Research Agenda Progress: Conceptual Vertebral Subluxation Definition

In the history of the Foundation, we have had more than a few highpoints. Among these highlights are many quality research papers giving key insight into the mechanisms and impacts of chiropractic care. Yet something has been missing – a definition of the vertebral subluxation that is philosophically congruent, usable in practice and testable in research. It was this glaring lack that inspired the research agenda that now drives us. It is an exciting time in our history, and we are thrilled that we can share part one of this agenda – a conceptual definition of the vertebral subluxation for research and practice.

During 2016, we didn’t fund any new research. This was due to the important work that needed to be done in developing this agenda. We needed to produce a clear strategy that would drive  investment and facilitation over the five years to follow. It was a considerable investment of time and resources, but worth every cent as it ensured our future funded research would be of greatest service to our great profession. It was accompanied by a streamlined focus by the Foundation – a time of great change, but also great anticipation.

The consultation process

In late 2016, the Foundation embarked on a 9-month global consultation process that engaged 59 leaders, researchers and academics within the chiropractic profession. It spanned 9 countries (Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Scotland, Spain and the United States of America) and a total of 15 full-time researchers were represented in the consultation group. The consultation group represented 11 colleges, 5 national associations, 3 research foundations, 4 peer-reviewed research journals and 5 allied organisations.

The consultation process involved one-on-one communication, a group wide survey and two ‘round table’ style meetings held in Melbourne (Australia) and San Francisco (USA) in April 2017. Based on the information gathered through this process there are several findings that have supported the development of a conceptual definition of vertebral subluxation.


In consulting the profession’s thought-leaders, the Foundation was advised that past definitions of vertebral subluxation are not suitable because they either:

  1. a) do not allow for a testable model of the vertebral subluxation;
  2. b) the science that they reflect is no-longer current; and / or
  3. c) they are not translatable to practice.

To best develop a conceptual definition of vertebral subluxation, we were advised that the following should be considered as requirements that the definition:

  • Is congruent with the philosophical tenets of chiropractic and utilises appropriate language
  • Can be reduced to a scientifically testable model that uses current evidence, language and concepts
  • Is relevant to, translatable to and impactful on practice
  • Incorporates the impact of the vertebral subluxation on the body’s altered level of function and the whole person’s state of being.

As a result of the consultation process, it was strongly advised that the definition of vertebral subluxation:

  • Is not an operational definition
  • Includes the more holistic impacts on:
    1. The whole person’s state of being
    2. The expression and efficiency of the energetic system – or coherence.
  • Should not itself specify the implications on the vitalistic nature of the person (self-aware, self-organising, and self- healing nature).
The Result: Our Definition

It gives us great pleasure to share that we have one big check-mark on our research agenda scoreboard. As a result of extensive consultation, we have now formulated and adopted a conceptual definition of vertebral subluxation and adopted a testable model that is applicable to research and chiropractic practice, both of which reflect current available evidence and understanding.

For the purpose of the research agenda, the Australian Spinal Research Foundation currently defines that:

“A vertebral subluxation is a diminished state of being, comprising of a state of reduced coherence, altered biomechanical function, altered neurological function and altered adaptability.”

We look forward to presenting you with research investigating the vertebral subluxation in line with this definition over the next four years. This research will enhance our understanding of the impacts and parameters of the subluxation, enhance chiropractic communication and greatly impact certainty in practice.

You may have seen expressions of interest open up in the past months, as we welcome research proposals investigating our key research questions. But this isn’t the only thing you can do to support this important cause.

If you want to get behind this exciting journey of discovery, become a member! Every membership makes a difference.  Or if you have an organisation or business that wants to help in a greater way contact us directly and you may be able to help facilitate more research.

For full details of the consultation process, and further information on our definition of the vertebral subluxation complex, check out our downloadable PDF here.

Comments are closed.