For some, this becomes so routine that we don’t even know we do it. Take my wife for example. She wakes up, flings her leg over the side of the bed, applies a small amount of pressure to her pelvis and “POP”. She sits up, wiggles her head left to right and “CRACK, CRACK”. Her response when I ask why she does it, “I don’t know. It just feels good”. When I was younger, any time I would “crack” my knuckles, a teacher or parent would say “You’re going to get arthritis in your fingers if you keep that up”. Of course I kept doing it because what do parents know.
So what really is that noise? What happens to the joint when you hear the “POP”? Is it healthy? Can anyone do it? Today’s blog post will take a deep dive into the chiropractic adjustment and why it may or may not be for you.
I always say the profession of chiropractic was way ahead of it’s time. In the early 1900’s, we (chiropractors) had no idea what was happening during an adjustment but we knew it was effective. In some cases, pain instantly vanishes. For some range of motion increases significantly and for others they just feel better. In one famous case, a deaf patient regained his hearing after an adjustment. What is happening during this phenomena?
Before we had in-depth research, controlled trials, systematic reviews, and technology that could record the most minute measurements, we literally thought we were putting bones back in place. Thats pretty powerful stuff. Think about it. The initial thought process concluded that bones over time, due to walking, sitting, injuries, sports, etc., slowly move out of place. When a bone is out of place the body’s balance is thrown out of whack and we now have pain. Makes sense. Go see a chiropractor and he will put it back on or re-align your bones and you will feel better. Again makes sense. I have pain due to a mis-alignment, the chiropractor adjusts me and BAM! I feel better again. Not so fast my friend.
As research and technology improves so does our knowledge of the body. In the 1970s, several researchers began looking at the nervous system and its role in pain. They began studying the spine and measuring relative motion of the spine. I’ll try not to get too nerdy here but what they found greatly influenced our thoughts about the adjustment.
In general, they found that lack of motion of the spine increased the chance of pain. When a segment (joint) of the spine was not moving well pain in the spine increased at that segment. When a force was applied to that segment, movement increased and pain decreased! These studies also concluded that the “bone out of place” theory was highly unlikely and chiropractors were not re-aligning bones. A new theory then emerged: Adjusting a joint helps improve relative joint motion at that segment.
What we believe today is greatly influenced from those researchers in the 1970’s. To put it simply, we are putting motion back into joints of the spine to allow better movement of the entire spinal column. We are NOT realigning the spine. The improved movement allows our spine and body to dissipate forces away from painful areas thus reducing stress placed on the joints.
But what is that crazy noise and what does it mean?? Since we now know bones are not physically getting pushed back in place we can all agree its not bones rubbing against each other as they move. Research tells us that our joints are filled with gas and pressure. That noise you hear is gas and pressure releasing from the joint itself. More specifically, its nitrogen gas.
Okay but what if I don’t hear a pop? Did the adjustment still “work”? There will be times when you get adjusted and you don’t feel the “pop” or “crack”. That is okay and not a big deal. The noise or the intensity of the noise does not indicate a positive or negative benefit. Research studies are finding that the speed of the adjustment dictates whether something positive happens in the joint. The quicker the adjustment, the more therapeutic the adjustment.
Is it healthy if I crack my own back? This is the million dollar question because almost everyone I know cracks a joint in their body. I’ve gone back forth on this a thousand times and I’m sure I’ll change my mind again in the future. Right now, I am indifferent on somebody “self” cracking their spine as long as it doesn’t become a habit.
If you take what we talked about earlier in this post then you know our goal as chiropractors is to restore joint motion in joints and the spine. So theoretically you could imagine if you are “self” cracking daily you might actually be putting too much movement in a joint. Too much joint motion can actually be the source of spine pain and I see it all the time in hyper flexible athletes.
So, adjusting helps restore joint motion and does NOT re-align the spine. The “POP” is gas releasing from the joint. It is okay to periodically adjust yourself as long as it is not a habit. And, not everyone needs adjusted. An adjustment is just one of the many treatments to help with pain and function.
See you next week,