If you experience chronic back pain, chances are you’ve been to a chiropractor a few times to have your spine adjusted. You walk in with a crooked back, and you leave feeling on top of the world. Chiropractors are magicians when it comes to setting the vertebrae in the back, but they follow a skillful technique to create such magic. In this post, we’ll explain what happens during a spinal adjustment, why it makes you feel so great and the cause of that popping sound in your joints.
Before we get into the adjusting process, it’s important to know what subluxations are. Subluxations are joints that have become “stuck” and lost their full range of motion. You can also think of them as misaligned bones, most often vertebrae in the back, that need to be forced back into place. There are many adverse health effects patients experience from subluxations. Most commonly a patient feels “locked up” and stiff which can be associated with pain when turning a particular direction or even just standing up straight. There are also neurological problems associated with misaligned vertebrae. subluxations can affect nerve tissue which causes intense, shooting pain in the back and if left uncorrected for an extended period, can completely change the way your body moves.
During a spinal adjustment, a chiropractor will first find exactly where the subluxation is and how many there are. Once they have found the exact spot, they will then use contact against the spine and physically move the joint back into place, often accompanied by a loud popping noise. One thing to note here is that the chiropractor is not cracking any bones; they’re opening up the joint and setting the bone back into place. This is known as “gapping the joint” in which the chiropractor will spread apart the two components of the joint and then put them back together more realigned than before.
The pop is actually a release of gas known as cavitation. To better understand cavitation, you should know the different components that make up the spine. Each joint in the spine is a synovial joint and produces synovial fluid that lubricates the joint during movement. When the chiropractor gaps the joint, the gas byproducts of synovial fluid (CO2, oxygen, and nitrogen) are released rapidly. It is similar to what causes sound when opening a bottle of champagne.
After the joint has been opened up, the body will work to re-lubricate the vertebrae with synovial fluids. If all has gone according to plan, the natural motion of the joint should be restored, and the patient should be able to move pain-free. Some subluxations are more severe than others and may require additional adjustments in the future. Much depends on how long the patient’s back was misaligned, how many joints needed to be adjusted, and how much damage was done.