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What is the hammer thing chiropractors use?

Chiropractors use various tools during spinal manipulation and adjustments. One of the most common tools is known as a chiropractic adjusting instrument or chiropractic hammer. This tool delivers controlled, precise manipulative thrusts to specific vertebrae in the spine to restore normal range of motion, reduce nerve irritation, and promote healing.

What is a chiropractic hammer?

A chiropractic hammer, also called a neurocalometer, activator instrument, or impulse adjusting instrument, is a handheld tool used to perform spinal adjustments.

It consists of a rubber-tipped hammer head attached to a spring-loaded handle. The chiropractor taps the spine with short, targeted thrusts using the hammer. This allows delivering measurable, reproducible forces to vertebral segments.

There are different brands and types of chiropractic hammers. Common ones include:

  • Activator – Uses a spring-loaded tip.
  • Neurocalometer – Features a temperature-sensitive tip.
  • Impulse – Employs interchangeable tips of different materials and sizes.
  • Arthrostim – Combines vibration and impulse thrusts.

The force delivered can range from a few pounds to up to 50 pounds depending on the instrument. Most provide adjustments ranging from 10 to 20 pounds of force.

Why do chiropractors use hammers?

There are several reasons chiropractors may choose to use a chiropractic hammer or activator tool:

  • Precise control – The instruments allow chiropractors to deliver a precisely measured, targeted impulse force to specific vertebrae.
  • Reduce strain – Using a tool can minimize the strain, fatigue, and impact on the chiropractor’s hands and body compared to high-force manual adjustments over hours of patients.
  • Low force – Instrument adjusting applies gentle tapping versus strong manual thrusts, which some patients prefer.
  • Focused – The impulse force can be directed at restricted joints and delicate areas that may not handle vigorous manual adjustments.
  • Speed – Handheld instruments allow chiropractors to deliver adjustments rapidly and efficiently.
  • Consistency – The devices enable the chiropractor to give reproducible, measurable adjustments each visit.
  • Whole body – Instruments can be used to adjust extremities and joints beyond just the spine.

How does a chiropractic hammer work?

There are a few key principles that allow chiropractic hammers and activator instruments to deliver precise adjustments:

  • Percussive thrusts – The hammering motion provides short, targeted impulses focused on a small spinal segment.
  • Speed – The tip can deliver up to 5 impulses per second, allowing for rapid bursts.
  • Force – The spring-loaded or electromagnet-driven mechanism ensures consistent force with each tap.
  • Depth – Most tips only penetrate the skin and muscle lightly versus deep into joints and tissues.
  • Reflexes – The percussion taps are thought to activate reflexes and restore motion to fixated vertebral and extremity joints.

During an adjustment, the chiropractor first pinpoints the segment to be treated using their clinical knowledge of anatomy and abnormal motions. They then place the activator tip against the skin and underlying point on the spine.

Tapping the activator trigger releases a quick impulse that is transferred through the vertebral bones and into the joint, mobilizing and realigning the segment.

This restores motion and position of the vertebrae relative to each other while also reducing nerve interference occurring due to the vertebral misalignment.

Are chiropractic hammers safe?

When used appropriately by trained professionals, chiropractic adjusting instruments are considered extremely safe methods of delivering spinal manipulations.

Potential benefits of using an activator or impulse adjusting tool include:

  • Lower risk of injury compared to high-velocity manual thrusts.
  • Decreased chance of joint over-rotation or fractures.
  • Minimal patient discomfort during or after the adjustment.
  • Safe for delicate regions like the neck or low back.
  • Effective when treating older patients and those with osteoporosis.

However, as with any therapeutic technique, there are some risks if improperly applied. It’s important the chiropractor is well-trained in using the instrument and carefully determines the proper adjustment locations and forces for each individual.

When are chiropractic hammers used?

Chiropractors may utilize an activator, neurocalometer, or other impulse adjusting instrument at different times, including:

  • At the start of treatment to assess spine and extremity mobility.
  • During the chiropractic adjustment phase of care.
  • On sensitive patients who cannot tolerate high-force manual adjustments.
  • On joints and bones of the arms, legs, shoulders, feet, or hands.
  • Along with other modalities like massage, heat, or electrical stimulation.
  • To deliver gentle maintenance adjustments during later phases of care.

The instruments allow the chiropractor to deliver targeted, measurable impulses to uncover problem areas and restore proper alignment and nerve function across the whole body.


Chiropractic hammers and activator instruments are specialized adjustment tools used to deliver controlled percussive and vibration forces to the spine and other joints.

They enable chiropractors to give precise, rapid, low-force manipulations focused on fixing small vertebral misalignments impacting range of motion and nervous system function.

When employed properly, these instruments allow safe, effective chiropractic treatment across all ages and conditions. They can be used to assess restrictions, deliver adjustments, and maintain mobility with minimal risk of injury.