Detecting Skeletal Alignment without Using X-Rays
By Julie Bacon, LMP, and Certified Onsen Techniques Therapist, Instructor, Examiner
Did you know that it’s possible to detect skeletal misalignments without having to take X-Rays? In fact, not only is it possible, it’s the first thing I look for when treating an injury, particularly if the pain or discomfort is felt in the neck or low back and pelvic regions. This type of treatment is called Muscle Energy Techniques (MET). It has been used by osteopaths for decades and is far more palatable for the patient to receive than the much more stringent “adjustment” performed by chiropractors. When a misalignment has been observed (or assessed), Hold/Relax stretching is applied (a series of isometric contractions, each followed by a slight stretch) to loosen and lengthen the tight muscle that has been pulling the skeleton out of alignment.
If you are wondering how one goes about finding these deviations, it is by palpation and observation.
For example, there are several bony landmarks in the pelvic girdle that can tell us what is going on with this structure. By palpating and then observing these landmarks, we can discover deviations such as high ileums (one hip will be higher than the other hip), anterior or posterior rotations of ileums, sacroiliac (SI joint) fixations, pubic bone misalignment, and deviations of the sacrum.
By observing from behind the client, it’s also possible to identify side-bending curves and rotations of the spine. We can even detect rotations of individual vertebrae, although one wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the only bony landmark we can see (the spinous process). The cool part about this is that by close examination of the skeleton, osteopaths discovered that in the lumbar portion of the spine, the transverse processes of each vertebra are located laterally, (about an inch wider on each side), half-way between the spinous process of the vertebrae we are investigating, and the spinous process of vertebra directly above the one we are investigating. So, by placing my thumbs about an inch wide on both sides, half-way between the spinous process I’m investigating and the one directly above it, I can see if one side is sticking out more (or is more posterior) than the other side. Depending on which side is posterior, we would identify it as being either “rotated left” or “rotated right.”
The muscles that control individual vertebrae are very small compared to the bigger muscles (prime movers such as hamstrings, quads, etc.) and as such, they need only a tiny effort (10%) when applying the series of isometric contractions used to loosen the tight muscles that are causing the deviation. In either event, one must always re-assess the bony landmarks to confirm that the misalignment has been corrected!
Ultimately, without having to rely on X-Rays, we can assess the entire spine, both in flexion and extension, and this will amount to about one half of the entire protocol known as the Onsen Techniques (developed by Rich Phaigh, renowned Sports Massage Therapist in Eugene, Oregon).