One of the handiest techniques for putting subluxated vertebrae back into line (or “putting your back in”) is called spontaneous release by positioning. The technique was developed by Dr. Lawrence Hugh Jones, a Canadian doctor of osteopathy (D.O.). Dr. Jones published his technique in The D.O., January 1964, pp. 118-125. It is a very effective first aid procedure that anyone can learn and put to use as a treatment for back problems.
“Spontaneous release” is another phrase for “nature cured it,” when applied to your back. Occasionally a subluxated vertebra will slip back into place on its own. An unusual sleeping position or a chance movement can return a vertebra to its place not quite as easily as it can be put “out.” This spontaneous realignment of the spine is not to be confused with “learning to live with it” or any other mere toleration of the misplaced bone. It is one thing for the body to compensate for a problem, and another thing for the body to correct the problem.
So why is a technique needed at all if the body corrects itself? First of all, spontaneous release rarely occurs. It would be nice if it did, but the legions of chiropractic patients prove otherwise. It seems easier for a bone to go out than to go in, in the same manner that it’s easier to break a watch than fix it, or easier to scramble an egg than to put it back together again. When a bone goes out, the surrounding muscles also are affected. Dr. Jones explains this well in his paper. It seems that once the bone is out, the tendency of the muscles is to hold its new position. It’s only through a unique position, coupled with muscle relaxation, that the bone can slip back into place almost unnoticed. This is precisely what “spontaneous release by positioning” seeks to accomplish: This technique re-creates the circumstances in which the bone went out, to encourage it to replace itself of its own accord. You are re-creating the body’s posture or position that put the vertebra out in the first place. It’s like retracing your steps.
By carefully positioning a person’s arms or legs up or down, back turned this way or that, hips or neck pivoted right or left, a patient with even severe back pain is found to all at once find a comfortable position, a position where there is no pain or almost no pain. It may be quite an odd position, but the discomfort is eased or completely gone. This is the posture that encouraged the bone to go out in the first place; now we’ll use the same position to encourage the bone to return.
You can always tell when you’ve discovered the correct position because the patient will be comfortable. The person may be barely able to sit, walk, or stand up, but when you have the correct position the person will be at ease. The very posture that put the initial strain on the back is now taking the strain off the back. Says Dr. Jones: Even the severest lesions will readily tolerate being returned to the position in which lesion formation originally occurred, and only to this position. When the joint is returned to this position, the muscles promptly and gratefully relax. These joints do not cause distress because they are crooked; they are paining because they are being forced to be too straight. This is the mechanism of strain.
In other words, the muscles are “used” to the strain, and contract to hold the bone out of place. When the person tries to straighten up, the bones won’t, because the muscles won’t let them. And the muscles won’t relax because the bones are out of alignment. That is why heating pads, rubs, medicines, and “learn to live with it” do not solve the problem. Because those approaches do not reposition the bone, the muscle cannot relax to normal. That’s why there is pain.
How to eliminate the pain? Reposition the bone back to normal. How then to reposition the bone(s) to normal? Reposition the person’s body to the extreme but now comfortable posture so the muscles will relax. You then hold the person in that position, as the person relaxes, for 90 seconds. Then, still relaxing, the person is brought back around slowly to a normal posture. It is found that the bone that was out returns with the rest of the spine to normal position.
To better find exactly which vertebrae are out, and also to demonstrate to yourself that the bones do in fact realign and pain does in fact disappear, it would be good to utilize what are called “trigger points” along the spine. Looking at the back, one can see the spinal column as a stack of bumps. To either side of the vertebra will be a trigger point. The distance out from the bump will be about one to two inches. Dr. Jones describes specific trigger locations in detail in the paper, and tells how to use them individually.
Nerves emerge from between the vertebrae in your back. Each vertebra has side projections, like wings, and a back spine which you see as a “teacup handle” or bump. If a given vertebra is misaligned, the nerve on one or both sides of that bone will be tender. This is because the bone’s twisted or subluxated condition puts pressure on the nerve emerging to each side of it. Therefore, if you press there, it may hurt quite a bit. That’s how you can tell which bones are out. Gently go up and down the spine and press lightly about one inch out to either side of each vertebral spine or “bump.” Where there’s pain, that’s where the’ nerve is under pressure, and that’s where the bone is out. And that’s the trigger point for that bone.
