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What’s that Popping Noise?

It's no surprise that some people are afraid to be adjusted. Whenever we encounter something new or unfamiliar it can be a little frightening, especially when that something involves trusting a total stranger with their hands around your neck. Making matters worse, when you finally give in to your ambivalence, a quick move and a loud crack can all but wipe away any feelings of calmness you might have been mustering. If you feel this way every time you get on a chiropractor's table, don't worry. The instantaneous relief you receive from that same chiropractic adjustment more than makes up for any nervous energy you might have had a second earlier. The best way to ease one's fears of being adjusted requires a few things: patience, understanding, sympathy, and most importantly, a simple and complete explanation of what's happening during an adjustment so nothing seems rushed or forced.

The biggest reason why patients are afraid to be adjusted is due to the popping/cracking noise they hear whist being adjusted. Oftentimes you’ll hear patients ask whether the doctor broke something which is simply not the case. What the patient is actually hearing isn’t the sound of bone breaking but the release of gas that makes the popping sound. This popping sound is called cavitation. The joints of the spine are called synovial joints and they produce a fluid called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid lubricates the joint (for movement) and nourishes it. The byproducts formed in the production of synovial fluid are gases – oxygen, nitrogen and CO2. When a joint is gapped, or opened up, the gas is released and you hear a distinctive popping sound. It's very similar to the release of gas bubbles when you cork a champagne bottle or open a can of soda. So what happens next? Once the joint is opened up, the synovial 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. Depending on the situation and how severe the subluxation is, how long it has been festering and how “hot” or acute it is will determine how complete the relief will be, but without a doubt, most people feel better almost immediately.

Not all chiropractic adjustments give off an audible sound so it’s possible you won’t even hear the daunting pop or crack.There are numerous techniques in chiropractic and some do not produce an audible noise. These are typically instrument adjusting techniques or low force techniques for those that do not like twisting in certain regions of the body. Certain chiropractors only perform these kinds of treatments and others pull from a variety of techniques to use what works best for their patients so be sure to ask your chiropractor about alternative techniques if you’re afraid of hearing your body pop/crack.

Another common question that is frequently asked by chiropractic patients is “does hearing a popping sound mean a successful adjustment?” In most low force techniques and instrument adjusting techniques a popping sound does not occur but it does not mean that an adjustment was not accomplished. Chiropractors look for restricted movement in the spine and adjust, or produce movement, where there isn’t. Chiropractors feel and test the joints they are performing treatments to before and after the adjustment is performed to ensure that proper motion dynamics were accomplished. So don’t worry if you don’t hear a pop or even if you do, everything is just fine and you’ll be feeling better in no time.


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