What happens when I get my back cracked?

Problem: I’m scared of getting my back and neck “cracked”

Solution: Ask your chiropractor what it is and make sure he/she is comfortable talking with you about it (***red flag here if they are not good with this conversation***)

Bottom Line: Have your body adjusted (not cracked) by a professional who uses joint manipulation as a tool, not the only solution.

So, you’ve either got a chiropractor that you have been seeing, you’re planning on seeing one soon, or you’re contemplating if it’s the right option for you, and you are just plain freaked out at the thought of having your neck/back “cracked”

Believe me, this is one of the most common questions/concerns that I address in the clinic. And it usually goes something like this:

So, what Is it that makes that cracking noise, after all? Is the same thing as cracking my knuckles? And will cracking my knuckles give me arthritis?

First off, that popping/cracking noise you hear is coming from the joints, not the bones themselves. The sound that you are hearing is called a cavitation. Specifically, the sound comes from inside the synovial joints of your spine, hips, shoulders, ankles, etc (Synovial joints make up the majority of the joints in your body). A cavitation occurs when the joint spaces of the synovial joint are rapidly separated. Each synovial joint is filled with synovial fluid, and when the joint spaces separate, a  “cavity” is formed within the synovial fluid. When this cavity forms, you generally hear a popping noise. This “cavity” remains for about 20 minutes.

Simply put, it is just natural gas bubbles releasing from the solution within the joint.

If you really want to nerd-out, the process that holds the joint together is called tribolucleation, and it is the newest prevailing model for joint cracking. Tribonucleation is the main method in which the joints surfaces resist separation, until a critical point is reached. Once the critical point is reached, pressure within the joint-space drops, separation occurs, dissolved gas comes out of the solution, a clear space is created within the joint (-crack-), and the clear space does not disappear for about 20 minutes. It’s pretty darn cool, if you’re into that sort of stuff.  You can read more about it here 

So, you might be asking yourself: “what does that mean for me?”

The mot simple explanation is this: the popping sound you usually hear when you’re at the chiropractors office is not your bones “cracking”; instead, it is your joints separating. This is (generally) the goal of the chiropractic adjustment. When specific joints separate in a controlled manner, the most common following reaction is release and relief. The joint cavitation has been known to cause the surrounding muscles to relax, which is why getting adjusted by your chiropractor usually feels good.

It doesn’t usually fix the problem, but it can be part of the solution.

As far as we know, this process is the exact same in the knuckles as it is in the spine. To be clear, there is no evidence to show that cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis. In fact, some older evidence suggests that habitual knuckle cracking might reduce the risk for degenerative joint disease (aka arthritis).

So, there you have it! The nuts and bolt of a chiropractic adjustment. Next time someone gives you a hard time about seeing a chiropractor, drop some science on them!