dissections have occurred with cervical/neck manipulation. (Kelly A. Kennell et al., 2017) Individuals with osteoporosis may be advised to avoid chiropractic adjustments or manipulation because of the increased risk of injury. (James M. Whedon et al., 2015)

Many individuals choose chiropractic treatment for a variety of conditions. Understanding chiropractic terminology and reasoning allows individuals to ask questions as they discuss their symptoms to develop a personalized treatment plan and restore function and wellness.

What Causes Disc Herniation?


Henderson C. N. (2012). The basis for spinal manipulation: chiropractic perspective of indications and theory. Journal of electromyography and kinesiology : official journal of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology, 22(5), 632–642.

Blanchette, M. A., Stochkendahl, M. J., Borges Da Silva, R., Boruff, J., Harrison, P., & Bussières, A. (2016). Effectiveness and Economic Evaluation of Chiropractic Care for the Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review of Pragmatic Studies. PloS one, 11(8), e0160037.

Rubinstein, S. M., Terwee, C. B., Assendelft, W. J., de Boer, M. R., & van Tulder, M. W. (2012). Spinal manipulative therapy for acute low-back pain. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2012(9), CD008880.

Coulter, I. D., Crawford, C., Hurwitz, E. L., Vernon, H., Khorsan, R., Suttorp Booth, M., & Herman, P. M. (2018). Manipulation and mobilization for treating chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The spine journal : official journal of the North American Spine Society, 18(5), 866–879.

Kennell, K. A., Daghfal, M. M., Patel, S. G., DeSanto, J. R., Waterman, G. S., & Bertino, R. E. (2017). Cervical artery dissection related to chiropractic manipulation: One institution’s experience. The Journal of family practice, 66(9), 556–562.

Whedon, J. M., Mackenzie, T. A., Phillips, R. B., & Lurie, J. D. (2015). Risk of traumatic injury associated with chiropractic spinal manipulation in Medicare Part B beneficiaries aged 66 to 99 years. Spine, 40(4), 264–270.

Post Disclaimer

Professional Scope of Practice *

The information herein on "Understanding Chiropractic Terminology: A Guide" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

Blog Information & Scope Discussions

Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, acupuncture, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from various disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and directly or indirectly support our clinical scope of practice.*

Our office has reasonably attempted to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request.

We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez, DC, or contact us at 915-850-0900.

We are here to help you and your family.


Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*


Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
Texas DC License # TX5807, New Mexico DC License # NM-DC2182

Licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN*) in Florida
Florida License RN License # RN9617241 (Control No. 3558029)
Compact Status: Multi-State License: Authorized to Practice in 40 States*

Presently Matriculated: ICHS: MSN* FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner Program)

Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
My Digital Business Card

Recent Posts

The Benefits of Brisk Walking: Burning Abdominal Fat

Can incorporating walking help accomplish health goals for individuals trying to burn fat? Walking To… Read More

July 12, 2024

Maintaining Correct Posture: Key Strategies to Manage Pain

For individuals who are feeling back pain, neck pain, or shoulder pain, can using postural… Read More

July 11, 2024

Voluntary Muscles: Controlling Movement and Function

Skeletal muscles attached to the arms, legs, neck, back, and trunk bones are voluntary and… Read More

July 10, 2024

Homemade Electrolyte Drink: Replenish Your Body’s Lost Minerals

Replenishing electrolytes and maintaining hydration is essential for individuals who work out, fitness enthusiasts, and… Read More

July 9, 2024

Pickleball Footwear Guide: Finding the Perfect Shoes for the Game

Proper shoes are highly recommended when playing sports, whether professional or recreational. Can wearing pickleball… Read More

July 8, 2024

Managing Headaches with Self-Care: Tips for Quick Relief

For individuals dealing with headaches, can utilizing self-care techniques help ease symptoms? Headaches Self Care… Read More

July 5, 2024