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FAQ's on Chiropractic adjustments

Snap, Crackle, Pop

The first thing that comes to mind when I say chiropractor? For most people, it is an image of spinal manipulation.  It goes by many names: An adjustment, a realignment, manipulation, cracking, popping, but what is it, really? If you've ever wondered that yourself or are considering visiting a chiropractor for some of your aches and pains, we're hear to answer some of our most commonly fielded questions from new patients. 

What is it?

An adjustment is a joint mobilization. That's a fancy way of saying we're helping a joint move.  The type of mobilization commonly associated with chiropractors is a grade 5, or HVLA (High velocity, low amplitude) manipulation. 

What does it do?

Well, as you may guess, a mobilization is intended to help a joint move better. We take joints that are a bit stuck, and help unstick them. On top of helping the joints move, the sound stimulates your nervous system through vibration and typically help reduce pain sensations. 

What is that noise?

The noise isn't anything "cracking."  Often a chiropractic manipulation is referred to as back cracking, but the noise actually comes from the creation of gas inside the joint capsule, also known as a cavitation. This is the result of a change in pressure inside the joint capsule, and an area that was once filled by fluid has a gas bubble introduced. The GIF below demonstrates a cavitation in a finger knuckle, and the black space created is the gas bubble. 

Is it putting me back in place?

Not really.  While we can help your joints move, their alignment is held by strong ligaments, not the joint capsules we are stretching.  We are not physically putting your bones back in line.  We are not immediately affecting the curves of your spine.  In other words, if you took an x-ray directly before and after an adjustment, it wouldn't look any different.

On that note, Do I need x-rays before an adjustment?

Rarely.  As we mentioned above, we're not changing the alignment or appearance of your bones on an x-ray.  X-rays really shouldn't be used to decide where to adjust, but to only to confirm suspicions of underlying problems that may make adjustments unsafe.  Luckily, these problems are rare, so we don't have to order x-rays with the majority of our patients. 

If I start having adjustments, will I need to continue forever?

No. Continuing to mobilize your joints is a good idea, but since things don't go "out," we don't need to constantly put them back "in." When we transition patients off of active care, we present them with the common analogy that continuing to do your exercise at home is akin to brushing your teeth.  Coming in for an adjustment is just like getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist with a little more powerful tools. 


Dr. Todd Peterson, DC, Cert MDT. Dr. Todd Peterson Dr. Todd Peterson is a chiropractor and certified provider for Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy (MDT, aka the McKenzie Method). Dr. Peterson played football at the University of Nebraska, where he was a 4 year letter winner and Academic All American. He briefly played professional football in 2009 before returning to Chiropractic School in 2010. He earned his doctor of chiropractic (DC) degree from National University of Health Sciences in 2013, graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors.

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