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What Is a Subluxation? Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

When does pain mean that something is wrong? Unfortunately, there is a common injury that is often overlooked because it doesn’t present as obviously as something like a broken bone or fracture. Could the pain or looseness you’re feeling in a part of your body be the result of a subluxation? Let’s explore this treatable condition that can impact the way we feel and move.

What Is a Subluxation?

A subluxation is a partial dislocation within the body. This dislocation typically occurs in a joint. Many people seek chiropractic care for joint subluxations that are creating serious pain and discomfort. A subluxation can happen to people of all ages. In fact, even children are susceptible to subluxations that result from being picked up or gently pulled by their caregivers. Subluxations can occur in a variety of areas throughout the body. Let’s break down the common joint subluxations that so many people are unknowingly experiencing!


A spinal subluxation often occurs following an accident that results in trauma to the spine. The pain that’s felt is often the result of a compressed spinal cord with a nerve injury. The vertebra may also be partially dislocated even though a patient is unaware of any specific injury.


A shoulder subluxation can occur as a result of trauma. It can also be brought on by repetitive motion. That’s one of the reasons why athletes who swim or play tennis often seek adjustments for this condition. In a shoulder subluxation, the ball of your upper arm actually separates partially from your shoulder socket. You have reason to suspect a subluxation if you’re having feelings of pain or looseness in your shoulder. You may also get the sensation that your shoulder is slipping in and out at the joint.


Common knee pain is often the result of a patellar subluxation. This happens when your kneecap is partially separated from the groove that secures it to the end of your thigh bone. You may have sensations of looseness or separation after an accident or fall. In addition, it’s possible that general “wear and tear” is to blame. A telltale sign of patellar subluxation is a knee that has changed shape.


Elbow subluxations often occur after a high-impact fall where you land on your hands. One can also be the result of pulling or tugging. Generally, you’ll still be able to have a range of motion with an elbow subluxation even though you are in pain.

What Causes Subluxations?

There are two main causes of subluxations. The first is the impact from an accident. Everything from a car accident to a bad tumble on the pavement can cause joints to partially dislocate. Unfortunately, the subtlety of a subluxation often causes it to remain overlooked during post-accident examinations. The fact that you can often maintain at least some degree of motion in the impacted area makes it even harder to identify this condition. Of course, the pain, discomfort and swelling that often persist with a subluxation can make life difficult.

Subluxations can also occur “spontaneously” even if you haven’t sustained an injury from an accident or fall. Joint weakness can be a culprit. Someone with a medical condition that causes joints to be more flexible is certainly at a higher risk. Pregnant women are also at risk for subluxations during pregnancy because of the way pregnancy hormones loosen ligaments and joints. In addition, people who have performed repetitive motions due to specific sports, exercises or job duties are at risk for subluxations.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of a Subluxation?

A subluxation can manifest differently depending on the part of the body where it’s experienced. However, there are some general symptoms that seem to be common. Here’s a look at what you might experience when dealing with a subluxation:

  • Pain near the impacted joint.
  • Swelling.
  • Reduced mobility.
  • Feelings of instability around a joint.
  • Balance issues.
  • Numbness or tingling.
  • Stiffness.
  • Altered gait or range of motion.

Pain is sometimes the only symptom. However, it’s possible that symptoms could escalate if a partially dislocated joint is not treated. The goal in treatment is to reduce inflammation, eliminate pain and recover full function.

You can also experience some secondary symptoms that don’t seem immediately connected to your subluxation. For instance, some people actually report anxiety or mood issues when the spine is out of alignment. Headaches are also common. Unfortunately, living “out of balance” due to a subluxation can negatively impact your well-being.

How Do You Treat a Subluxation?

Subluxation treatment must be customized to fit the location and intensity of the injury. Targeted chiropractic adjustments can be especially effective for subluxations. An adjustment is a manual technique that applies varying degrees of pressure and positioning to realign the impacted joint. It’s important to have a potential subluxation properly analyzed and located by a licensed chiropractor prior to beginning treatment. In addition to an adjustment, techniques like icing and elevation may be beneficial.

Your chiropractor will instruct you regarding self-care techniques that can be done at home to supplement the effectiveness of an adjustment. These add-on treatments won’t actually do anything to readjust the placement of a dislocated joint. However, they are often effective at reducing inflammation and hastening results. The goal is to get the partially dislocated joint back into proper positioning to reduce pain and further injury. Most subluxations that are caused by the impact will not reoccur. However, it’s possible that subluxations could present again if joint weakness is a problem.

Final Thoughts on Subluxation

It’s very common to experience a subluxation following an accident or fall even if no bone injury is present. Many people assume that they are in the clear because they’ve avoided breakages or fractures. However, a subluxation could create severe pain or loss of motion. It’s important to know about subluxations if you’re experiencing pain following an accident that doesn’t seem to have any detectable source point. In addition, it’s important not to simply write off pain that could be stemming from a highly correctable subluxation as “wear and tear” that comes along with the territory of being an active person.

It is possible to enjoy a stable, pain-free sensation in your joints again! Chiropractic care offers a path to recovery. Make a plan to explore the detection and treatment of a subluxation if something feels “off” in one of your joints!

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