When a chiropractor performs manual therapy on someone with back problems, the hands-on treatment is called spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments. These spinal adjustments are quick movements of the spine which usually result in a popping or clicking sound. Naturally, this strange noise can put some people off – but it’s actually completely normal and painless!
To help people understand the process of chiropractic adjustments, and remove the fear of the unknown, we’ve put together this article to explain the science behind spinal manipulation. A quick move and a loud crack can be quite alarming! Read on to find out what that ‘pop’ noise is and why it can actually relieve back pain.
What is a Chiropractic Adjustment?
As a type of treatment offered by chiropractors, an adjustment is applying manipulation to the vertebrae which aren’t functioning properly. So what are chiropractors adjusting exactly? It’s what we call a subluxation. This is a misaligned joint which has lost its full range of motion – and as chiropractors our job is to make it unstuck.
These stuck misaligned joints (subluxations) can cause a number of negative side effects. They are often the root cause of a stiff back, or stop you from standing up properly or turning your head. Basically, you lose full range of motion. If they stay uncorrected, subluxations can also cause pain and inflammation in the back.
When a subluxation is detected, a chiropractic adjustment can be applied. This is basically a quick and painless thrust, in the right place, which can correct the joint. It’s at this point that a loud pop is heard, and can sometimes unnerve patients!
What is the pop?
The joints of the spine produce synovial fluid, which lubricates each joint to help it move. When a joint is opened up, a gas in the fluid is released which causes the loud pop sound. The synovial fluid contains a number of gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and it’s these gases which make the noise of cracking joints.
It takes a while for the gases to build up again, which is why once a joint is cracked you can’t crack the same joint for some time. It’s not just synovial joints in the spine which make this popping noise – you may also notice it in your knuckles, knees and neck.