Joint Cavitation

During a chiropractic adjustment, there is often a “popping” or “cracking” sound that is heard. This sound can often create anxiety for people unfamiliar with chiropractic care and the benefits of an adjustment. If someone doesn’t know, they may think the sound originates from bones popping or cracking or rubbing together. This is not the case.

The popping noise is called a “joint cavitation.” It occurs when a joint, typically in the spine, is manipulated or adjusted by a chiropractor. The sound is like the noise produced when you crack your knuckles.

Chiropractic Side Effect

The actual source of the sound associated with an adjustment comes from the release of gas bubbles that are present within the synovial fluid surrounding the joint. Synovial fluid acts as a lubricant for the joint, allowing smooth movement. It contains dissolved gases, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

When a chiropractor applies a quick, controlled force to a joint, it creates a sudden decrease in pressure within the joint. This decrease in pressure can cause the dissolved gases in the synovial fluid to form tiny bubbles. When the pressure rapidly equalizes, these bubbles can collapse or burst, resulting in the audible popping sound or cavitation. Some adjustments, however, can take place without any “popping” at all, while other adjustments release enough pressure on a joint to produce an audible sound.

It’s important to note that the popping sound is not a key indicator of a successful adjustment. Chiropractors primarily focus on restoring proper joint function and alignment to relieve discomfort and improve mobility. The popping noise is just an incidental side effect of the adjustment process.

It’s Perfectly Normal!

Research from 2015 helped explain this by describing the process for how a chiropractic adjustment reduces stress through a quick gentle force. The adjustment slightly separates the joint by overcoming the protective muscle reflexes and reducing adhesive scar tissue formation while improving motion. This process occurs without injury to any of the tissues involved. The popping or cracking noise simply comes from gas being released from the joint when the gapping occurs.

So, however alarming it may be to hear the popping or cracking noise, just know that it is a completely natural and harmless part of a healthy chiropractic adjustment.


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