One question that often comes up when people learn that I am a chiropractor is, “What causes the popping noise during an adjustment?” In medical terms, this noise is called a cavitation. The synovial joints in your body, such as the facet joints of the spine, are comprised of two closely approximated bony surfaces with synovial fluid in between for lubrication. When the two surfaces are suddenly pulled apart, as during a chiropractic adjustment, the drop in pressure causes a small air bubble to form within the fluid, which causes a “pop”. It is similar to opening a bottle of champagne or taking a suction cup off a window. It may sound scary, especially when done on the neck, but I can assure you that nothing is cracking or breaking. And despite what your mother may have told you, “cracking” your joints will not lead to arthritis.
I can divide my patients into three categories: those who love the popping sound of an adjustment because they equate it with relief, those who fear the sound because they have watched too many action films in which people are snapping each other’s necks (which, by the way, is pretty much impossible), and those who are just plain grossed out by the sound. Luckily, cavitation is not required for effective mobilization of a joint, and there are many non-popping techniques that can be used for people who are squeamish about being “cracked”. I always try to tailor my treatments to suit my patients’ comfort level.