We’ve all seen the videos: a patient laid out on a table with a well-dressed man holding random limbs akimbo, a sudden jolt and then the sound of popping fills the air. Some recoil in horror, but others find the sound immensely satisfying.
Regardless of which camp you fall into – the pleasure and relief felt by the patient is often evident.
But why do we do it? And what exactly is that noise?
Well, before we can answer the first question, we need to answer the second one.
What is the noise when your back cracks?
Oddly enough, there isn’t a definite answer to this, though a recent study may have given us a better idea. There are several theories as to why your joints crack when put under some form of stress. But the leading one, which is corroborated by the above-mentioned study, is:
‘Cavitation: Surrounding each facet joint is a capsule of liquid, called synovial fluid, that lubricates the joints and allows for smooth, comfortable movements. One theory on crepitus suggests that air pressure within the joint is suddenly altered when the joint is cracked, resulting in the formation or collapse of an air cavity in the synovial fluid that produces a popping sound.‘
A very pleasant video of this can be seen below:
Essentially, imagine two planes of glass with a fine layer of liquid between them. These planes of glass are held together with a vacuum. When they are prised apart the vacuum is broken, which creates an audible popping noise. It then takes a while for the fluid to settle back into place, which is why your joints can’t be cracked again immediately afterwards.
Is cracking joints good for you?
The above video was created by the University of Alberta when they were studying joints clicking and popping. They wanted to know why some people can crack their knuckles when others can’t, and if there were any long-term effects from doing so.
Lead author of the study, Greg Kawchuk, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, stated that the ability to crack your knuckles could be an indicator of joint health. While it is thought that the force needed to ‘crack’ a joint is typically great enough to damage a hard surface, such as bone, studies have shown that bone cracking has no long-term negative health effects.
So, why do Chiropractors crack your back?
There are various reasons why a chiropractor may crack your back, but the main one is to move your spine beyond its everyday range of motion which in turn creates more space and freedom of movement. This will then provide a measure of relief from whatever discomfort you were feeling previously.
However, the cause and nature of the discomfort will dictate how a chiropractor carries out the treatment. Below is a list of some of the issues that manipulation can be used to treat:
- Hyperemia – This refers to an excess of blood in a specific area of the body often caused by an obstruction preventing proper blood flow.
- Congestion – Joint dysfunction affects the muscles in different ways. In some instances, muscles can develop sensitive trigger points where there is a build-up of toxins.
- Atrophy – An atrophied muscle’s function may be reduced, temporarily or even permanently, if the muscle is not ‘awakened’.
- Edema – An edema is a build-up of fluid caused by damaged or pressurised capillaries which may then leak into the surrounding tissue.
- Local ischemia – Local ischemia is a specific muscle pain caused by a lack of blood flow which is very sensitive to the touch.
- Minute haemorrhages – This is a small amount of bleeding or an abnormal flow of blood which may develop within the body’s blood vessels as a result of underlying conditions or other triggers.
- Fibrosis – this is where normal tissue is replaced by scar tissue. This scar tissue often has a reduced range of motion and is more sensitive than normal tissue.
During the procedure
There should always be an initial consultation in which the chiropractor discusses your issue, along with any previous/ongoing medical issues. This will help them determine the correct treatment. One of the most common questions we get asked is whether the procedure will hurt. And the answer is no! If the treatment is carried out correctly then you should feel nothing but relief. Occasionally there may be some mild discomfort, but some ice and/or a massage will settle this down quickly.
Sometimes we may struggle to get that hallowed ‘crack’, but this is usually because the patient is not sufficiently relaxed and is resistant to the treatment. In these cases, we will usually massage the area until the patient is relaxed enough before re-attempting the treatment.
Morley Chiropractic Clinic has been operating for over 20 years. We are registered with the British Chiropractic Association, Royal College of Chiropractors and General Chiropractic Council. During this time we have treated countless people from Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford for a range of issues.