Of COURSE we all have adaptation! If not, we’d be puddles of ooze frozen along with the recent snow. Adaptation is the process by which our bodies maintain order and health in a changing environment. You are adapting every time you go from the nice warm interior of your house out for a brisk walk in this lovely New Hampshire winter – your entire body will change its physiology to counter the challenge from its environment. You are adapting every time you eat a meal; your body chooses how to best digest whatever you just ate, in order to derive the nutrition it needs. Your heart rate and blood pressure adapts when you climb a flight of stairs; your eyes adapt to light and dark. Adaptation is the means by which we change the function of our bodies to best handle, and be comfortable in, our environment.
Let’s take the “got adaptation” question a bit further, and ask: “Got OPTIMAL adaptation?” What would that look like, and what would that take? To understand, let’s look at one example of SUBOPTIMAL adaptation: deficiency of balance and coordination. If you were to get up out of a chair and immediately fall, your body has failed to appropriately adapt to the change in its gravitational environment (sitting to standing). That’s clearly an adaptation deficiency, and an indication that your body is not relating to its environment well. Conversely, one example of OPTIMAL adaptation would be the ability to stand on one leg for more than ten seconds with your eyes closed, without falling, wiggling, or putting your foot down. Success at this task means that your body is very accurately sensing its position and movement in a gravitational field, and making appropriate micro-adjustments to maintain a stable base, even in the absence of visual input.
Adaptation in the body is primarily governed by the nervous system. In order to respond appropriately to our environment, we must first be able to see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, and smell it. We have to be able to accurately SENSE our environment. These functions are all executed by the nervous system. Second, our bodies must be able to accurately PROCESS the incoming information, and generate a RESPONSE appropriate to the environmental challenge. Both of these functions, again, are modulated by the nervous system. Therefore, the nervous system is the primary means by which our bodies adapt to their environment.
The nervous system is housed within the spine and cranium. Many research studies have demonstrated that torsion, tension, or restriction in the spine (known as subluxation) can impact the function of the nervous system. Further, research has also shown that correction or release of spinal tension, torsion, or restriction by chiropractic adjustment can improve the way we sense the environment, integrate information, and execute a response. This results in an improvement of ADAPTIVE CAPACITY, literally, how we relate to our environment.
How do you know if torsion, tension, or restriction in your spine – subluxation – is impacting the function of your nervous system, and decreasing your adaptive capacity? A Doctor of Chiropractic may use structural X-rays, paraspinal thermography testing, surface EMG muscle testing, postural analysis, gait analysis, and other methods to gain information about the integration of your body’s structure and function. These and other tests will help determine whether your spine and nervous system are normal or have abnormality, and if so to what degree.
One particularly powerful measurement that can be used to assess the adaptive capacity of the nervous system, and its response to chiropractic adjustment, is HRV (Heart Rate Variability). HRV is a measurement of micro-variations between heartbeats. HRV indicates high adaptive capacity and nervous system efficiency; low HRV is indicator of lower adaptive capacity, and decreased nervous system efficiency. HRV is a broad scale tool used by many fields as a window into how nervous system efficiency impacts physiology and health; for instance, research within the past few years has shown that high HRV is predictive of better prognosis after heart attack, better prognosis with fighting cancer, and improved cardiovascular health and athletic performance. Indeed, many elite athletes (including the NFL) are starting to use HRV data to optimize their training protocols.
Several years ago, Zhang et al (JMPT, 2006) clearly demonstrated that HRV changes with chiropractic care. This finding implies that chiropractic care can improve or optimize YOUR adaptive capacity. HRV is one technique we use on a regular basis at Path of Life to monitor nervous system efficiency and balance, and we see great improvements both on a daily basis and with a course of NeuroStructural Corrective Care. Backed by these recent research advances, we now understand that HRV is a tool that can be used in chiropractic care and in many other fields to help YOU make sure your nervous system is running on all 16 cylinders.
Aside from improving the body’s adaptive capacity, chiropractic care has several other research-proven “side-benefits” such as improved range of motion, decreased headache/migraine frequency, improved sleep quality, decreased depression and anxiety, decreased asthma symptoms, and many other effects on the body’s physiology. For a great resource, see www.chiro.org/research/ and browse research articles on these and other topics. The reason that chiropractic can help with such a diverse array of symptoms is simple: chiropractic care is aimed at correcting the underlying primary spinal condition that is causing nervous system irritation. When the underlying problem is addressed, the secondary symptoms can often dissipate or disappear.
In the words of Leon Megginson, “‘According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Adaptation is LIFE; got yours?