Do-It-Yourself Chiropractic


[originally published in KCN, April 1999]

As a chiropractor, going to dinner parties and other social functions can often be an interesting experience.  Invariably, one of the guests, upon learning of my degree, will announce for all in the room to hear, why he would never need my professional services, as he proceeds to make a public display of theatric proportion, “cracking” and “popping” every joint his spine has to offer — an auditory performance that would certainly make Orville Redenbacher green with envy.

What our master thespian needs to realize is that he has it all backwards:  he needs to see me because he can do that.  The fact that he is capable of “popping”  certain areas of his spine on demand is a clear indication that an underlying problem exists.

diy-spine-imageOur spinal column is segmented into 24 individual bones called vertebrae.  Without this segmentation, we would be unable to bend and twist the way that we do.  As we perform these routine, daily maneuvers, each vertebra in our spine moves a little to contribute to the total motion at hand.  If life took place in a vacuum, this concept would function perfectly, without flaw, day in and day out.  Unfortunately, the physical, emotional, and chemical stresses that we bombard our bodies with every day can cause some of these spinal bones to seize or “lock up.”  Doctors of chiropractic refer to this repercussion as a “subluxation.”  Subluxations often times will pinch or irritate the surrounding nerves and can have far reaching effects on one’s overall health, not to mention the local pain and discomfort they may cause.

Our bodies are amazing and adapt quite well  to circumstances presented to it — no matter how bad or unhealthy these circumstances may be.  Because life must go on, and bending and twisting are a part of that, the spinal bones above and below the stuck segments will actually begin to move more by becoming looser in an attempt to “take up the slack” of their stuck cohorts.  We refer to these vertebrae as being “hypermobile.”  The ligaments that support these joints become lax, and the joints themselves tend to “pop” very easily.

diy-self-adjuster.jpgFlash back to our stellar “self-manipulator.”  His attempt to play “chiropractor” on himself by twisting and contorting his body in such a way as to elicit a “pop” from his spine, most likely didn’t do much for him.  For the segment that truly needed to move, the subluxation, didn’t;  but rather the loose, hypermobile joints, spurned on by their stuck counterpart, did.   Sure it may have felt good, temporarily, due to the various physiologic effects that occur when joints cavitate or “pop”,  but chances are, this person probably finds himself popping or cracking his own back or neck several times a day — especially when he’s under a lot of stress.  Unfortunately, this problem only stands to get worse.  The continuance of “adjusting” these loose joints will make them looser, and the health of the truly stuck segment will continue to decline — possibly becoming the source of a myriad of different symptoms, not to mention degenerative arthritis.

A couple of osteopathic physicians out of Illinois reported in a letter to the editor of the American Family Physician, that they had observed a couple of patients in their practice whose self-manipulation habits were the “only identifiable cause” of their neck pain.  One of the patients was said to have “cracked” her neck more than 50 times a day!  While this may seem a little extreme, I don’t believe she’s alone.    It wasn’t until she stopped this practice, and followed through with appropriate treatment measures, that her pain finally dissipated.

What can I say?  It is close to impossible to adjust your own spine correctly.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  In addition, although extremely rare, a thorough search of the medical literature will prove that self-manipulation has the potential to be very dangerous.  Combining this with the fact that it seldom addresses the root of the problem, and almost always makes it worse, performing self-manipulation just doesn’t make good sense.  That’s why we chiropractors visit other chiropractors — just as a surgeon would seek out another for an operation.

diy-chiropractic-tableWhile doing things yourself can often times bring about a sense of self satisfaction and reward, adjusting the spine should be one of those projects better left to the professional.    Performing close to 95% of all spinal adjustments in the health care arena, the chiropractor is  truly the professional of choice.

A chiropractor has the training to evaluate the entire spine and determine which vertebrae should be adjusted, and which ones shouldn’t.  By targeting the adjustment to the stuck vertebra with precise angularity and force, healthy and normal spinal motion can begin to return.  With time and proper treatment, this once downward spiraling problem can become a thing of the past.  The only problem is you’ll have to come up with another party trick.

