After a long day at work or that dreadful morning meeting, we have all done the low back twist and pop. In the same token, we all know that friend who grabs the top of their head and chin and twists their neck until it looks like it’s going to pop off. But what you don’t know is that there is a chance all this twisting and popping could be making things worse.
While there is momentary relief of some achy-ness or soreness, long-term affects of this “self-adjustment” are not ideal. Research has shown that the most common areas to degenerate in the neck are the C4-C5 and C5-C6 vertebral pairings. Why is this important to you? Because they are also the 2 most common levels of overall instability in the neck. The lower back has much of the same to be true, showing that L3-L4 and L4-L5 are first to degenerate as well as being the 2 most common vertebral pairing of instability. In other words, when you do the twist and pop, most likely you are moving these areas and increasing the instability even further.
The schematic below shows this concept very well! Let's use the neck as an example. The area of redness shown in the first photo is the joint that isn't moving as well as it should, likely level C6-C7. The self adjustment will create a "pop" or "crack" at the area above and below this restriction. As we stated above, the most common joint pairing in the neck to have degeneration occur would be the C5-C6 area due to instability. With the self-adjustment, even more motion is created at the areas that is moving too much which will cause MORE irritation in time. The chiropractic adjustment will create motion at the level of restriction. This will allow for all segments to move more freely and create better shared motion throughout the entire neck.
When the body senses an area of instability or increased movement, it gets smart and tries to stabilize that area. Muscle around this part of the neck or back get overly tight and new bone will begin to lay down in efforts to minimize this increased motion. Ligaments begin to ossify due to the increased load and joint spaces start to close down in a last stitch, internal battle. Disc irritation and herniation may also occur, causing symptoms down the arm or leg.
Although this process takes a long time to occur and pain may not show up right away, preventative care is a must to help slow this process.
Chiropractic adjustments are very safe and address areas of the spine or extremities where there is a lack of motion. When fixation occurs in the spine, the motion is picked up by areas that are able to facilitate this motion. In an ideal state, motion is shared equally from the base of your head all the way down to your toes. As the joints move as they are supposed to, deconditioned muscles are able to regain strength and the body is able to re-stabilize itself, functioning the way it was made to.
The most common areas of fixation are actually above and below the areas that are commonly unstable. These areas of decreased motion will cause a feeling of soreness or pain that may be relieved with a self pop. Overly tight muscles can also be a cause or even a symptom of fixation. Addressing both is important to improve function and get you back to feeling like your best self.
When getting adjusted, the audible noise or crack heard is actually an air bubble popping within the joint. Shown in slow motion on an MRI, you are actually able to see an air bubble form within the joint as it is brought into tension for an adjustment. When the thrust is made, that air bubble will release and that is what causes the noise. The same occurs when you crack your knuckles and it is perfectly safe. The relief that is felt after an adjustment can be contributed to endorphin’s or feel good hormones being released into the body. These chemicals help relax muscles as well as decrease some pain being felt. Feel good hormones are also released when performing a self crack which is why individuals will feel momentary relief. But don’t forget about those long term effects we discussed earlier!
Know anyone who pops their neck or back a few times a day? Pass this along to them so maybe they think twice the next time.
Rogan Sports Clinic
Dr. Kylie Rabe, DC