I Just Need This One Bone ‘Cracked’ – Pain & Posture Wellness Centre
Common Misconceptions, Part 2:
Bone Goes Out of Place, We Put it Back, It Pops Back Out
In this series we are discussing common misconceptions that we come across in our offices on a daily basis. Click here to find the introductory post to the series and here to find Part 1 “The Problem with Bodywork”.
In Part 2 of this series, we will look at a common misconception that many of our patients have about how their bodies work: that a bone pops out of place and we put it right back all the way, and then it pops out again.
People who have come across any kind of bodywork method which manipulates bones and joints usually have certain ideas about how the process works. Here are some common things we hear in our offices:
- A bone pops out of position and things hurt immediately in that exact area
- The bone needs to be popped back into position and the pain will immediately stop
- When a bone pops out of position, it moves in isolation. Other bones in the vicinity do not move and do not get affected.
- Why don’t we pop the bone back all the way in one go? Why do we keep coming back to do the same manoeuvres over and over again?
Let’s first address the true fact involved in the example above: yes, bones in the spine can move out of position. This can be due to falls, accidents, or other physical trauma; and it can occur due to lifestyle habits related to sitting, standing, and sleeping. Spinal misalignments are the root cause of bad posture. Structure dictates function. If the skeletal structure goes funky, it can cause a host of pains and aches and other body problems.
However, it takes time for these to occur. You may have bent over to pick up a pencil and felt something go “pop” in your back, and it hurt. You may be thinking that whatever just “popped out of place” simply needs to get “popped back”, and the pain will stop. However, this is not what actually happens…
Let’s look at a picture which helps to understand the biomechanics at work. The image below represents a section of a person’s spine as viewed from the side. The person would be facing to the left. The bones are numbered 11 to 5. This represents a random section of spinal bones. We have explained the numbering elsewhere. There are 7 bones in the neck or cervical spine, 12 in the thoracic spine, and 5 in the lumbar spine. So our selection here represents the 11th thoracic bone (T11) down to the fifth lumbar bone (L5). We could just as well have chosen a different selection from the mid-back or neck.
The green image follows the common misconception: a bone moves out of place and everything else around it stays the same. Pop the bone back in and everything is good, right?
The purple image shows what happens in reality. The same bone originally moved out of place as in the green image (bone #3). As a result, all the bones above this point got affected in various ways. They all had to move out of alignment slightly. The body did this on purpose to compensate for the forward-bone that it cannot fix by itself. The purpose of compensating is to counter-balance. If the body didn’t counter-balance, it would become so unstable that it would eventually face-plant. Think of the Leaning Tower in Pisa. It leans so far that it almost falls over. So the body tries to hold itself upright against gravity by counter-balancing against any of the forward forces caused by forward misalignments in the spine.
As you can see in the purple image, all of the bones above the original forward bone (#3) need to respond in some way. Some need to tilt; others need to twist; yet others need to lean back. Bone grows in the direction of pressure put onto it, and as a result of the mechanical torque and shear forces, the shape of some of the bones has changed. They are no longer square, and the space between them has narrowed. In the human body, this space would be occupied by the discs, which can change shape too (this is often referred to as “bulging” or “slipped” discs. This, in fact, is another misconception which we will address in a future post – discs cannot “slip”).
The important thing is that the compensation pattern can happen upwards or downwards or both ways from the original forward bone. The patterns are incredibly complex and vary from person to person – depending on the kind of trauma they had on their body throughout their lifetime. Does bone #2 tilt only? Or does it tilt and twist at the same time? What about bone # 12? Is it only tilted or twisted as well? How far did it tilt, how far did it twist? Did it tilt first and then twist? Or twist first and then tilt? What happens even further up in the spine, in sections that we haven’t displayed here?
Look at the shape change of the individual bones again. You can see that some bones are no longer square. As a result, the overall height of the section has changed – it has shrunk. This is what happens when spines get misaligned: people lose height. They slouch or stoop forward. This has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with what kind of trauma their body experienced during their lifetime.
