What’s the cracking or popping sound when I receive an adjustment?

This is a question we get sometimes, especially from new patients that have never been adjusted before but have heard from a friend or relative that they go to the chiropractor to “get cracked”.

Thankfully, it turns out that nothing is actually cracking during an adjustment.

The sound is created when the surfaces of the joints are realigned at a high rate of speed, which is called a cavitation

Adjustments are performed with a very fast and shallow movement and this creates a negative pressure within the joint space. Every joint, be it spinal joints, ankle joints, finger joints, etc. are encapsulated.

Within this capsule are gases and fluids that keep the joints lubricated and moving smoothly. During an adjustment the joint is gapped or opened up (see photo below) which creates a negative pressure. This pressure change causes the gases (oxygen, nitrogen, and CO2) to be released which creates an audible sound. It’s very similar to the release of gas bubbles when you cork a champagne bottle.

Two joint spaces, one with gas bubbles that demonstrate cavitation, the popping or cracking the a joint can make during a chiropractic adjustment.
Cavitation of a joint is a result of expanding the distance between the two surfaces. When this happens, pressure inside the joint capsule drops leading to the formation of gas bubbles. An audible “pop or crack” is heard when these gas bubble expand, releasing the gas inside.

What happens next?

Once the joint is opened up, fluids re-lubricate the joint surfaces and normal motion is restored. Anybody who has ever had a stuck joint and has been unable to move properly knows exactly what follows the adjustment – relief. True, depending on the situation – how severe the structural shift is, how long it has been festering and how “hot” or acute it is – determines how complete the relief will be.

Does there have to be a popping sound?

No. Many of the correction techniques we use do not have any popping or cracking. They can be just as effective. It is NOT important to hear a sound when you get adjusted. It IS important that there was movement and the movement was in the right direction (toward more normal structure).

Should I be alarmed if I hear my joints popping after I leave the office?

Sometimes people are concerned when they leave they complain that they feel their back “popping” back out of place when they get into the car. Not to worry, what they most likely feel and hear is the other joints around the area finally being able to move more freely again. The added range of gained from your recent adjustment has now allowed areas of the spine a more normal range of motion, which can sometimes cause them to cavitate.

Please AVOID popping or cracking your own spine.

Intentionally twisting or cranking on your neck or back can be harmful. Curious as to why? We wrote a whole post about it.

Generally “popping” and “cracking” during an adjustment or as you’re going about your day is nothing to be alarmed about.  However, if the sound is accompanied by pain, weakness, joint laxity, or discomfort then a consultation with a medical professional would be advised. If you have any questions about a sound your body may be making, don’t hesitate to contact us.