This week I figured I should answer a question that many, many people have asked me before. That is, what is the difference between seeing a chiropractor, and self-adjusting one’s back?
First off, I hate hearing the word “crack” being used in reference to an adjustment. It is misleading and, frankly, scary! I would never want anyone to crack the bones in my back! Leave my spine alone! So I will take this opportunity to state that that popping sound that is heard when a spinal joint (called “facet joint”) is adjusted is simply an air bubble popping, not unlike the sound that is heard when one “cracks” his knuckles- more on that topic on another date.
That aside, what is the difference between a chiropractor adjusting a patient, and a patient adjusting himself? Both times you hear the popping sounds, and both times you often feel relief. And both times, the body part, whether it is your back, your neck, or otherwise, is being put into a certain position to obtain that pop, right? In order to understand the difference, a bit of education is needed here:
Facet joints can become restricted for a number of different reasons: Poor posture, a bad sleep position, work stress, an acute injury, etc. When a specific joint becomes restricted, its normally full range of motion is decreased. Now, the person may not notice this one joint being restricted, as there are many other facet joints and muscles in the back and neck to achieve global range of motion. Ex. If your right L3-4 facet joint is restricted, you have 4 other lumbar vertebrae (with one facet joint on each side) to get that job done and keep you moving. However, often, joint restrictions cause localized pain (and sometimes nerve impingements, sending shooting pain down your arm or leg), and muscles in the area can spasm as a result. Ouch! The only way to restore this normal joint range of motion is by a spinal adjustment targeting that joint specifically.
If one goes without a spinal adjustment to that restricted, or hypomobile joint, the body begins to compensate for that lack of range of motion by causing the adjacent joints to be hypermobile, meaning that the joints immediately above and below the stiff joint begin to move more than usual, which, can also cause some discomfort. In addition to this discomfort, people who have hypermobile joints will find that if they move their head in one direction, they’ll hear those popping sounds that would be felt with a chiropractic adjustment. Great! Adjustments, you say. However, this is not good.
In order for a spinal adjustment to be effective, it needs to target the specific joint that is hypomobile. The last thing a hypermobile joint needs is a spinal adjustment; why induce motion into a joint that is already moving too much? In this case, strengthening the surrounding musculature is a better treatment for a hypermobile joint.
In addition to short-term consequences of self-adjusting the wrong joints, the long-term consequences include arthritis. See, when a joint has been either hypomobile OR hypermobile for years and years, arthritis forms. In the case of a hypomobile joint, well, if you don’t use it, you lose it. In the case of a hypermobile joint, the body’s way of stabilizing the joint is by laying down bone, called osteophytosis and wearing away at the cartilage. This is arthritis. Now a certain degree of arthritis is unavoidable; it is a natural consequence of ageing. But you certainly should try to prevent as much of it as possible, no? This is done by leaving spinal adjustments to a trained, educated, experienced chiropractor, who is able to specifically isolate which joints would benefit from spinal adjustments, and which joints should be left alone.
Long enough explanation, but hopefully now you will fully understand the importance of not self-adjusting. 🙂
That’s it for today, everyone. Enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasts!!
–Dr. Julia Viscomi