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Segmental Dysfunction  (Also known   as “Vertebral Subluxation Complex”)

A vertebral segment consists of:

—  two adjacent vertebral bones

—  a disc to separate and cushion the bones

—  muscle, tendons, and ligaments to stabilize and move the joint

—  a segment of the spinal cord with nerve roots that branch off that segment

Dysfunction of a segment:

When one or more of the components of the vertebral segment is not working properly, it affects the entire segment.

Most importantly, segmental dysfunction affects the nerve roots that emerge from each side of the segment.  These nerve roots carry important information to and from the muscles and organs throughout the body.  Dysfunction of the L4 -L5 vertebral segment, for example, can cause pain or weakness in the leg and may also affect the bladder.

Symptoms of segmental dysfunction:

This condition can manifest itself in many different ways.  It is possible to have segmental dysfunction and experience no symptoms for weeks, months, or even years.  In the later stages of this process, the most common symptoms are back pain, neck pain, headaches, numbness/tingling in the arms or legs, shoulder pain, arm pain, leg pain.  Segmental dysfunction can also be linked to reproductive problems, bowel and bladder problems, problems in the circulatory system, sinus problems, eye, ear, nose, throat . . .

Causes of segmental dysfunction:

Sometimes this condition is idiopathic, meaning, we can’t really trace it back to a certain accident or activity.  Some of the common known causes are trauma, degenerative disc disease, dysafferentation  (a neurological term), ligamentous sprain, muscular strain, thoracic outlet syndrome, disc prolapse, flat feet, mental stress, and others.


A big word, a confusing concept, but worth knowing

Pronounced “Dis- affrin-tashun”

Two kinds of Nerves

This is a term used in neurology, or the study of the nervous system. There are two kinds of nerves that come from the spinal cord; afferent nerves that carry information from the body  to the brain, and efferent nerves that carry information from the brain to the body.  So, dysafferentation refers to faulty signals being sent to the brain from somewhere in the body.  In most cases I see, these faulty signals are coming from the spinal muscles.

Two kinds of Spinal Muscle

There are two types of muscle in the spine;  superficial and deep.  The superficial muscles are the larger muscles close to the surface of the skin.  These are the muscles that are responsible for most of the movement of the torso, trunk, and neck.  The deep muscles are much smaller and  contribute very little to the larger movements of the spine.  However, they are rich in nerve endings which relay messages to the brain, or afferent messages.  These messages help coordinate the movement of the larger muscles.  If these smaller deep muscles are not toned, faulty messages may be relayed to the brain.  As a result, faulty signals will be sent from the brain to the larger muscles in the spine causing segmental dysfunction, muscle spasm, poor flexibility, and pain.

What causes the smaller deep spinal muscles to be weak?

These muscles are exercised most when we are required to use our sense of balance.  The human race was created to walk barefooted on dirt, sand, hills, beaches, etc.  We should be stepping over rocks, running through muddy creek beds, etc.  Instead, we walk on sidewalks and marble floors with an inch of shoe between us and the ground.  As a result, these deep spinal muscles don’t get the sensory input exercise they need and they lose their tone.

How do we correct this problem?

This problem is addressed using an exercise routine known as “Proprioceptive Training.” Proprioceptors are the proper name of the nerve endings in the deep spinal musculature.  These exercises are performed on an unstable surface such as a Swiss Ball, a balance board, or a thick mushy foam mat.  These surfaces force you to use your sense of balance, and thus restore proper tone to the deep spinal musculature.

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