I never like hearing people crack their knuckles, it sounds painful. Ironically, there have been times that I have accidentally cracked my own knuckles. It has always surprised me for two reasons – one, that I can actually crack my own knuckles; and two, that it doesn’t hurt.
When people hear the word “chiropractor” many think of cracking, specifically back cracking. And while the chiropractor uses the spine, or back, as the focal point of treatment, it only scratches the surface of the care that is provided. But why all the cracking? What does it mean? Why does it happen?
Chiropractors use the word “adjustment” to describe their approach to spinal manipulation, to correct joints that have a limited or abnormal range of motion that prevent a person’s body from acting as it should. This abnormality, called a subluxation, directs the chiropractor where to perform the adjustment to correct the situation. During the adjustment, it is very common to hear a “popping” or “cracking” sound – similar to when a person cracks their knuckles, except the sound is coming from joints from another part of the body.
The sound we hear is due to nitrogen gas that is released when the joint is released from a locked position (within its natural range). The gas is created by the fluid that protects the joints called synovial fluid, which is produced by the joints themselves. This gas is created because of excess pressure being placed on the joint. The byproduct of this production are gasses, specifically oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. When the joint is “opened” during an adjustment, the gas is released and the popping or cracking is heard. A sensation of “release” is felt in the area that was treated. Some may call it immediate relief depending on the nature of the problem. Something as non-invasive as an adjustment literally causes the body to react in this positive way. Without pain, without medication, without waiting weeks for an appointment.
Each visit to the chiropractor will involve an adjustment, helping the body to realign itself in the way it was originally designed to be aligned. As the joints are aligned, the muscles surrounding those joints begin to strengthen. They were weakened because other muscles were doing their job. The adjustment gradually brings things back to normal, so that the body can function as it is designed to.