[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.
Our 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.
Flash 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.
While 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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