What Actually Happens When A Chiropractor ‘Cracks Your Back’?
What’s that noise? And why does it feel so good?
Almost everyone at some point or another has turned their head and heard a loud CRACK(!) … and probably gotten cringes from everyone within earshot. So the idea of a chiropractor doing it on purpose can be a little disconcerting, especially when it involves trusting someone else with their hands on your spine.
If you felt this way before your first appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, don’t fret, you’re not the only one. But the instantaneous relief you receive from that same chiropractic adjustment almost always more than makes up for any jitters you might have had.
So what’s happening? What makes that noise? And why do you feel so much better after?
What does a chiropractic adjustment do?
First, it’s important to understand exactly what we’re trying to correct. Chiropractors adjust subluxation complexes. Some chiropractors explain a subluxation as a misaligned bone – and while there’s some truth to that, it’s more accurately and scientifically explained as a joint that isn’t moving like it was designed to. A joint that’s subluxated has lost its full range of motion; basically, a ‘stuck’ joint.
The joints between the vertebrae in your spine are synovial joints, which means that they’re surrounded by a squishy joint capsule filled with a lubricant called synovial fluid.
Joint capsules are densely innervated. If a joint isn’t working properly, nerve endings in the joint capsule send signals to your central nervous system to let it know, which in turn sends messages back to the surrounding muscles telling them to lock the area down and protect it. That muscle spasm is why you feel so tight and stiff and the reason stretching only helps for a short time.
What your chiropractor does is restore proper motion into that stuck joint with an adjustment. You’ll feel things move, you may hear a pop as the joint opens up, and then, once normal motion is restored, those nerves tell your muscles that it’s ok to relax again. That’s why you usually feel so much better, looser, and lighter after an adjustment.
A chiropractic adjustment is not “bones cracking”. When an adjustment is performed, it’s the joint that’s opening up. We call it ‘gapping’ the joint – think of it as pulling apart two pieces of velcro that have been stuck together.
When a facet joint is gapped open, the negative pressure produced causes nitrogen gas that’s dissolved in the synovial fluid to momentarily come out of solution (and then rapidly re-dissolve again). The resulting popping sound is called a cavitation.
Not just improved range of motion
While restoring full normal range of motion is the primary goal of a chiropractic adjustment, there’s more going on than just that. Here’s what else is benefitting when you get adjusted:
- Lowered Pain Perception: When you’ve got a joint that’s not working properly and causing pain, your central nervous system becomes extra sensitized – think of it as having the volume turned up too high. An adjustment activates parasympathetic nerve fibers that help turn the volume down.
- Increased Synovial Fluid Production: Adjustments actually stimulate the production of synovial fluid inside the joint, kind of like oiling a squeaky wheel.
- Normalized Resting Muscle Tone: Muscles can become under-active or over-active, and adjusting helps to reset them back to baseline where they work best.
- Better Proprioceptive Input: Proprioception is the ability to sense the position of your body in space – and your spine contains a huge number of proprioceptive sensors. An adjustment can improve the function of these sensors, leading to better balance and coordination.
- Improved Voluntary Muscle Contraction: Research has demonstrated increased cortical drive – and therefore improved maximum voluntary muscle contraction – following an adjustment. In other words, you’re stronger after chiropractic care.
- Endorphin Release: Gapping open a joint releases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals produced by the pituitary gland to help manage pain in your body, and they’re responsible for the warm fuzzy feeling you feel after an adjustment.
So why not just wait to make an appointment with your chiropractor until you’re in pain? The fact is, your pain level isn’t a very reliable indicator of what’s going on in your body.
Your body can compensate for joint dysfunction to allow you to continue with your everyday life without pain, because pain often won’t be felt in a joint until 80% of its function (or movement) is lost! By the time you actually feel pain problems are usually already in full swing!
Just about everyone has vision and dental specialists they see for checkups, but everyone needs to be seeing their spine specialist regularly too – their chiropractor! At Ascent Chiropractic, we make it our priority to detect and correct stuck joints before they lead to more serious problems. Ready to schedule an appointment? Call us at 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment online.