If you are dealing with back pain, you may have started to stretch your back to reduce soreness and maintain your range of motion. Sometimes, when a person stretches their back, they may hear a cracking or popping sound. This is called joint cavitation, and it occurs when air bubbles in the synovial fluid (which lubricates your joints) are released. Some people may think that a chiropractic adjustment is the same as inducing cavitation with stretches, but there are some differences. Read on to learn more and find other answers to common questions about cavitation when treating back pain.
Are Chiropractic Adjustments the Same as Stretching with Cavitation?
During a chiropractic adjustment, a chiropractor applies a very specific, small force manually or with specialized instruments to misaligned spinal joints. Your chiropractor will take your health history, palpate your back, and/or take x-rays to diagnose the issue before making an adjustment. During an adjustment, you may experience cavitation, but not always. And while general stretching may provide some pain relief, it doesn't identify or treat the root cause of your back pain. For instance, your chiropractor might diagnose a person with a herniated disc and then prescribe an adjustment to help take pressure off the disc and any compressed nerves.
If You Don't Get a Cracking Sound, Did the Adjustment Work?
Some people may be upset if they get an adjustment but don't hear an audible crack during their appointment. One study found that many patients attributed therapeutic value to crepitus noises, but it's been demonstrated that an audible release isn't an indicator of a successful adjustment.
Is Cracking Your Back by Yourself Bad?
Your doctor and your chiropractor may prescribe gentle stretches to help your back pain, and you may experience natural cavitation during these stretches. Cavitation isn't inherently bad, but you shouldn't be forcing cavitation; hyperextending your range of motion or using forceful, quick movements to experience a "crack" is dangerous to your spine and could lead to pinched nerves, blood vessel injuries, joint inflammation, and/or muscle strain.
What if You Are Feeling Cracking Sensations with Other Symptoms?
Cavitation that is a byproduct of gentle stretches and chiropractic adjustments isn't usually a cause for concern, but you should be mindful of back cracks that are accompanied by other symptoms or side effects. For instance, snapping, clicking, or grating sensations can sometimes be indicative of arthritis crepitus, where cartilage wears down on joints. These types of cracks aren't just audible, but they may be accompanied by pain and even restricted joint movement.
These are just a few questions you might have about chiropractic care in relation to cavitation. Reach out to a chiropractor to learn more about back pain treatment.