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Chiropractic adjustments and the “noise” it makes.

Posted Jun 29 2009 6:16pm

A patient came into my Chiropractic office last week and as we were taking a history of her problem, she related that she frequently does a self adjustment and makes a noise like a “crack” in her own neck for relief of her discomfort. I admonished her gently stating that was my job and discussed with her why she shouldn’t do that. I thought to myself, lots of people do that and they don’t know that they shouldn’t. I hope to try to explain what that noise is, how it comes about and why only a trained person should do that activity.

Chiropractors perform an adjustment and put movement into a joint that is stuck, not moving or fixated. Think of it as a joint that is jammed. Any joint can get in that predicament, a finger, a jaw, a spine, a foot or ankle. I describe this to patients as a rusty hinge. The joint which is stuck is creaky and hard to move so it doesn’t move well and doesn’t work right. The treatment that a chiropractor give “oils the hinge” so to speak and while the rust might still be there, the movement is better and the joint works more correctly.

We do this by a process called Chiropractic adjustments. Consider your index finger. You can move your finger forward and backward to a certain limit. This is called active range of motion, motion which you control. Now push your finger a little farther in forward bending or flexion. This is called passive range of motion. You cannot do this amount of movement on your own. Some external force has to be applies to the joint. Physical Therapist work joint in this range which they call mobilization. Chiropractors work in this area as well but we go one step further and work in the “para-physiological” space, just past passive range of motion but before dislocation. This is an adjustment. Normal joint motion consists of active and passive range of motion. If a joint has been injured it looses some of passive range of motion. By pushing the joint into the paraphysiological range, the joint re-obtains it’s active and full passive range of motion and returns to normal.

So what is the noise that people associate with the chiropractic adjustment or treatment? During the split second process that it takes to push the joint past passive range and into the paraphysiological range a slight vacuum forms as the joint surfaces separate. And just like when you remove a cork from a new wine bottle, you hear a pop as air rushes in the bottle to fill the void, air from the tissues in the body fill the vacuum and you hear a “pop or crack”. I use to hate it when patients described what I did as “cracking their bones”. I am not cracking or breaking bones… those are scary words which could frighten someone from receiving care that could help them. I am simply putting specific motion in a specific direction into a jammed joint which allows it to work better.

So why can’t you do the same thing to yourself which is sort of what people are trying to do when they “adjust” themselves. The joints that are stuck are specific ones; the ones which make noise when you “crack” your neck yourself are not the ones which need to move. Those are stuck and need to be specifically addressed. You cannot be specific because you are inside your body. The Chiropractor is outside your body and can find the correct joint causing the problem. Besides if you do it wrong, you could hurt yourself. This is why you only want someone who has had years of training to do this type of procedure on yourself. When done by a chiropractor, this type of treatment is very safe, very gentle and very effective.

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