Does That Activator Thing Really Work?

It happened again the other day. A new patient came into the office for an evaluation and chiropractic adjustment. She’d been a long time chiropractic consumer, and had visited several other chiropractors in the past. She and her family recently moved to the area, so she was looking for a new chiropractor.

I love this type of new patient. They are in essence “pre-qualified” before they walk through the door. They love chiropractic care, and want to pick up where they left off with their last chiropractor. But I’ve learned to ask one last question before they begin their care at our office.

“Are you aware that I use the Activator Method exclusively?”

“Yes, I saw it on your website,” she said. “One of my other chiropractors used it on my neck sometimes.” But, I could tell by the expression on her face she was somewhat apprehensive.

“Was it a good experience?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” she said. “It didn’t seem to really work.”

“Was the doctor certified in the Activator Method?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Does that matter?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Activator Methods certifies and re-credentials its doctors regularly to ensure that the technique is applied with the latest advances.”

My patient looked at me quizzically.

And there it was. I had just encountered yet another patient who thought they had an Activator experience, when in reality they did not.

What Is Activator?

In the chiropractic profession, Activator means two distinct things: 1) An adjusting instrument used to manipulate dysfunctioning joints, and 2) An assessment procedure using leg-length analysis to determine where, when, and when not to perform an adjustment.

Patients often confuse the two. But, it’s not really the patient’s fault. Chiropractors often confuse the two as well.

While any licensed chiropractor or chiropractic student can purchase an Activator, training, and certification in the use of the instrument are voluntary. This means that although most chiropractors own an Activator (or claim to use one), where, when, and why they use the Activator instrument varies immensely.

Why Does a Doctor Use an Activator Instrument?

Chiropractors generally use an Activator instrument to perform a spinal adjustment. But, there are two major schools of thought when it comes to determining why a person needs a spinal adjustment.

Chiropractic is based on the principle that spinal joint dysfunction interferes with the nervous system. Therefore, chiropractic doctors test for spinal joint dysfunction and/or interference with the nervous system to determine if the person needs a spinal adjustment. Depending on the chiropractor’s clinical experience or where they went to chiropractic school, they tend to have more clinical confidence in detecting one versus the other.

If the chiropractor has more of a “joint dysfunction” perspective, he/she will ultimately rely on tests for spinal misalignment or loss of spinal joint mobility to diagnose where to make a spinal adjustment. As a result, he/she will often thrust multiple times on one area in an effort to “move the bone” or increase spinal joint mobility. Sort of like you would use a hammer to break loose or free something that is stuck.

However, if the chiropractor has more of a “nerve interference” perspective, he/she will ultimately rely on tests for interference with the nervous system (leg length analysis, neurological reflexes) to diagnose where to make a spinal adjustment. As a result, he/she will thrust one time on an area in an effort to “reset the nervous system” or restore spinal balance. Sort of like you reset a GFIC outlet by simply pushing in a RESET button.

The Preponderance of Evidence

Research and the clinical consensus of experts trained in using the Activator adjusting instrument indicate that if you are manipulating a dsyfunctional joint, one thrust per area works best. To date, over 20 clinical trials have been published comparing the outcomes of Activator Methods care to traditional chiropractic manipulation. Each and every one of these trials demonstrated equivalent outcomes regardless of which method was used. That means based on the evidence, the “Activator thing” really does work.

Ironically, in the one neck pain trial that had a higher proportion of temporary adverse effects (increased neck pain, mild radiating pain, mild headache, mild fatigue, etc.) than manual manipulation, “the analytical procedure associated with Activator Methods was not used.” That means there is at least some evidence that how and why one uses the Activator likely matters a great deal.

The Activator Works When It’s Used Correctly

The Activator Method uses specific protocols to detect spinal joint dysfunction that focuses on analyzing leg-length inequality and testing neurological reflexes to determine where, when, and when not to perform an adjustment. In addition, the Activator Method uses only one thrust per area of contact to initiate the process of restoring spinal balance in the patient.

