I know there are so many of you that feel the need to crack your own back or neck. The truth is that many of my patients used to be the same but now they know better. This blog will clarify the following: If cracking your own back is bad, what cracking your own back does, how some chiropractic adjustments are without cracking, what is the difference between cracking your own back vs chiropractor, how chiropractic adjustment works, and what the benefits of chiropractic adjustment are. 

Is Cracking Your Own Back Bad?

In general, people find themselves cracking their own neck and back as a result of built-up tension, they have done it once and feel relief. If you think about it this makes sense. Tension is the result of muscular imbalance and can be caused by many things, but the most common are:  

  • Bad posture 
  • Joint misalignment
  • Sedentary lifestyle (sitting behind a desk all day)
  • Bad ergonomics 
  • Overuse of handheld devices

Muscular imbalance where the spine is involved interferes with the intricate and super important function of the spine as the highway of nerve pathways and life-sustaining functions. Automatically, we feel restless and in need of moving around. The neck and back cracking by yourself is a sad attempt to bring some comfort to this uncomfortable state.

This is where I would usually say, “that’s where a chiropractor comes in”, but considering my audience likes to take matters into their own hands, it didn’t seem appropriate. If you get anything from this blog, please get this; cracking your joints is not good for you and there is a very big difference between what happens when you “crack” yourself vs. what takes place in a chiropractic adjustment. Keep reading to find out why that is. 

Cracking Your Own Back v.s a Chiropractor

You crack your own back and you somehow feel better. Someone you know goes to a chiropractor to get adjusted and they somehow feel better. After all, you’ve watched enough YouTube videos, like the one below to know how it’s done right?

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re getting the same benefits minus the cost. The difference is when you crack your neck or back you’re moving the joint beyond its normal range of motion. Here is what I’d like you to do as you are reading this: look at your hand and start lifting your index finger; now with the help of your other hand, move the same index finger further!! This zone between the two is referred to as the physiological zone. When a joint is moved within this zone, the receptors within the joint send a signal to the brain that something is outside the norm. In an attempt to ‘save’ you from the potential ‘lion’ that may be chasing you and causing this rather unusual range out motion, the brain sends the tranquilizing hormones so you are not going to experience pain, thus falling behind from the attempt to escape. 

In essence, the brain reacts to the chiropractic adjustment vs your ‘cracking’ the same way. Incidentally, if when you badly sprain the let’s say your ankle, the pain is not immediate. I remember breaking my pelvis with no initial pain, only to find out later that it was shattered!! It is a beautiful thing that happens to assure you get to live a long life and are not captured by the supposed ‘lion’.

The issue with cracking vs getting a chiropractic adjustment comes in the specifics of the adjustment. I am a chiropractor but I have to go see my own chiropractor to get adjusted, why? Because in order to adjust the right segment that is ‘fixated’, I would be using the same muscles that need to be relaxed if I were attempting to crack myself.  

Did you know that one of the functions of the muscles surrounding your spine is to protect the actual spine? Have you noticed how at the beginning it was so hard to crack your neck and back but with repetition it became easier and easier to the point that now, you may just move your neck or back and it cracks! When the surrounding muscles are to protect the area but they are constantly exposed to the excess movement- given that nothing was fixated but a force was applied to a joint causing the ‘cracking’, then the signal for the muscles to protect changes. They no longer necessarily get alarmed to protect the area against this movement. How would they know when it is a false alarm and when it is not? They don’t, so now you see how you just took away a safety feature by just randomly cracking your neck and back?

When you get adjusted, the area is checked (aka palpated) and only the areas in need of an adjustment are adjusted. This is not the same as you randomly moving whatever moves and cracks! It is not a random act of cracking!!

The cracking noise is actually the release of gasses within the joint. The truth is, not every adjustment results in the cracking noise. Next time you try to crack your knuckle and you don’t hear something, you know that you ‘cracked’ the knuckle but no gas was released. 

Chiropractic Adjustment Without Cracking

There are over a hundred methods of chiropractic adjustments and not all of them make the cracking noise. They are developed as a result of necessity; while one method may be suitable for one person or many conditions, the same method may not be the best choice of adjustment due to the patient’s condition. There are then those patients who are not fond of the ‘cracking noise’. At the end of the day, they all address the condition just as there is more than one way to get home- just as long as you get home!

While Chiropractic adjustments are safe which is the reason why malpractice insurance is so low, there are tests performed during the exam to rule out any issues that may worsen from adjustments. For instance, if there are pre-existing issues with the circulation to the brain, there is a specific test done to rule it out so a different method of adjustment, other than the standard manual adjustment of the neck is chosen. That is why it is so important to leave the adjustment to the expert just as you would with anything else. Just because you know how to cut a piece of meat does not make you a surgeon to go ahead and do surgery!

There are times that even an adjustment should not be performed and mobilization of the joint is a better option. The video below explains the difference.

Benefits of Chiropractic Adjustment

Your spine houses your spinal cord which connects to your brain and is where all your nerves exit and distribute to the rest of your body. All of these make up your Central Nervous System (CNS), which is in control of every function in your body. Chiropractic adjustment stimulates the nervous system and kick starts its’ function. The video below explains this perfectly. 

I use chiropractic adjustments to stimulate the nervous system of my patients before getting to the Postural Neurology and Functional Movement exercises needed to correct posture, restore movement patterns, and overall improve body function and health. Look at it this way, it’s like a teacher walks in and says she has something important to say; the students all sit up anxious to hear what the interesting story is. If the teacher does not have something interesting to say, they all go back to their previous unamused state. Adjustment stimulates the nervous system and therefore alerts it. What comes next, when specific and based on the findings from Postural Neurology assessment and Functional movement assessment, will do the magic. The brain is alert and ready to see what exactly we wish to see done. If the brain gives the command, you own the move!

Remember, your goal should be to learn as much about what it takes to be healthy, not based on what the media says but because you have taken the time to learn what the body and brain’s likes and dislikes are. Do all that is compatible with that information and leave the specifics that are outside your abilities to the experts. Cracking your neck and back should not be taken likely given that you can do much more damage than good.

Dr. Shakib