What’s crackin’? Why your spine “cracks” when you get a chiropractic adjustment

By Dr. Steve Hansen

Hundreds of people each week come through our doors for an adjustment, and very often they hear a cracking sound emanate from their spine during the treatment. For most people, that sound is followed by a sigh of relief, as well as a visible relaxation of the body. Instant gratification. But for a few people, the sound is scary to them. So, I always make sure to explain what the sound is, and am able to curtail the fears people have with the cracking sound during a spinal adjustment.
Here’s the deal with that cracking sound: Nothing breaks. Nothing is tearing. It’s not dangerous, and it usually feels good.

It’s gas.

The sound is called “cavitation.” It’s a release of gas from the joint space. When the spinal joints function properly, there is a continuous circulation of fluid throughout the spinal joints. The fluid helps to provide lubrication of the joints as well as cushioning. But often, the joints don’t move like they should. They lock up, in a misaligned position. This is a condition chiropractors work with called a “subluxation.” A subluxation is when the joint loses its proper position and proper motion. It can hurt, it can pinch nerves, and it can contribute to postural problems, and eventually arthritis and other pathologies.

When the spinal joint is subluxated, the lack of motion in the joint prohibits the normal circulation of a substance called synovial fluid. The fluid builds up in the joint space, creating a gas bubble that is also entrapped in the joint capsule. When the chiropractor does an adjustment, the fixated joint is moved through a range of motion it should already be able to move through. The fluid that was trapped inside the joint capsule is released, along with the small gas bubble. It creates a small popping sound called “cavitation.” It is associated with a feeling of relief and decreased pressure.

There are over one hundred variations of chiropractic technique. Many of them don’t cause cavitation, and make no sounds at all. So, if you have put off experiencing the benefit of a highly functioning spine and nervous system because you don’t think you’ll like the sound, you don’t need to worry about it. Just let your chiropractor know. Either a different technique can be used, or you can be referred to another chiropractor that practices a different technique.

Sometimes, “crack” gets a bad rap. I hope I was able to clear some of that up for you!

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