Know any self-manipulators in your life?


Sources used for this article:
Cook and Sanstead.  Wallenberg’s syndrome following self-induced manipulation.  Neurology.  1991; 41(10): 1695-6.
Earl and Mercola.  Cracking down on ‘neck cracking’.  American Family Physician.  1992; 45(2): 452,459.
Gatterman.  Foundations of Chiropractic Subluxation.  St. Louis. Mosby-Year Book, Inc.  1995.
Johnson, Whiting, and Pender.  Cervical self-manipulation and stroke.  Med J Aust.  1993; 158(4): 290.
Koren.  Can you adjust yourself?  [pamphlet].  Philadelphia.  Koren Publications.  1987.
Leach.  The Chiropractic Theories:  principles and clinical applications.  Baltimore.  William and Wilkins. 1994.
Rothrock, Hesselink, and Teacher.  Vertebral artery occlusion and stroke from cervical self-manipulation.  Neurology.  1991; 41(10): 1696-7.
Rupert.  Self manipulation — is it dangerous?  The Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigation. 1992;  7(4): 90-1.
Sandoz, R.  Some physical mechanisms and effects of spinal adjustments.  Ann Swiss Chiro Assoc.  1976; 6:91-141.
Sandoz, R.  Some reflex phenomena associated with spinal derangements and adjustments.  Ann Swiss Chiro Assoc.  1981; 7:56-88.
Schellahas, Latchaw, Wendling, and Gold.  Vertebrobasilar injuries following cervical manipulation.  JAMA.  1980;  244(13): 1450-3.
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16 Comments on “Do-It-Yourself Chiropractic”

  1. Liz Says:

    Oh… Wow! 😀 Thank you for that article! I go to a chiropractor every day (who thankfully does law enforcement at cost to insurance) and since it’s finals prep week for me, I haven’t been this week. I came looking for a stretch or something I could do to relieve the tension in my lower back (twisted pelvis, taking my spine with it… pain ensues lol) or even achieve that ungodly glorious pop he manages to get out of my pelvis when I see him but… I’m really glad I read this instead. I pop absolutely everywhere, from neck to knees and occasionally my ankles by just moving sometimes. My neck, I generally pop, as you said, under stress and always feels so good. I’ll admit, it’s much better when he does it. After I read your article, I reflected a bit and I realized that since I’ve been seeing him, my thoracic spine no longer pops on command! I used to be able to flex my shoulder blades back (by pushing my chest forward) and pop it, but… not anymore. This is awesome. I’m so excited to know that he DID fix something. I knew he was awesome, but I didn’t know how awesome.

    Thanks again! (sorry for such a long comment!)

  2. drlamar Says:

    Hi Liz –
    I’m so glad that you found value in this article. It sound as though you had one of those “Ahh Haa!” moments. I’m glad that you see a chiropractor regularly. Have him show you some good exercises and stretches to help you maintain the spinal balance that he is helping you achieve. Feel free to poke around my blog to learn more. You might also find my podcast interesting.

  3. Johnie Says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have been a “self manipulator” since my teenage years (I’m 28 now) and my back problems have only gotten worse. Unlike the person you describe at the beginning of your post, I would be the guy that comes up to you and asks for an adjustment! When my pain got real bad I would see a chiropractor and then go back to self manipulating until I can’t stand it anymore.

    Your post makes perfect sense to me and it seems I have had it backwards all these years. I had my first adjustment when I was around 12 and I thought, the chiropractor made my back feel better by popping it, so I’ll do the same thing. I’ve been thinking all this time, if my back hurts this much with so much popping every day, I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t pop it!

    I’m calling the chiropractor tomorrow and I’m fighting the urge that I have to pop my back. I am going to checkout your podcast also!

    Thanks again for sharing and I apologize for the long comment.

