What's the cracking noise?

As a chiropractor, I am often asked two questions.  The first is, “What is that noise that occurs when my spine is adjusted?” And number two, “Will cracking my knuckles give me arthritis?”   Years ago, the common belief was that the sound your joints make when “cracked” is due to the popping of bubbles in the fluid between the joint.  Recent research backs up the answer that I give to my patients (who would have thought I would have figured this out years ago!)

The researchers using MRI video determined why joints make a popping sound when they crack. It’s not the bubbles popping, the sound comes from a gas.  Lead study author Greg Kawchuk, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, said: “It’s a little bit like forming a vacuum… As the joint surfaces suddenly separate, there is no more fluid available to fill the increasing joint volume, so a cavity is created and that event is what’s associated with the sound.”  Another similar explanation suggests that when the spine is given a traditional chiropractic spinal adjustment or when you “crack” your knuckles, the joint space between your bones is expanded, creating less pressure.  This pulls joint fluid into the joint gap. The entrance of joint fluid is what causes the popping sound sensation when the spine is adjusted or the knuckle is “cracked.”  If I am losing you on this topic, this will make it much clearer for you.  Years ago, I was on a local radio station in the morning discussing chiropractic care.  I even brought my portable chiropractic table and demonstrated a spinal adjustment live on the radio.  Afterwards I was asked the question, “What is that cracking noise that comes from the chiropractic adjustment?”  I went on to give the escaping gas answer.  As this was one of those morning, “shock” type radio shows the reply I received (broadcast all over Southern New Jersey) was priceless.  The DJ said, “So, it’s like a spine fart?”   Funny.  I could only answer yes!!  As far as acquiring arthritis from cracking your knuckles, the answer is no.  There is a membrane covering your joints that holds the joint fluid, this membrane protects your joints from harm.  A study of over 200 people showed that the rate of arthritis in the hands occurs equally when compared to groups of people who crack their knuckles and those who do not.  Some research even indicates that periodically cracking knuckles in hands that do not have arthritis, may prevent arthritis from occurring.  So, never fear.  Your chiropractic spinal adjustment and knuckle cracking are safe and sound.  Just don’t do it in a crowded elevator!!

One last thought on this topic. If you are adverse to the idea of cracking sounds when having your spine adjusted, chiropractors also use instrument and soft tissue adjusting techniques that eliminate the cracking sound of a traditional chiropractic spinal adjustment.  No bending, twisting or cracking.  Just a very gentle, “quiet” chiropractic spinal adjustment!!  These types of adjustments are not only great for people who do not like the pushing, twisting and popping, but these techniques deliver the utmost in optimal care for specialized cases like pregnancy, cranial adjusting for post concussion care, children (pediatric care) and extremity injuries for sports performance.  In pregancy care, side posture traditional adjusting is typically contraindicated in most pregnant patients, that is why these other techniques are perfect for pregnancy care.



Dr J. Zimmerman, Chiropractor Dr. Zimmerman is a practicing chiropractor from Galloway, NJ with 30 years of chiropractic practice.

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