The first visit to a chiropractor can be terrifying. In pain, with restricted motion and a blinding headache, worried about spending the rest of our lives in a wheelchair, when this gentle-seeming man takes hold of my neck and tries to twist my head off!
Firstly, Hollywood needs to take a lot of the blame. When the commandos have sneaked up on the sentry and twisted his head around and he falls to the floor, well, it’s just acting. To cause sudden death like that, the second bone of the spine has to break, and rupture the spinal cord, which is what happens during a hanging. This method of execution requires the sudden drop and a long rope to create the forces necessary to break the neck. The strength required would be phenomenal.
Secondly, the clicking noise isn’t bones breaking or ligaments tearing. It’s actually caused by the same forces that create the pop of a champagne cork flying from the bottle. The noise sounds slightly different due to the shape of the joint versus the bottle (more ‘crack’ and less ‘pop’), but the sudden release of the cork causes a vacuum to form in the neck of the bottle; the ‘pop’ sound is the vacuum collapsing. In the joint, the sudden motion necessary to stretch the contracted muscles can cause a vacuum to form in the joint fluid – when the vacuum collapses, the ‘crack’ sound is made.
Is it safe?
The technique is safe – but only if the practitioner has sufficient training. Learning how to move each joint of the body (approx. 1000) takes up less time during our training than you might expect, approximately eighteen months. However, the rest of the time we are learning when it is inappropriate to use the manoeuvre, in the same way that it takes relatively little time to learn what drugs are appropriate to give for a headache, but much, much longer to learn who can’t receive ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.
Can It cause a stroke?
No. Strokes are the result of a long-term disease process, such as hardening of the arteries leading to embolism. Once the stage is set, it doesn’t matter which snowflake sets off the avalanche – it was inevitable. However, if the manipulation is performed by an untrained practitioner, the risk of stroke is much higher.
Does it hurt?
Normally the procedure is completely painless, but when the muscles of a segment have been reflexively contracted for a long period of time, the pain circuits of the joint can become hypersensitive.
Can I do it myself?
No. When we try to create the necessary force, we have to contract the muscles of the spine. This means that the segments that are not moving are unlikely to move, and the motion (and ‘crack’) occurs at the segments that are already moving too much and causing pain.
Too much of a good thing?
Just with any form of therapy, receiving an overdose is rarely beneficial. When the normal joint mobility is restored, the compensating segments are no longer hypermobile, and the pain levels reduce. Continuing to mobilise the segments after this point is counter-productive, as it will induce hyper-mobility in the originally static segment.