  4. drlamar Says:

    Johnie – I’m so glad that my article made everything clear for you. This is a confusing topic for a lot of people. Take care of yourself and tell you chiropractor I said hello. 😉 -drlamar

  5. pablo Says:

    Nice Article!!!
    My problem is that after all this years going to a good chiropractor, I beacame very sensible about when I have a subluxation. Is like this external force helping me had become an adiction and then I suffer when I dont have it. What do you recomend about this? regards

  6. drlamar Says:

    Hi Pablo – I understand what you are saying. I wouldn’t necessarily look at chiropractic as an “addiction.” If you are constantly having the same subluxation patterns and are suffering if they are not addressed, then you and your chiropractor need to start delving deeper. Maybe there is something in the way you sit or conduct certain activities that is prompting your body to set up these subluxation patterns. Maybe your diet is to blame. Maybe there is a great emotional stress in your life. Until these aspects are discovered, or at least acknowledged, you will never move towards a higher state of wellness… but will just be treating the subluxation as an ongoing, reoccurring symptom.

    Take care, dr. lamar

  7. Unfortunately we also have witnesses the self-manipulators in our office. One patient came in with their jaw stuck wide open! After the professional chiropractic adjustment, they were able to speak again; the new client openly admitted they were forcing jaw to crack.

  8. […] this is such a common practice, the question regarding the safety of self-manipulation is often brought up in our […]

  9. Jerry Says:

    Uhm… two words for you: “Robin Mkenzie”. Although these and other exercises are not directly related to spinal manipulation (progress is not measured by how much your joints crack so much as range of motion and pain reduction) they do have an interesting “side effect” of regularly inciting the “popping” sensations associated with chiropractic care. After a great deal of time and money spent on chiropractic care, I finally found the means to reduce pain, regain mobility, and vastly improve strength through these and related exercises. One good point made in the article though; the “crack” shouldn’t be equated to the desired end result.

  10. drlamar Says:

    Thanks for you comment Jerry. I use Robin McKenzie’s work in my practice on a regular basis. Glad to hear that it’s working well for you. — Dr. L

  11. The One Says:

    I suffered a severe injury to my neck when I was ten years old which cause a deformity on in my spine. Because of ignorance my deformity kept getting worse for some ten years. I really thought my body form was naturally humped over but at age 21 became aware that I had “something wrong’ with my spinal cord. In my own way I began a tedious and lengthy process of discovering ways to realign my spine. At the beginning I was optimistic and thought I would be able to achieve realignment in a short amount of time but so far I have been at the process for some 31 years. In my case, because of poverty and a sense of sheer determination, I have seen my spine slowly align from a severe deformity to a near complete alignment. I feel that I’m almost at completion of the process and now with the advent of Internet I hope to see if others have had similar experiences. I understand the concern of people causing themselves harm by trying to self-align but in my case I had no choice and it is working. It’s the first time I share my story outside of family members or close friends.

  12. drlamar Says:

    “The One” …. thank you for sharing your story. Understand that ultimately your body WANTS to be in alignment, and it will do what it needs to do to find ways to make that happen. Sometimes, however, the “road block” to that alignment becomes so over-powering that the body cannot overcome it…. so the body diverts to “Plan B” and finds ways to compensate in the midst of the problem. Chiropractic’s aim is to assist the body in removing those “road blocks” so its Innate Intelligence can fully express itself and full function and health potential can resume. – dr. lamar

  13. jill Says:

    I was looking up if I can do Chriopracty on yourself and am so glad to see this. New places on my neck just started cracking and I thought I was getting more flexible. Many thanks.

  14. the awsome dawg Says:

    I am trying to work on an essay at school but I can’t because my back is killing me and this site didn’t really help. Thanks for the waste of time.

  15. Isaac Silberstein Says:

    From my experience, I have found that Chiropracters do not specifically target their treatment to the fixed area of the spine that really is in need of adjustment. Rather, the chiropractor does, indeed, manipulate in a general manner so that it is essentially equivalent to self-manipulation. I would recommend patient’s seek out a the rare chiropractor that does a full assessment, and actually checks for segmental locks in the vertebral stack, before rendering him or herself as patient.

  16. drlamar Says:

    Isaac – You bring up a good point: Not all chiropractors are the same. Approaches and techniques vary… as do patient preferences. My advice is to do your homework and seek out the DC that is the best fit for you.

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