If you have ever considered visiting a chiropractor, or wondered if a chiropractic adjustment might help you, you are not alone. Each year, 35 million adults and children visit a chiropractor. Chiropractors are physicians who are specially trained in adjustment techniques for the spine and other joints in the body.
A chiropractic adjustment, also called a spinal adjustment or joint manipulation, often focuses on one, or multiple, areas of the spine. Your spine is made up of 5 different regions. There are 7 cervical vertebrae (the neck), 12 thoracic vertebrae (the middle back), 5 lumbar vertebrae (the low back), the sacrum (the base of the spine) and the coccyx (the tailbone). These vertebrae stack on top of one another and make up the many joints of your spine.
Joints are made up of bones with cartilage in between for cushioning. They are surrounded by tendons (which attach muscle to bone), ligaments (which attach one bone to another) and muscles. All of these parts have to work together for your body to move correctly and without pain. Chiropractors spend over 4,200 hours in both classroom and hands-on training to learn about the body and how to treat each of the spinal regions, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
An adjustment is a very quick and specific force that chiropractors apply to a joint using their hands, or sometimes using a hand-held adjusting tool. There are a few different reasons your chiropractor may decide to perform an adjustment: to improve the way a joint moves, to reduce nerve irritation, or to reduce muscle tension or spasm. In any of these cases, the main goal of the chiropractic adjustment is to put the body in a state in which it can heal itself—without using medications or surgery. Most of the time, patients report feeling “looser” and have less pain and muscle tension after a chiropractic adjustment.
Many people think of a “cracking” or “popping” sound when they think of a chiropractic adjustment. Cavitation is the technical word that describes that noise, and it happens when pressure (in the form of gas—a combination of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide) is released from the joint that is being adjusted. During an adjustment, space is made in the joint, and trapped nitrogen is able to escape. The noise is similar to the cracking or popping sound you might have heard when pulling on your knuckles.
Some patients wonder about the safety of a chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic adjustments performed by a trained and licensed chiropractor have been shown to be a safe and effective way to treat pain and dysfunctional joints and muscles. Your chiropractor has been educated to identify problems and has also been trained with screening and testing tools to decide whether or not a chiropractic adjustment is a good choice for you and your condition. Of course, if you ever have questions or concerns about your care, don’t hesitate to raise this issue when you are talking with your chiropractor.
A common question we hear from patients is, “Can’t I just ‘crack’ my own neck or back?” Here’s the short answer: You shouldn’t! Trying to adjust your own spine is kind of like trying to pull your own tooth. It might look easy enough, but you could really injure yourself more in the process. Often, we find that patients who “self-adjust” end up with pain because they are creating the wrong type of motion or too much motion (called hypermobility) in certain areas. That hypermobility causes ligaments, which are supposed to be supporting and protecting joints, to become unstable, and instability causes pain. In other cases, “self-adjusting” can cause those same ligaments to be sprained and muscles to be strained, leaving you with even more pain and a bigger problem than when you started. Your best bet is to leave the chiropractic adjusting to a professional.
If you would like to learn more about chiropractic adjustments and how they may help you, call to make an appointment.