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What Is Subluxation? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:03 What Is a Subluxation?
  • 1:47 Likely Subluxation Scenario
  • 2:16 Subluxation Symptoms
  • 3:18 Subluxation Treatment
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeffery Huston
In this lesson, you'll find out exactly what a subluxation is, the symptoms associated with this condition, and the subsequent treatment. Then, test your knowledge on subluxations by taking a practice quiz.

What Is a Subluxation?

In order to understand what a subluxation is, we should first discuss the movable joints in your body. Fully movable joints are known as synovial joints. A synovial joint is the area where two bones that articulate, or when two bones meet with each other, form the movable joint. Synovial joints contain structures that allow the joint to move while reducing friction and stress. These include very slippery articular cartilage, synovial fluid (which you can think of as the WD40 of your joints), and a joint space that prevents the bones from rubbing on each other. Synovial joints are the most frequently injured joints in the body and may suffer from sprains, dislocations, arthritis, and subluxations.

While a dislocation is a complete disunion, or separation, between the two articulating bones of the synovial joint, a subluxation is an incomplete disunion of the two articulating bones. In the case of a subluxation, the two bones that meet up will partially separate from each other and return to their normal position. This process is called spontaneous reduction. The bones continue to touch each other along the articulating surfaces but not in the same nature as if they were not injured. In contrast, in a dislocation the two bones completely separate from each other and remain apart.

The partial disunion of the two bones can cause damage to the surrounding tissues associated with the synovial joint. These structures may include the articular cartilage (or the cartilage on the surface of the bones that are meeting up), the joint capsule (or the connective tissue that surrounds the joint), or the ligaments surrounding the joint (which include the connective tissue that connects bone to bone).

Likely Subluxation Scenario

During a pick-up game of basketball, one of the players goes up for a rebound and has his arm ripped back by someone on the other team. Immediately, he feels something strange happen in his shoulder, and he grabs his shoulder with his opposite arm. His friends see this happen and watch as he shakes his arm. It takes a few minutes but he gets back into the game, but just doesn't play the same for the rest of the day. The next day the player decides to get his shoulder checked out by his doctor.

Subluxation Symptoms

Now that we understand the technical aspects of synovial joints and an actual injury, we can understand what a patient may present with that would indicate that he or she has suffered from a subluxation. While complete dislocations result in a visible deformity, subluxations don't.

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