What Happens During an Adjustment?

Yesterday I had an eight-year-old in my clinic, and she asked me if the cracking noise during an adjustment was the same as the cracking noise when you break a bone.  Great question – and of course the answer is no.  It occurred to me that we use the word “crack” to mean a lot of different things.  Some patients ask me to crack their backs, but they are certainly not asking for the same result as another patient I saw who cracked a vertebrae in a snowmobiling accident last winter.  In a previous blog post, I described that the noise you sometimes hear during an adjustment is not what it seems.  In another post I talked about the misconception that chiropractors put bones “back in place”, when in reality it is more about mobility of joints than it is about position of bones.  So having said that, What is actually going on during an adjustment, and what is it really all for?

Spinal joints, like any other joint in the body, can at times become inflamed.  When this happens, the capsule around the joint swells up and causes physical pressure on the surrounding tissues, such as nerves.  When nerves get irritated, all sorts of bad things can  happen, not the least of which is pain.  Since nerves are the pathway from your brain to every other tissue in your body, it makes sense that if there is a problem with the communication system, things can go badly wrong.  (Next time you are in the back yard using the garden hose, try kinking it somewhere along the line and see what happens!)  In essence, inflamed joints can kink the nerves – so the logical solution is to get rid of the kink!  A chiropractic adjustment is a very specific maneuver, designed to coax a stuck and inflamed joint back into proper mobility.  With regular motion restored, the inflammation subsides and the “kink” is relieved.  The exact physiological mechanism of HOW this happens is still being researched.  There are different theories involving joint cavitation, the breaking of microscopic adhesions, stimulation of the stretch receptors, and some fascinating explanations involving Golgi tendon organs.  If some of those words went over your head, that’s okay.  All you need to remember is that chiropractic adjustments work.  They help you feel better, restore mobility, and relieve pain.

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