Just what is that “popping” or “cracking” sound that happens during an adjustment? Why does my (insert body part) crack when I wake up or move? My back “popped” after I left the clinic did I put it back out again? These are a few of the common questions asked in the clinic about various sounds our bodies tend to make. The body generally “pop, cracks, and creaks” for a number of reasons and generally the sounds are not a cause for concern. The sounds generally come from one of three sources joint cavitations, soft tissue rubbing on bone, or bone rubbing on bone. The other reason joints pop and crack are typically from a trauma or accident, such as “my knee made a popping sound when that 300lbs lineman ran into the side of my leg while playing football.”
Cavitation is the most common reason joints pop and crack in a chiropractic clinic. Cavitation is described as a formation of gas bubbles in a fluid environment when pressures are lowered; the sound is caused from the “popping” of these bubbles. Every joint in our body is surrounded by a thin cartilaginous capsule; inside this capsule is a small amount of lubricating fluid between the joints. When this capsule is stretched or expanded the pressure inside drops, bubbles form in the fluid and then these small bubbles pop. Chiropractors are trained to get the joints in the spine and extremities to the “end range of motion” where the joint capsule is stretched to a point of tension. Then a specific thrust is applied to mobilize the affected joint, often time’s cavitations then will occur. After the adjustment I have heard patients complain of their back “popping” back out of place after they get out to their car. What they are most likely hearing is other joints around the area finally being able to move more freely again. The extra range of motion gained from the adjustment has now allowed other areas of the spine a more normal range of motion therefore stretching the joint capsule causing them to cavitate again.
Soft tissues rubbing on bone is also another cause for a “clicking” or “rubbing” sound. This sound is typically heard in the hips when the iliotibial band rubs over the greater trochanter of the femur. This can also happen in other areas of the body where muscles, tendons, or ligaments become thickened or inflamed and consequently rub over bony structures in the body. If this is the case soft tissue work such as massage, Garston therapy, and rehabilitative exercises may help decrease these sounds.
The last category is bone rubbing on bone. This is typically described as a grinding or rubbing sensation and this is a sign of degeneration or arthritis in the joint. Over time the protective cartilage and fluid between the joint can become worn out due to injury, age, or both. The result is the joint space starts to break down and narrow and the bones will actually start to grind against each other. When this starts to happen it is often late in the disease process and further medical care through chiropractic, physical therapy, or surgery may be needed.
Generally, as stated before “popping” and “cracking” is nothing to be alarmed about. However, if the sound is accompanied by pain, weakness, joint laxity, or discomfort then a consultation with a medical professional would be advised. If you have any questions about a sound your body may be making give us a call 970-639-9730 or email us at email@example.com