This question has been asked thousands of times. I get asked on a regular basis. There is even some 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 them 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 many 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 bubble then goes back into tiny gas molecules 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 a change to 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.
As your chiropractor, I have two jobs. Detect and remove subluxation, sound, or not.