It is likely that you will find one side of the vertebra to be more tender than the other. That indicates which way the bone is turned. You may find that’s in agreement with what you see. If the teacup handle or spinal process of the vertebra is seen over to one side, then you’ll know it’s turned. What I do in that case is keep pressing lightly on the tender spot while repositioning the person. When the correct position is reached, the person tells me that he or she no longer feels pain even though I am still pressing on the trigger point. This is positive proof that  you’ve found the right trigger point, and  that you’ve found the right position. What I do then is be sure the person is relaxing. I hold the position, while pressing the trigger point, for from 90 seconds to two or three minutes, and then bring the person back to normal posture whilecontinuing topress the trigger point. If you’ve corrected the problem, the person will not feel discomfort and will not feel pain even though you continue to press the trigger point that hurt him before you started.
- Find the right trigger point by gently pressing to each side of each vertebra. Pain indicates the trigger point.
- While pressing that point, begin to reposition the person, asking him or her to tell you when the pain stops.
- When a comfortable position is reached, continue pressing the trigger point while holding the person in the unusual position that he or she has indicated to you by noting the cessation of pain.
- Be sure the person is relaxed if you want this to work. You must hold the position: The patient can’t do it and still be relaxed.
- After 1 1/2 minutes or so, you return the person to a normal posture while continuing to press the spot.
- If the person feels better and the trigger point pressure no longer hurts, then the bone is back in its proper place.
Treatment for Back Problems: Suggestions
On Step 1. The person’s back should ideally be uncovered. Some people will tell you of pain with only the lightest pressure to the trigger point. With other cases, you may have to press fairly hard in finding the spot. Very muscular persons often require more pressure. Persons in great pain often require but a touch. I once worked on a relative whose back was in such excruciating pain that just a washcloth’s pressure when taking a bath hurt him greatly. After half an hour of spontaneous release by positioning he was so much improved that I could press those same spots on his back until my fingernails were white.
On Step 2. Be sure to ask the person to tell you if a given trial position is better, worse, or the same. Some people won’t tell you if you’re helping them or hurting them, so ask! Ask constantly, “Better, worse, or the same?” “Better, worse, or the same?”
If you’re working on the neck, the person may begin in a sitting position. If you are working on the upper or middle back, the person might sit, or may find it easier to lie face down. For the lower back, the person may lie down on his or her side or face down. Start symmetrically, and end symmetrically; that is, have the person sit or lie straight to begin, and always end up straight with no crossed legs or slouching.
On Step 3. The only comfortable position for the patient maybe very unusual or extreme, and that’s common. The person may be in no pain at all only when rolled up like a ball, with one leg twisted over the other, with the head pointed out and up with the chin in the air, or with the arm bent back over the shoulder! You just have to try any position until you get the sure sign that you’ve found the right one: No more pain.
On Step 4. Dr. Jones mentions that “patients will try to help you. Don’t let them.” This is because the patient is totally passive during spontaneous release by positioning, and all he or she can do to help is say when pain is gone, and relax. That is it.
After the procedure, the person you worked on should rest for a while, and later endeavor to keep good posture while resting or working. This is important because the bone replaced is most likely to slip back out of place if again given the extreme position that did it before.
On Step 5. The length of time you have to hold the position will vary with each situation. Experience shows best how you can be the judge.
On Step 6. You can always check your work with spontaneous release by positioning. The trigger point that hurt when you pressed it showed you which vertebra was out; the trigger point when pressed with the person in the correct posture no longer hurt, so it showed you the correct position; the trigger point when pressed throughout the rotation of the person back to normal position no longer hurts. Once release is accomplished, a soothing ice pack can be applied.
So we can see the value of positioning, relaxation, and trigger points. These three form the basis of this technique.
You can try spontaneous release by positioning yourself, but not on yourself. If you try to position yourself, you will not be the necessary passive, relaxed patient. You cannot have relaxed muscles if you are using them to exert force to position your limbs or back, or to press trigger points. You can either relax a muscle or use a muscle; you cannot do both together. This is why it is good to teach family members this technique: You may be the one needing it at some point. If everyone learns, then you can help each other. When I did farm work, with much reaching, lifting, pulling, and carrying, my wife did spontaneous release by positioning on me almost every day. When she was pregnant, particularly during the eighth and ninth months, I had to put her back in as often as twice a day. Spontaneous release by positioning prevented that considerable back discomfort that so many women complain of during pregnancy, which is a result of the extra weight applied to the back in carrying a child.
From Doctor Yourself by Andrew W. Saul. Copyright © 1981 by Andrew W. Saul. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Ashwins Health Institute.