If your Activator Methods experience did not include leg-length testing, or if it involved repeated or multiple thrusts with the Activator on each area, you did not have a true experience. In fact, unless you have had an Activator Methods experience from a doctor who has a current Proficiency Rating in the Activator Methods chiropractic technique, you do not really know whether or not this method is right for you.

The Activator website maintains a current worldwide directory of qualified chiropractors. In order to get qualified, a chiropractor must be licensed and have earned at least a Proficiency Rating in the Activator Method Chiropractic Technique. Licensed chiropractors who earn this exclusive designation have attended an Activator Methods seminar in the past year, and have successfully passed written and practical examinations.

If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to try the world’s #1 instrument-adjusting technique with a doctor who knows how to use it. Owning a hammer doesn’t make one a carpenter, right? Neither does owning an Activator mean your chiropractor knows how to use it effectively.

The Activator provides a controlled, fast thrust that is comfortable for the patient. Adjustments with the device are so quick and measured that the body’s muscles are less likely to resist, allowing for a more gentle and effective adjustment.


  1. Pingback:

  2. I will be in teaching Seattle, Phoenix and Toronto this Fall, 2014. For a complete list of all seminars, go to:

  3. I found my Activator dr on the website provided, however, he used multiple thrusts (sounds like a machine gun). He was just at the seminar last week, as I had to skip my weekly appointments. Is this bad??

    1. Hi Lauren,

      First of all, the Activator adjusting instrument is a single (1) thrust device by design. If the doctor you went to used multiple thrusts, that means he was NOT using an Activator. Unfortunately, this happens sometimes, and it is bad at least from a patient trust and reliability standpoint. It seems to me that the doctor would have informed you he was going to use a different instrument so you could have given informed consent beforehand especially since you found him through the Activator web site.

      Secondly, there is debate among chiropractors about whether a single thrust or multiple thrust(s) are better. The truth is we don’t know whether multiple thrusts are good or bad because there have been no published clinical trials using anything but a single (1) thrust. Furthermore, all 18 clinical trails that have been published to date are using a genuine Activator adjusting instrument. As with many other things in life, substitutions are not the same.

      I would suggest at the very least you ask the chiropractor to explain what research he is basing his use of multiple thrusts upon. If you trust his answer and feel better, fine. If not, request he use an Activator or find yourself another chiropractor.

  4. The website link about, is it just for a certain brand of Activator? My chiro that I just started going to using a device connected to a large machine that has all sorts of graphs. As Lauren mentioned above, my chiro uses several thrusts in various locations up and down my spine. I’ve been having neck soreness for a couple months now and my treatments don’t seem to be helping at all.

    1. Hi Kim,

      This post is about a brand of instrument called Activator – the world’s #1 chiropractic adjusting instrument. The device your chiropractor is using has been marketed under several different names, but is essentially another brand of adjusting instrument that does indeed use multiple thrusts that are purported to “normalize” the graphs on the machine. The problem is, there have been no clinical trials published as to whether normalizing the graphs helps patients get better.

      In my opinion, if you have had more than a two week trial of care and you are not feeling any better, consider asking your chiropractor to use one (1) thrust instead of multiple thrusts and see what happens. The preponderance of the evidence indicates that less is more when it comes to instrument adjusting.

  5. Hello Dr.,

    My wife has PD and just went to a doctor who uses the activator. I’ve never heard of this and, being in IT security am always concerned about scams so I started looking into it. I will be verifying her doctor’s name on the web stie you mentioned. However, he did look at the length of her legs, so it looks as if he is certified.

    My question is this. She went to the doctor in the morning for the first time. That afternoon she noticed bruising on the inside of her ankle, the size of the palm of her hand. My concern is that there is a cause and effect relationship here. However, in IT we also deal with the logical fallacy of “Propter hoc, ergo post hoc” which ties together two totally unrelated events as cause and effect. Have you heard of any side effects such as this happening in people that are treated with the activator method?

    Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and respond.



    1. Hello Jeff,

      Your question seems to be whether treatment with an adjusting instrument could have caused the bruising your wife observed on the inside of her ankle. Is it possible? Maybe. Is it likely? No.

      In my experience using the Activator Method for many years on a wide variety of patients, in a few rare cases temporary bruising may occur; typically in aging patients who have a history of bruising easily. And, even then it is a small 1 cm bruise, so the scenario you describe is very unusual.

      My questions are these. Did the doctor use an “Activator” brand instrument? What instrument setting was used? How many thrusts did the doctor perform on the inside of the ankle?

      Dr. Weisel

  6. Hello Dr. Weisel,

    Thank you for your response. I do not know the answers to these questions. He is a doctor listed on the web site that you mentioned earlier. He did do other tests such as the leg length test.

    The activator was used only on her neck, so I think this is a case of “Propter hoc, ergo post hoc.” And, the events have nothing to do with one another.

    Thank you again,


  7. I realize that this article and comments are over a year old; however, I’d like to add my two cents as a consumer. Does the Activator work? HELL YES!!!

    I have chronic lower back pain, one shorter leg and am a type 2 diabetic. My chiropractor has been in the business for years and is also qualified to train other chiropractors. (Believe it or not, my GP referred me to my chiropractor!)

    The 1st time he used the Activator on me, I was skeptical but during our post-treatment conversation, he asked how I felt. OMG! I felt fabulous! No more head twisting, no more jumping up and down using the doctor’s weight for an adjustment…just a simple “jack hammer” Activator and voila! I highly recommend it, but as the writer states, please make sure your provider knows what he/she is doing.

    1. Hello Gail.

      Thank you for comments, and your enthusiastic support. I am so glad to hear Activator methods have worked for you.

      Dr. Weisel

  8. Is it safe to use this adjuster on the scalp and back & side of the neck?

    1. Hello Debra,

      Yes it is safe and appropriate to use the Activator instrument on parts of the head (occipital bone), and back/side of the neck (cervical spine). Why do you ask?

      Dr. Weisel

      1. Is it safe to use the Activator on the Frontal bone near the eye?

        1. Hi Erica,

          Historically cranial adjusting (which includes the Frontal bone) has been included in many chiropractic techniques. Activator is no exception. If your chiropractor is following the protocol taught at the Activator Methods seminars, then it is safe to use the Activator on the Frontal bone.

          Dr. Weisel

  9. My chiropractor says about 1/3 of pts. get immediate, significant relief, 1/3 get gradual relief (and will know after about 3 treatments), and 1/3 get no relief. I’m fortunate to be in that first group. For me, use of the Activator has been wonderful for both my hip and my shoulder

    1. Hello Diane,

      I am so glad to hear that Activator Methods have worked well for you!

      Dr. Weisel

  10. Great info. I just started with a well reviewed Chiro using the activator after about 20 years using a traditional. Get tension headaches maybe every 2 months and also get relief from skilled deep muscle massage.

    Question 1: My understanding is if muscles are tight they pull out the neck bone alignment or if the alignment is bad that makes the muscles tight. Not sure which is the cart or horse, or both. Which do you believe is the most preventative (massage or Chrio – realizing you may have a bias)? Both seem to work. And activator seems just as effective than traditional although only had 3 times.

    Question 2: It often takes 10-12+ hours to get relief. In the meantime, I am probably overdosing on Ibuprofen and acetaminophen but seems to have little or no real relief nor does a hot pad on my neck. Might this mean its more nerve tissue than muscular? For minor headaches like from too much coffee, they do work quickly but not much on a tension headache.

    Queston 3 – last 🙂
    When he does the leg length test (very quickly as I change arm positions etc). I feel no movement or change in position of leg (he uses a slanted upward table), Seems amazing he can detect such a slight change when I am unaware of any movement in leg getting longer or shorter. Comment?

    Appreciate your good site and was pleasantly surprised that the activator method seems to work. I had slow recovery times with traditional but at least this time seems slower but maybe I was just “out” more.

