Chiropractors like to see themselves as spinal care specialists – and this is fair, we spend years in tertiary education studying the spine and it’s surrounding structures. We’ll be honest though, we know that for most people, were “back crackers” – after all, that’s what we’re best known for. So this week let’s answer the question you’re all wondering about – what IS that noise anyway?!
Cracking … Not cracking
When asked what a chiropractor does, many people will say “they crack backs” – this is a description we try to avoid ourselves since the idea of “cracking” comes with some definite connotations of breakage, and this is absolutely NOT what chiropractors do – we’re here to help maintain and improve the health of spines, not to break, crack or otherwise damage them!
To be fair, however, it’s not just at the chiropractor that you might notice that noise – sometimes, you turn your head or bend down to lift something and “CRACK”! Many people actually go out of their way to “crack” their own back, or neck (please don’t do this without being shown how to do it safely!) … so, What is it?
There it goes, did you injure something? Did you break a vertebra? No, you didn’t! In fact, the sound that you’re hearing int even coming from the bones themselves – in fact, it typically occurs in the facet joints, or knuckles, of your spinal column and it’s completely normal. Your facet joints are designed to help your spine move through a full range of motion. The facets are little joints on the back side of your spine. You’ve probably cracked the knuckles on your hand at some point (or at least cringed when someone else did it) and you’ll have realised by now that this sound wasn’t a finger breaking.
Similar to your knuckles, the facet joints in the spine have a small capsule around them for lubrication and support. When a facet joint is stretched open, gas within the joint is released, making a crunch or cracking sound – whether you’re at the chiropractor or at home, cracking your back your knees, elbows or fingers that’s all that’s happening. In fact, this release of gas is perfectly normal and happens all the time, probably without you noticing it. True, chiropractic adjustments may cause a “louder” crack as the joints are fully mobilised and the gas is allowed to totally escape, but the process is exactly the same.
On a related topic, is it true that people who see the chiropractor have a “crackier” back? There’s an argument that says this might be true – adjustments help the facet joints move more naturally with fewer restrictions, allowing them to release gas naturally during normal range of motion, perhaps more than they would in an individual with a lesser range of motion. We’d love to say that we found a study addressing this question directly, but we actually couldn’t! Either way, you now know that the cracking is no problem at all.
Many people who visit the chiropractor end up loving getting adjusted – it’s also one of the reasons why many people like to incorporate chiropractic as part of their overall health routine, even if they don’t have specific pain or spinal issues – getting adjusted feels great! People who have reached this stage in their relationship with chiropractic do often talk about getting a really good “crack” or “crunch”, but sadly this kind of language, while meant in a positive way, can actually be offputting for those who haven’t yet tried chiropractic – sometimes it can all sound a bit violent!
The truth is that chiropractic adjustments are nothing like this – while many people do experience a definite cracking sound, louder than they might produce at home on their own, this is all due to technique, and nothing to do with “force”. In fact, it’s not even true that all chiropractic adjustments produced a cracking sound. In many circumstances, especially with people suffering from pain, chiropractors prefer to use specialist low-speed, low force techniques which also improve the motion of the facet joints, sometimes without any sound at all. Chiropractors also have specific tools, such as the activator, which allow them to make very targeted specific adjustments to the spine with barely any force at all.
If you’ve been thinking of trying chiropractic, but you’ve been worried about the “cracking” part – why not book a consultation, we’ll be more than happy to put your mind at ease and talk you through the process. We’re always happy to take extra time to assure patients who are a bit nervous about the process – and we rarely perform more than one simple adjustment on your first treatment at any rate. By the second treatment, many of our patients are most concerned about getting more adjustments into a session – and we think you will be too!
 Effects of side-posture positioning and side-posture adjusting on the lumbar zygapophysial joints as evaluated by magnetic resonance imaging: a before and after study with randomization. JMPT 2000. Neurophysiological effects of spinal manipulation. The Spine Journal 2002.