How does “back cracking” help with pain?
That is a question that I answer often. I love and despise the question. I love answering the question and educating the public. But I really despise the word choice.
Chiropractors don’t ‘crack backs,’ we apply a specific mechanical force to affect a neurologic response. The force is measured and directed. The corrective force is applied to specific joints which have been identified, through proper examination, as suffering from subluxation. The delivery of this correction is called a ‘manipulation’ or ‘adjustment.’ Chiropractors are not the only ones who use this treatment; osteopaths, physical therapists, and some specially trained medical doctors also use manipulation. By far, the majority of manipulations are performed by chiropractors. Whether performed by hand or with an instrument, the benefit is the same.
It is true that there is often a cracking or popping sound that accompanies and adjustment. This sound comes from inside the joint. It is called a cavitation and it’s normal.
So how does the manipulation help with pain? Inside the muscles, ligaments, and joint surfaces of the body are tiny nerve endings called ‘mechanoreceptors.’ They tell the brain that the body is in motion. They give detailed information about three-demensional movement. They tell the brain, how long, how fast, and in which direction the body part moved. The brain is getting this information from all over the body and sorting it all out. Sometimes, the brain will get conflicting information from a body part and there is some difficulty trying to reconcile the difference.
As an example, let’s assume that we were on a small fishing boat, out on the ocean, and the boat is really rocking. I was in the galley, preparing lunch and you are up on the deck fishing. You up on the deck and can feel the boat bobbing and rocking with the waves. At the same time you feel it, your eyes are seeing it, by looking at the horizon changes. You brain is able to make sense of the movement. Now, with me in the galley, below decks, all I see are the walls of the galley. The boat is still rocking and my body feels the motion but my eyes only see stable walls. Because my eyes are seeing one thing and my body is feeling something different, my brain gets confused and as a response I get sea-sickness.
Motion-sickness is just an example of what happens when the brain gets conflicting reports from the system of proprioceptive nerves. With the problems I see as a chiropractor, subluxated joints can apply aberrant signals to the brain, resulting in muscle spasms, postural defects, and pain.
Manipulations help to restore proper movement to the small joints of the skeleton (mostly the spine) thus reducing the aberrant nerve signals. In turn, this reduces muscle spasm, swelling, and pain.
Chiropractors are experts when it comes to back pain. If you have back pain, ask the experts. Ask me, I’m an expert.
Dr. Andrew White