    1. Hi Dave. Thank you for the great questions.

      1) In the case of tension-type headaches, the best thing you can do to prevent these type of headaches is to figure out your stressors or triggers and reduce them. Tension headaches are most commonly caused by stress or bad posture. Determining what sets your headaches off will greatly reduce them. As far as treatment goes, both chiropractic care and massage can be beneficial. The massage can work to relax the tight muscles and reduce stress and tension which is great if you catch it early on. However, if the joint is misaligned the massage will not correct the joint dysfunction and the headaches may reoccur. As a chiropractor I am partial to the chiropractic adjustment. The Activator will be very precise in realigning the joint and will also allow the muscles to relax by stimulating mechanoreceptors (which are special sensory organs within our body) and allow the joint to move better by restoring proper biomechanics.

      2) Every person reacts differently to how long it takes to respond. Some individuals get immediate relief while other may take up to a few days before they can feel relief. There are multiple layers to the problem including the joint biomechanics, muscle tension, inflammation and definitely in some circumstances the nerves are involved.

      3) What the doctor is doing when he checks the leg lengths is assessing reflexes. The reflexes are subtle and quick reactions and the doctor is able to interpret them due to specific training and lots of practice. The patient will not physically feel the leg changing position.

      Hopefully this will help you understand in more detail what you have been experiencing!

      Dr. Lauren

  11. Can a chiropractor, using the Activator, help knee pain? It has been suggested by a friend that they can.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Yes, a chiropractic doctor using the Activator can often times help with knee pain. I would advise that you find an Activator doctor who is Advanced Proficiency rated so that you can be confident that they know our extremity protocol:

      Dr. Weisel

  12. Does the Activator help if you have Migraine?

    Thanks, Carole

    1. Hello Carole,

      Yes, in my clinical experience, Activator Methods chiropractic care often improves migraine and cervicogenic headache. The best part is that because of the gentle and precise nature of instrument-assisted spinal manipulation, Activator may help (when used by a trained chiropractic professional) but will not make your migraine headache(s) any worse.

      Dr. Weisel

  13. Is the Activator the only adjustment tool that can do the job, or are there other similar brands out there that also work as well?

    1. Hello Carlos,

      While other similar brands out there may work, Activator is the only adjusting instrument with clinical trials to support its efficacy. To date, over 23 clinical trials have been published demonstrating the outcomes of Activator instrument adjusting. The other similar brands out there do not have the published clinical research to show that they work as well. So, we only use Activator adjusting instruments at our office. Click here for a complete list of clinical trials utilizing the Activator Adjustment Instrument:

      Dr. Weisel

  14. I injured my ribs thanks to the flu and some serious coughing. My chiropractor used an Activator on my ribs. Repeatedly. Is it meant to be used on ribs?

    1. Hello Nicole,

      Yes, the Activator adjusting instrument is meant to be used on the spine, ribs, and extremities. Furthermore, it is a very safe and effective way to relieve pain caused by rib sprain injuries due to coughing. I hope you are feeling better!

      Dr. Weisel

  15. If you have had back surgery and have 4 rods and 6 screws in your back can you use this activator method to help with the sciatica nerve pinching. Surgery was three years ago. Please respond.

    Betty Lake

    1. Hello Betty,

      If you have had back surgery (and have 4 rods and 6 screws in your back) you can definitely use the Activator Method to help with sciatic nerve pain.

      Dr. Weisel

  16. Hello,

    I have alignment issues in my pelvis which may have arisen during the birthing process. My natropath has suggested to see a chiropractor but I do not wish to undergo the thrust method . Would the activator be suitable for my problem ?

    1. Hi Clare,
      The activator would be an excellent method for working with alignment issues in the pelvis. We frequently work with women from preconception to postpartum. I would suggest getting checked if you have recently delivered a baby. You can look here for a little more information about chiropractic care during the postpartum period.

      Dr. Lauren

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