Pain doesn’t usually occur at the location of the forward bone. This person’s body wouldn’t hurt around L3 (the middle of their low back). It would most likely hurt further up, possibly in the area of T11-12 but even more likely way up in the neck – as that’s where the body typically compensates for lumbar misalignments. Where the body compensates is where it hurts. It doesn’t hurt where the original problem is.
So the common idea that a bone pops out of place and immediately things hurt in that exact same area doesn’t hold true. Bending over to pick up that pencil might indeed have shifted a bone out of place. Yet this shift was simply the final layer in a lifetime of twisting up to the point where the body can no longer handle all the forward bones and their compensations.
Pain occurs where the compensation happens. Digging into the area of pain won’t do much long-term. It will provide short-term relief, which will be labelled a “success” by most healthcare professions. We have written about some of this in Part 1 of this series: “health” is still most commonly regarded as the absence of pain, rather than a body that functions at its best in terms of structure and neuro-biomechanics (structure, alignment, mechanics, and nerve function are all intricately linked, as we have discussed here and here already.
Looking back at the purple image again, let’s discuss again how the misalignment process happens in the first place: bone #3 popped out forward in the first place. The bones above it moved in various directions of tilt and twist. Some got also pulled forward as part of the compensation pattern. The body then had to compensate for those bones again. In other words, it had to build compensations for the compensations! And eventually it went back down and moved bone #3 forward a little bit more as part of another compensation layer. Then it made some changes in, for example, the pelvis or feet, before returning and moving bone #3 at little bit farther forward again. After that, it might need to make some changes in the neck before returning and moving bone #3 forward again. The original problem is getting buried farther and farther beneath layers and layers of compensation patterns.
Now you can understand why we cannot simply take bone #3 and move it back all the way in one go. We can move it a little bit on a given visit – if and when it is ready to be moved. Then the body has to untwist in another area. In between visits the body unwinds to the next level – it fixes some of the compensation layers that it can fix because it does have muscle leverage to do so. This continues until it runs into the next forward bone which it cannot fix by itself. Then we come in again and fix that, and a few visits later it might be time to move bone #3 again.
Sometimes our patients ask why we have to do certain manoeuvres over and over again, and this is why. Certain bones tend to get affected more prominently than others – L5 for example, the lowest bone in the spine above the sacrum. Or C7, the lowest of the 7 neck bones. We can only move a bone so far at a given visit. If we had a magic wand and could move it all the way back, we sure would! But that’s not how the body works, unfortunately.
Now you can also understand why we can’t just make localised changes to the area where your pain is situated. Moving one bone or working on one section always affects the entire body, head to toe. At any given visit, we analyse what is going on, then make a necessary correction using ABC™, then we observe how the body responds globally. Then we analyse the next bone that needs to be moved, we move it, and we observe how the entire body responds. This is why we treat you head to toe – to unwind your body out of the old twists and tilts, to undo the structural misalignments which have happened during your lifetime and which one day led to your current symptoms.
Usually it doesn’t take a lot of unwinding to shift the pain pattern and provide symptom relief. The journey out of pain usually happens within a few weeks. ABC™ is unique, however, in that it can unwind all the different layers of structural misalignments that have accumulated over a lifetime. This is what we refer to as “complete correction”. It’s like getting a brand new body – akin to getting a brand new car. This process takes longer, often years. But it is usually possible, unless the changes have been caused by cancer, fracture or infection. As we unwind the body, it needs to catch up. The bones need to re-shape themselves from crooked to square, and the bone and cartilage remodelling process just takes time.
We hope that we have addressed some of the common misconceptions about how/why bones pop out of place, and how/why they cannot be moved back in one go, as well as why we cannot simply move a single bone in isolation without affecting the entire body.
If this post made you curious to find out more about how your body works, and how we can untwist your spine out of old misalignments, get in touch. We are always happy to see you for a free 20mins consultation to discuss how ABC™ can help you.