I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this one. I get asked on a regular basis for it. For some, there is fear about the sound, or more accurately, what is happening inside the joints to make the sound.
Firstly, it is not the sound of bones rubbing together or ligaments snapping. Try this: grab one of your ﬁngers and gently, but quickly, pull it away from your hand. The result? An audible click. If it was the result of joints rubbing together, it wouldn’t occur when you pulled bones away from each other. Some people believe that repeatedly doing this will cause arthritis or degeneration of your joints. Several research studies have conﬁrmed that there is no arthritis caused by popping your ﬁngers.
Back to the cause of the sound….there is a capsule ﬁlled with ﬂuid (synovial ﬂuid) around most of the joints in our body. Think of it like a balloon ﬁlled with water. The joint ﬂuid inside the capsule lubricates the joints, carries oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage cells and carries away waste. The ﬂuid has tiny gas bubbles dissolved in it. When you pull your ﬁnger, or in some chiropractic adjustments, the gas that is dissolved in the joint ﬂuid creates a larger bubble of gas because of the joint movement. The large bubble then goes back into tiny bubbles and is rapidly dissolved back into the joint ﬂuid. That process causes the clicking sound.
It’s sometimes thought that the purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to “crack” your joints. The sole purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to remove nerve interference. When we hear a click, we know the joint has moved a certain amount or direction, but the sound by itself doesn’t tell us that the subluxation has been removed. There are many chiropractic adjustments that can’t even create sound because of the shape or type of the joint being adjusted.
I often get asked if “cracking” your own back is helpful. Firstly, you cannot detect and remove subluxation by twisting your lower back or neck. Subluxated joints are not moving well (or at all), causing loss of normal nerve signals. When you cause a “crack” by twisting your own back or neck, it simply allows the joints that are moving most easily to make a sound – the path of least resistance. Secondly, while “cracking” those joints will cause some nerve stimulation to your brain and a temporary feeling of ease, or pain relief, it still isn’t changing the cause of the problem; it isn’t removing the subluxation. It’s actually the speed of the adjustment the provides the greatest amount of value.
As a chiropractor, I have two jobs. Detect and remove subluxations, sound, or not.