You may think back cracking sound is gross, that neck cracking seems scary, be nervous to see a back cracking chiropractor because you find the thought of having a back adjustment and hearing your neck or back cracked during an adjustment a bit unsettling. Let’s start by saying that neck or back “cracking” is not an accurate picture of what happens during a chiropractic adjustment. After all, who wants to crack anything?!!
Not every adjustment causes the cracking, popping, or snapping noise. While the noise is not threatening, let me assure you that there is no damage done by the actual adjustment when the adjustment is done by a licensed chiropractor,
Why do bones crack and pop?
When two bones meet, a joint is formed. Our joints are surrounded by a network of connective tissue fibers which form a capsule around the joint which is filled with a liquidish substance called synovial fluid. Like grease in the ball joint of a car, synovial fluid is responsible for lubricating joints and reducing friction. This fluid is what allows bones to glide, pivot, slide, and rotate against another bone. Like every other part of the body, synovial fluid also contains dissolved gasses such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen.
The “cracking” or “popping” sound you may hear during an adjustment is called cavitation. While often surprising at first to experience, cavitation is simply the release of the compressed gases from within the synovial fluid. The same noise can be heard when you crack your knuckles or hear the “popping” of your knee when straightening your leg. One of the questions I am asked often is if hearing cracking when stretching your back is okay and the answer is yes. As long as you don’t ‘crack’ your back but the cracking is heard with you doing stretching your yoga, you are good. Watch this video to see what the difference between cracking and adjustment is.
Where does that “cracking” sound come from?
The vertebral column, the large network of bones that surrounds the spine and is sometimes referred to as the backbone, is has 33 bones (in the average person). Between each of these bones (vertebra), there are several types of joints, with the most important one, the facet joints which are synovial joints. They are small cartilage-lined points of contact where each individual vertebra meets with the one above and below it.
These facet joints are what allow our vertebral column to bend and flex as we move our bodies. Without these joints, we would not be able to bend over, curl up into a ball, or move into most of the thousands of positions of which the body is capable. They also LIMIT motion. It is important for facet joints to limit how much vertebrae can move in order to protect tension on or injury to the spinal cord.
Facet joints must be able to withstand a large amount of stress and are the joints literally bearing the weight of our bodies. The stresses of daily life can be a lot to handle for these small structures and can, therefore, get misaligned and in some instance fixated. The immobilized facet joint cause the other facet joints around it to pick-up the slack and work hard to enable or restrict spinal motion. Eventually, a stuck facet joint will cause pain and the number one reason most people see chiropractors. You can see that this can happen in any part of the spine and not just the neck and back and it is only a matter of time before other parts of the body are impacted. Movement is the collection of ALL parts of your body coming together to get your body going forward so the ‘lack’ in one section compromise the function of the whole body.
Is it ok to crack my back myself?
The restricted facet joints are often the cause of that “locked up” feeling you may be familiar with. Those instances when you feel pressure or maybe the urge to “crack” your back come from a spinal segment not moving correctly. You may be tempted (or already in the habit) of trying to “crack” your neck or your back yourself. However, “cracking” your own neck or back is not specific. Self-cracking can lead to injuries such as pulled muscles, strained tendons, torn ligaments, or even compromised blood flow. Over time, non-specific “self-adjusting” may lead to chronic instability or weakness (like an exhausted rubber band) and may impact an area already under strain or compensating for another segment’s abnormal motion. Spinal adjustments are only safe when done by a chiropractor who is trained to rule out issues that are contra-indication to adjustment by doing the thorough spinal examination. While in school, chiropractors spend countless hours both in the classroom and outside of the classroom learning proper adjusting techniques. With over 200 different named chiropractic techniques, there is no shortage of approaches to realign the spine and enable the nervous system to function at peak performance.
Why does it feel good when I crack my back and neck?
When you crack your neck or back, get adjusted or even when you sprain your ankle, your joint moves outside your natural ability to move- your normal range of motion. The technical term for it is the ‘physiological zone’. When working outside the physiological zone, the joint receptors send a message to the brain, telling it what is going on and the brain responds by releasing tranquilizers to calm you down. Why? This is your natural body’s response (innate) that is watching out for you; you see, what if the ‘lion’ is chasing you and you are hurt? You can’t slow down because of pain BUT IF you feel no pain and calm, you can hopefully run and get to a safe place, away from the lion!! So, when you work outside the physiological zone, you automatically get the immediate ‘good feeling’; in case of ‘cracking’ your neck or back, the harm comes AFTER the immediate relief. When you crack your neck or back, you are moving whatever moves but when you get adjusted, the chiropractor moves the joint that is fixated.
It’s all connected
So if you ever wonder why when you see a chiropractor for your lower back pain and your neck is checked and adjusted or why your pelvis adjusted when you have a headache, the reason is: everything is connected. Though the adult body is made up of 206 different bones (and somewhere between 650 to 840 different muscles), the entire body works as one unit as you move through life. Your toes are in constant conversation with your brain about what your walking on just as your stomach is on the other line, communicating with your brain about the food it is digesting.
Chiropractic is about embracing and enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself; making sure the spine is in proper alignment and the nervous system is functioning at an optimal level. Our heads house our brains, the computer responsible for running all the process that keeps us alive. Our vertebral column, which travels from the base of the skull to your tailbone, house the all-important spinal cord. Think of the spinal cord as a freeway- allowing messages to and from the brain to travel back and forth between the brain and particular body structures, therefore, allowing communication between the brain and the rest of the body to occur. Achieving proper alignment of each vertebra in the vertebral column helps ensure the highway is free of traffic jams and roadblocks.