This is a question I get quite often, especially from new patients that have never been adjusted before but have heard from a friend or relative that they go to the chiropractor to get cracked (some people describe it as getting popped, which may sound slightly better to some).
Now getting cracked is not the way I would explain the reason someone goes to the chiropractor. As we can probably all agree, cracked is not the most comforting word, and in many cases this description has prevented people from going to the chiropractor in the first place.
Let’s play out a possible interaction between friends, John and Bill.
John: “Hey Bill, I am going to the chiropractor to get cracked, it’s great, you should try it.”
Bill: “Hmmmm, that sounds like it would hurt. Well, I am glad you like it John, but I think I will pass.”
Now as a joke among people familiar with chiropractic treatment and its benefits would probably not lead to any real issues, but that is not always the case with people that have never seen a chiropractor for help with what ails them. I have heard of many instances where they ended up delaying or not going to a chiropractor because getting their bones cracked intuitively doesn’t sound beneficial or much fun.
An adjustment is the accurate description of a chiropractic treatment.
The purpose of an adjustment is to remove structural misalignments by applying a gentle force to the involved area to encourage realignment. This takes abnormal pressure off of the surrounding nerves, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues allowing our body to function optimally. This includes helping the body’s innate ability to heal and restore itself.
Now let’s say Bill and John’s interaction from above played out differently…
John: “Hey Bill, I am going to the chiropractor to get an adjustment, it’s great, and you should try it.”
Bill: “An adjustment, what’s that John?”
John: “Well it turns out that my spine was out of alignment and was contributing to my lower back pain. I saw a chiropractor and he adjusted my spine and now my pain is gone!”
Bill: “Wow, that’s great! I have actually been dealing with neck pain from an accident I was in last year. I have never seen a chiropractor but maybe it could help. I am going to make an appointment and hopefully they can help me like they did you. Thanks for the recommendation John.”
In the above instance John describes chiropractic care in a much more accurate and not so scary manner. I am sure most would agree.
What’s With the Popping/Cracking Sound?
Thankfully, it turns out that nothing is actually cracking during an adjustment.
The sound is created when the surfaces of the joints are realigned at a high rate of speed. Adjustments are performed with a very fast and quick movement and this creates a negative pressure within the joint space. Every joint, be it spinal joints, ankle joints, finger joints, etc. are encapsulated.
Within this capsule are gases and fluids that keep the joints lubricated and moving smoothly. During an adjustment the negative pressure causes the gases to be released which creates an audible sound. (Source: NCBI)
No worries though, after a short time the gases will seep back into the joints.
Anyone that has ever “popped” their knuckles knows that you can only do it once and not multiple times in a row without waiting for a spell. This is because once the joint is “popped” the gases have escaped and will need to seep back into the joint before another audible sound can be elicited again. Now, even though “popping” knuckles makes the same sound as during adjustments, it is not promoting realignment of the knuckle joint in most cases and is only encouraging the release of the gases within the knuckle joints.
I Still Don’t Like The Sound, What Do I Do?
Good news! For those who don’t like the “popping” sound and often compare it to drawing nails across a chalkboard there are tools and techniques chiropractors can use that create no sound, but will still realign the subluxated joint.
Two examples would be using a tool called the Activator and the other is using a drop piece.
The Activator is an instrument that elicits a force on the misaligned joint and the drop piece is part of a specially designed chiropractic table that drops under the patient as mild force is applied to the patient’s subluxated joint. Make sure to watch the video to see a demonstration of them both.
Hopefully this post gives people a better understanding of what causes the audible sound during some chiropractic adjustments and thus will encourage those who have never sought chiropractic care in the past for help due to an aversion to the cracking sound, will do so now.