What Happens During an Adjustment?


So I very frequently get the question, "Dr. Todd, what's happening during an adjustment or what is that cracking sound?" So I make the joke a lot, I either say, "We say no to crack all the time," or I say, "If you need a good crack then we got 2 x 4's out back." Well, what the crack is, is first of all, it's not even essential to an adjustment. A lot of adjustments, there's no crack at all, and a lot of times there's a crack with no adjustment. In other words, every time I... I wouldn't do this, but if I twist my neck and hear a pop, that's not necessarily an adjustment or if I lean back against a chair and hear pops, that doesn't mean that a chiropractic adjustment occurred, but what that sound is, is what's called a cavitation.

Everyone knows what a cavitation is, you just didn't know it was called that. When you take a soda pop can, and I hope you're not drinking a whole bunch of soda, but when you take a soda pop can, you open it, there's dissolved gas inside there in a sealed container, and as soon as you flip that top open, the gas expands and you hear a sound. Same thing happens in our joints inside our vertebra, zygapophyseal joints, this nerdy name for joints that we have, but they have these isolated sealed containers in there, and when there's a quick movement of a joint, the gas, the nitrogen, primarily expands and it makes a popping sound. We like the popping sound, probably just like you do, but it doesn't necessarily mean that adjustment has occurred.

What an adjustment means is that we have demonstrated that there is abnormal movement, abnormal function, abnormal communication from body to brain or brain to body called a subluxation. That subluxation, what that term means is, less than a dislocation, a luxation of a joint is a... If my shoulder goes all the way out of joint, like if you saw the old Lethal Weapon movies, I'm dating myself there, but Mel Gibson would have a shoulder go way out of joint and he'd slam it against the wall and bring it back into its socket, that's called a luxation.

A subluxation is less than that dislocation, so that's what that means, but sub also means below, lux in Latin means light, and ation means condition of. So a subluxation is also a condition of less light, less life in our bodies, because when the vertebra go out of alignment, they stop moving correctly, they stop giving the brain its normal food. The brain's normal food, its most important food is not glucose, it's not broccoli, it's not vaccines, it's what the brain's healthiest food is, is movement in the spine. When we're tiny and unable to even crawl yet, the first thing that develops is motion in our arms and limbs, and that motion in our arms and limbs and beginning motion in our spine stimulates through our spinal cord up into our brain, that's what stimulates brain growth in our body.

And so as our brain starts to grow and develop and become stronger, we start to move our limbs independently, that's more and more food for growth for our brain. As we age and we get past year one, we start walking and we start developing our motor skill patterns, our brain's constant development as we grow from infants to toddlers, to adolescents through teen years, and through adult years, our brain needs constant movement in our joints for food. The normal movement, the most important movement comes from our spines. What happens is, movement literally feeds our brain, and it goes through all sorts of different processes in our brain, it goes through our cerebellum, through our pons, through our amygdala, through our hippocampus, into our prefrontal cortex, and I won't nerd out too much on you with that, but all those things control all functions in our body, those structures in our brain, they control our digestion, our hormones, our immune system, how immune we are to every virus out there in the world, everything that comes to us, our cellular regeneration and redevelopment are all controlled by our brain's function.

Our brain's healthy function is dependent 100% on healthy motion of the spine. So what we're looking for when I check you and you tip your head back like this, I'm looking for motion in each of those joints because anywhere there's a lack of motion, there's a lack of communication from body to brain and from brain to body, so we need to analyze and correct that alignment so that we get better alignment and better motion in the spine, which restores body-brain communication and brain-body communication, which brings life to every part of the body.

So, all that to say, we say no to crack, anyone could just crack a joint, you could have someone walk on your back and crack it. Like we said, you can have a 2 x 4 and crack someone's back, or someone can twist their pelvis or something and hear a crack in there, that doesn't mean they're specifically addressing a subluxation. The last time I tried to pop my own back or pop my own neck, I was training for an Iron Man Triathlon, which is where you swim 2.4 miles, you bike 112, and then you run a full marathon, 26.2 and I was on a 200-mile bike ride over the Santa Cruz Mountains where I was from at the time in the Bay Area, and my neck got really stiff, this is when I was a chiropractic intern, so I thought, "Oh yeah, I'm an intern, I can do this." And I tried to adjust my neck. Well, first of all, I couldn't even prove where the subluxation was so I didn't know that, but also I made my neck way worse. But anyone just going around and popping their neck, first of all, they have to find that it is an actual subluxation interfering with transmission brain to body or body to brain, then they have to address only that part that's not moving or not lined up correctly.

So what happens is, if I have a subluxation or a misalignment at my C3 vertebra right here, and that one stuck and not moving, but C2, C4, 5, 6 and 7 are moving just fine, and I swing my neck around and pop that, what's most likely to pop or cavitate or crack is going to be those segments that are moving right, the C2, 4, 5, 6, or 7; you're gonna actually cause damage to that by popping your neck. So that's why we say don't crack your back or don't ask me to crack your back because we say no to crack. We don't believe in crack, what we do is we specifically address those subluxations.

Now, what happens? People also wonder, "Now, why isn't it perfect when you get it adjusted?" Well, a lot of scar tissue develops over years. If someone had a very, very traumatic birth, for example, and their parents never knew to take them to a chiropractor, or they had a fall out of the crib, or I was just talking earlier with our team out here, trampolines are one of the worst things. I'm gonna give a talk on that pretty soon. We get something physical or even chemical or emotional trauma occurs and our spine buckles out of alignment, that's called a subluxation. Well, over days, weeks, months and years of not having that addressed properly. Gosh, if it were addressed properly we would just adjust it day of and it'd be no problem, which most of our families come in on a regular basis, and that's just their lifestyle. So that's much, much, much healthier. But what happens is, we have 40, 50, 60. I had a 60-plus-year-old man come in yesterday who had never been adjusted by a chiropractor in his life. You think he's had a few traumas? A few subluxations? You can bet on it.

So when we looked at his x-rays, it was obviously, he had 30 plus years of subluxation, misalignment damage, grinding and wearing away those joints. If I were to duct tape my elbow here for 15 or 20 or 30 years and not take the duck tape off and it couldn't move, and then I suddenly took the duct tape off, you think it would move just perfectly? No chance. It's gonna stay stuck. So what we have to do is... It would take time to re-address that and get that moving correctly. Same with the C2 or C1 or C5 or C6 or mid-back or lower back, if they're out of alignment a long time, there's a lot of scar tissue, so we need to adjust it and move a little bit, it wants to go back where it was, adjust it, move it a little bit, it wants to go back where it was, and we need often rehabilitation exercises or traction or stretches, often they all go together to be able to realign the spine so we can get it moving. Once we get it moving right, that's when the body can communicate better with the brain and the brain with the body to restore normal health to our body.

So when we say we're gonna adjust you, we don't mean we're just gonna crack or pop or just make you feel better that day, though it often does feel better, what we're doing is we're actually addressing the neurospinal function so that our brain works better, so that our whole body works better, and we do that, there are usually not just one adjustment but a series of adjustments, you can call it a crack if you want. I know you do when I'm not around, so you can call it that if you want to, but it's important to understand that the crack is not the purpose of it, and that sound doesn't make any difference.

So I hope that answers your questions that I get a lot, "What is a crack and what are you doing and what is an adjustment?" The adjustment is to restore normal health and life to your body. So if you do have any questions, as always, comment below or ask them in the office, give us a call, we're always here to answer your questions, and we so appreciate taking care of this community.

Map Icon