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What is Activator Method Adjusting and How Does it Help

The Activator Method Chiropractic Technique

Activator method adjusting is a chiropractic technique used to treat different kinds of back pain, headaches including migraine and chronic and neck pain. The chiropractor can determine which conditions this treatment will help including (TMJ) Temporomandibular Joint disorder, neurological conditions, back pain, joint inflammation and disc problems. The treatment relieves pain while improving the function of muscles, nerves and joints. The procedure is virtually painless, safe, gentle and suitable for older individuals and children. 

This method is ideal for individuals unable to tolerate the standard treatments including pregnant women and individuals with conditions weakening the joints and bones such as osteoporosis and arthritis. Individuals unable to perform their daily responsibilities due to pain can often be helped with this treatment. The Activator provides enough force to decrease inflammation and stiffness in the joints. This increases mobility and flexibility. The speed of the treatment does not allow enough time for the body to tense up so less force on the ligaments and joints is necessary. 

Specifics of the Technique

The Activator instrument is hand-held and small. Motion can be restored by a low-force, fast impulse to the targeted joint. This is a good chiropractic alternative for traditional spinal manipulation. Since the applied force is localized, there is no additional bending or torque applied to the joint. This is the most frequently performed type of chiropractic therapeutic intervention. More than fifty percent of all chiropractors in the United States have achieved success with this method. Activator method adjusting is also used in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. 

chiropactor using an activator method tool

Some chiropractors perform an evaluation prior to performing this treatment while others use the findings from a physical examination. Dr. Arlan Fuhr originally developed this treatment in 1967. The method was patented in 1978. There are four different activator instruments available. These are the Activator I, the beginner instrument, the Activators II and IV which are spring-loaded and the Activator V which is cordless and mechanical. The majority of research conducted has been on the Activator IV. 

Chiropractors use this instrument to locate and help alleviate pain in the neck and back. Chiropractors often use eight or ten techniques for manipulation. The technique is determined by a combination of the individual’s condition, the preference of the patient and the experience and preference of the chiropractor. The Activator has been approved for all licensed medical professionals in the United States. The most frequent users are chiropractors. 


A course for Activator method adjusting is taught in the United States as an elective and at the majority of chiropractic colleges. There are two different certification levels. The first is basic proficiency. The applicant must complete twelve hours of post-graduate training or a practical and written exam. The second level is advanced proficiency. This requires completing post-graduate training for 24 hours or a practical and written exam. Both certifications require an additional practical and written exam. This provides the training necessary for using the Activator to make adjustments. 

Roughly 2,000 chiropractors remain proficient using this method by attending seminars every year offering new data and material. Activator method adjusting can encompass the use of several different steps. The chiropractor may adjust the spine with just the Activator instrument or they may use all or some of the steps. The typical treatment is performed with the individual positioned face down. 

The treatment usually starts with the lower back prior to progressing in the direction of the head. Each vertebra is targeted individually. The individual is evaluated by the chiropractor for specific symptoms and signs. This enables them to determine what is causing the pain, stiffness or loss of mobility in their patients. 

Activator Adjustment

During a typical treatment, the Activator is applied by the chiropractor to the tissues near or at the impacted joint. A fast thurst using the device follows the initial pressure. The individual must remain still without turning or twisting. The chiropractor will re-evaluate their patient once the adjustment is completed. A series of one or two treatments each week for four to six weeks is usually recommended. This is based on the issues of each patient. Once the symptoms have improved, the treatment is complete. 

If there is no pain relief after three or four treatments, the treatment is discontinued and the patient re-evaluated. In some cases, the individual needs a different kind of spine specialist or manipulation. The Activator instrument has received approval from the FDA for adjustments of the extremities and spine by a chiropractor. Clinical studies have shown the instrument is safe and effective. Clearance for the first instrument was granted in 1997.

Advantages of Activator Method Adjusting

This procedure is preferred by numerous individuals because of the gentleness of the treatment. The treatment is both effective and safe. Most chiropractors believe the best procedure for joint adjustments is dependent on the comfort level of their patients. If the individual is uncomfortable or apprehensive about a specific technique, their muscles will become tighter. This makes it harder for the chiropractor to adjust the targeted joint. The possibility of soreness or stiffness after the treatment also increases. 

There are individuals with a tendency to tighten or guard themselves prior to a chiropractic adjustment. Even though these individuals are aware chiropractic manipulations are not painful, they are unable to prevent themselves from tightening their muscles. Part of the reason these patients are not unable to relax is that they do not want to hear the clicking or popping sounds so common with Activator adjustments. The Activator instrument was created specifically to nudge or tap open the affected joints. 

The feeling of the treatment has been described as a gentle tap on the affected joint. As the joint opens, there will not be any clicking or popping sounds. The sound of the instrument may be heard by the patient. This has been described as similar to a stapler. Once the Activator adjustment has been completed, the individual can feel the difference quickly. This enables the individual to relax and feel good about having a chiropractic adjustment. A lot of research has been performed regarding the Activator instrument. 

The focus of the research is on the effectiveness of treatments using the Activator instrument. The research for the past thirty years has shown the minimal force used increases the motion of the joints. Once the joint is moving correctly, the individual feels less pain. Certain individuals have difficulty believing the adjustment will work because they are used to receiving more force. The overwhelming research has effectively demonstrated joint motion can be increased and pain decreased with a gentle and simple treatment using less force. 

The Activator technique is more effective for individuals experiencing severe pain from a joint injury or sprain. This is because the Activator increases the motion of the joint a lot faster than manual chiropractic manipulation. Patients often tighten their muscles around the affected joint when having manual manipulation. This limits the effectiveness of the treatment. The Activator instrument is comfortable and fast during joint adjustments enabling normal motion quicker. 

The joint is nudged open using a fast and gentle motion. This means the individual is much less likely to tighten their muscles to protect the injured area because they do not have as much time. This technique does require a change in the most common thinking process. Many people still believe more of anything is better. They believe their results will be better when more force is used. The Activator has proven less force is actually more effective, comfortable and better.

If this the activator treatment resonates with you, let us know and we can see if it’s what’s best for you.