The most common question I get asked is: “when you adjust me what is the popping noise?”. The noise is not your bones cracking and it is not your spine being realigned. The noise is simply gas that is being released from joint capsules. A joint capsule is built of cartilage surrounded by a membrane called the synovial membrane. This membrane is filled with fluid called synovial fluid. All this is then covered by ligaments and then surrounded with more tissue and muscles. The pop noise come from gas bubbles being released inside the synovial fluid when motion is added to the joint.
The second most common thing I hear is “Hey doc, that one didn’t pop”. The noise from adjustments does not indicate success or failure. The whole purpose of the adjustment is to restore motion to a segment and the “pop” is a byproduct of gapping that joint and bursting bubbles in the synovial fluid when it is moved. When we recheck motion after an adjustment often it is better even though there was no popping noise. Motion is the key to joint health in general and without it, arthritis and degenerative changes can occur in the joint space. So even without a pop, motion to a restricted segment is beneficial and healthy when applied correctly.
That leads me into the third most common question: “will popping my joints give me arthritis?”
The answer to that question is simply, no.
There was a study done where a group of knuckle crackers was compared to a group of non-knuckle crackers and it was found that there was no increase in arthritis in the knuckle crackers compared to the non-knuckle crackers. Dr. Donald Unger did his own study where he cracked the knuckles on his left hand twice a day for 50 years but did not crack the knuckles on his right hand. At the end of the 50-year study it was found that there was no arthritis in either hand and that there were no differences between the two hands.
Therefore, don’t be afraid of the popping noise in an adjustment. It is not your bones cracking and it won’t cause arthritis. It is a natural byproduct of restoring motion to a joint segment and may or may not actually occur when an adjustment is performed.