Is the Spinal Cracking Sound Normal?

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood factors regarding chiropractic care is the cracking sound patients may experience as Dr. Nathen Horst performs an adjustment. Patients often describe this sound as though something has popped “back into place.” They may also assume that the adjustment has not worked unless they experience that cracking or popping sensation.

What Causes That Popping Sound During a Chiropractic Adjustment?

A chiropractic adjustment does open up the joint space between two bones or vertebrae. However, that is not the direct cause of the popping sound. To understand the mechanism behind that sound, a better understanding of joint anatomy will help.

The joints and vertebrae in the human body are surrounded by a lubricant called synovial fluid. This fluid creates a protective cushion at the point where the joints or vertebrae meet, allowing for smooth joint movement. This fluid contains dissolved nitrogen gasses.

When an adjustment is performed, a gap is opened between the joints or vertebrae, which create a partial vacuum within the joint. This vacuum pulls the nitrogen gasses out of the synovial fluid. The cracking or popping sound patients hear is actually the nitrogen being pulled into the vacuum created by the separation of the joints or vertebrae. This is similar to what happens when a cork is popped from a bottle of champagne.

What if There Is No Cracking or Popping Sound from an Adjustment?

Whether or not a chiropractic adjustment is effective has nothing to do with that cracking or popping sound. An adjustment can still relieve pressure and pain, even if there is no sound. All it means is that the gas filling the gap in the joints or vertebrae was not enough to produce the sound.

Is it Normal for the Joints or Vertebrae to Crack from Stretching?

In most cases it is perfectly normal for the joints or vertebrae to crack or pop as a result of stretching. It simply means that the joint or vertebrae is being freed up, particularly after sitting for an extended period of time. In fact, it is generally recommended to get up from the chair or couch at least once every half hour to stretch.

However, in some cases, the cracking or popping that results from stretching may in fact cause more irritation to the joint or vertebrae, particularly if it is already misaligned to begin with. In other cases, while it may relieve pressure in one place, it may cause misalignment elsewhere. This is why it is generally not a good idea to try to crack your own back on purpose. It may actually end up doing more harm than good in the long run.

Finally, chiropractic patients may have been told that cracking their joints, particularly the knuckles, can lead to arthritis. While some patients with arthritis may experience painful cracking or popping of the joints, cracking the knuckles will not lead to the development of arthritis.

To schedule an appointment for a chiropractic spinal adjustment, contact Horst Chiropractic today.

Written by