Activator Tool for Spinal Manipulation

While most people are very familiar with spinal manipulations or spinal adjustments, many people are not aware of another type of manual manipulation treatment that is used by chiropractors called the Activator Method. The Activator Method uses a specialized hand held adjusting tool and is used to treat all types of back and neck pain as well as pain in the extremities. This activator adjusting instrument is an alternative to the widely used diversified technique of high velocity, low amplitude thrust or HVLA thrust. The diversified technique involves targeting one joint at a time with a short low-amplitude, quick/high velocity thrust.

The activator adjusting instrument is utilized to deliver quick and low force impulses to spinal joints (and other joints) with the purpose of restoring normal function to those joints. The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners reports that this is one of the most common therapeutic treatments used by chiropractors, second only to the diversified technique. About half of all American chiropractors use the activator method in their clinics.

What is the Activator Method Technique?

The activator adjusting instrument is a spring loaded handheld instrument which allows chiropractors to employ quick low force impulses in specific spots. Two advantages of the Activator Method are as follows:

  • The most obvious advantage is that you can repeat a very controlled force that does not put the joint in any type of bending or twisting situation.
  • Also, the activator instrument is so fast that the body does not have time to tense or resist the treatment. Since the muscles don’t have time to react or tense up, this increases the effectiveness of the treatment.

Some of the older models that are on the market are actually mechanically spring loaded. However, there are newer models that are cordless and the spring is powered electronically.

How does the Activator Method work?

The chiropractor will have you lie face down on the table and then he’ll use specific tests, including checking for any differences in leg lengths. By checking for leg length discrepancies, they are more likely to identify which spinal or extremity joints need to be adjusted due to faulty body mechanics or any abnormal neurological reflexes.

Evidence from research suggests that the hand held Activator is able to specifically treat a small area, such as a single vertebrae, making it a very effective tool in spinal adjustments.

Is Leg Length Evaluation always used in the Activator Method?

Although chiropractors commonly use the leg length evaluation when they are going to use this handheld instrument, many rely on a physical examination approach. During the physical examination, they will use palpation (pressing on the surface of the body to feel the tissues underneath) of the spine and other areas to determine where they will apply the Activator instrument. 

Why is an Activator Method used over other techniques?

One of the greatest advantages of using an activator instrument, is that it has such a small tip.The small surface area of the tip makes it ideal for not only specifically targeting spinal joints, but works well on extremities like the knees, elbows, wrists, and even the jaw. Also, as mentioned above, this instrument acts quickly and does not give the body or muscles time to tense up prior to the adjustment taking place.

How Effective is the Activator Method Treatment?

Traditionally, chiropractors are very well versed in applying spinal manipulation as a manual adjustment technique and research shows that 98% of chiropractors use the HVLA diversified technique in their practices. The activator method is not necessarily intended to replace manual adjustments such as the diversified technique, but have been developed to be used in specific instances when they need a smaller surface area to deliver a quick thrust to a small joint. It is a complementary manual adjustment technique benefiting patients globally, especially those that are not keen on the turning and tugging that can take place during manual manipulations.

Is The Activator Method Safe?

Although the activator is widely used amongst chiropractors, and has been around since the 1970s, it is not as well known as the more traditional manual manipulation methods, despite being approved by the FDA since 1997.  Since it has been approved by the FDA, the Activator adjustment method has been deemed safe to use for spinal realignment and adjustments. 

Research shows that the activator adjustment method works as well as traditional adjustment methods, and is safe for use by chiropractors trained and certified in the Activator method. This certification requires that the Chiropractic Doctor be instructed in the Activator Method Chiropractic Adjustment technique and receive at least a proficiency rating in order to be able to use the method in their practice.

While there are more studies and research going on regarding this type of treatment, it’s very important to visit a Chiropractic Doctor who is specifically trained in this method and has the required certification in the activator adjustment method. 

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