This is a question we hear every day! There are many common misconceptions regarding the sound and sensation after an adjustment. Many people think the sound of an adjustment comes from bones clicking together against each other as they move. Some people use the word, “crack,” as in “getting my back cracked,” to describe this sound. Unfortunately, this
has probably scared off more than a few people from getting the Chiropractic care they need.
What really happens to cause the noise you often hear when you get adjusted? First, you must understand the structure of a joint. Where two bones come together, there is a smooth surface on each side, which fits very snugly so the bones can glide easily and freely. Surrounding the joint on all sides are ligaments that hold the bones very tightly together and keep the lubrication fluid from escaping. These ligaments form a tight capsule that seals off the joint from the rest of the body.
All fluids in our body have gases dissolved in them. For instance, oxygen is dissolved in the blood. The lubricating fluid of joints contains dissolved gases, which are primarily nitrogen. Whenever a stretch is applied to the joint, the ligaments which make up a joint are also stretched. This stretching causes the space between the two bones to get wider. The pressure, which is normally exerted on the joint fluid, rapidly diminishes. When you look at a soda water under pressure, it looks like regular water, but as soon as you open the cap and release the pressure, bubbles of gas start coming out of what seems like nowhere. This is because the gas stretched and released the pressure. The inert gas dissolved in the joint bubbles out of the solution and makes a popping sound similar to opening a bottle of champagne. This can happen with any joint in the body, especially the knuckles of the hands. After a joint has been “popped,” it takes approximately one half of an hour for the gas bubbles to become absorbed into the fluid again. That is why you cannot “pop” a joint two times in a row without waiting for a period of time.
Another neurological component to this popping is that there are nerve sensors in our muscles, ligaments, spinal discs, and joint capsules. They are called mechanoreceptors, which sense proper position and movement of muscles, ligaments, spinal discs and joints capsules. Once this increase of pressure and bursting the bubble in the joint capsule occurs, the mechanoreceptors are stimulated and create a ripple effect on the brain to secrete endorphins into our bloodstream. Endorphins not only relieve pain but also bring about a temporary sense of well-being. Endorphins are a cluster of neurotransmitters which cause a reaction in the opiate receptors within the human body, which block signals indicating pain or stress to the brain, thus allowing for an overall analgesic effect. Some people get addicted to getting “cracked” in their spine and other joints because they are addicted to “crack!”
Restoration VS. Creating Instability
We know that people often times people want to get “cracked,” because they are addicted the endorphin response like literal crack addicts. At Zen Chiropractic Inc. we do not “crack” the spine with chiropractic care for that reason. At our office, we explain that when there is stress upon the spine and created instability in the segments of the spine, one of the segments will fall out of its original position. When the segment falls out of position the segment will compress the nerves and cause interference of the communication of the brain and the body. For Zen Chiropractic Inc. when we adjust the spine, it may make some noise but our goal is not about the “crack!” At Zen Chiropractic, an adjustment is about restoring the segment of the spine to its original position in the spine. When the spinal segments are restored to their original positions, the function and adaptability of the body will be restored.
Sometimes an adjustment will not cause a “pop, crack, or crunch” sound, which does not mean the adjustment was not effective. Research has shown that a joint space must open up approximately 40% to create the “popping” sound. When there is no “pop” it simply means the joint was not opened far enough to cause the release of gas, .but it may have OPENED ENOUGH TO RESTORE PROPER POSITION OF THE JOINT. When we adjust a joint, we are not trying to create a sound: we are attempting to restore the proper position of the joint. While a “pop’” is not necessary, when it does occur it means that the joint definitely opened up and moved a good 40%.
If you are stretching or exercising and you hear a “pop” in your spine, then you have moved a joint. If you were lifting or bending in an awkward direction and you felt pain or discomfort, then something probably moved out of position that is very unstable and you need to be checked. If you are already getting chiropractic care and hear popping, cracking other sounds, then other segments besides the segments which were replaced are trying to replace themselves after the adjustment.