Spinal Manipulation: Is it all it's "cracked" up to be?

Why get a chiropractic adjustment? San Diego chiropractor reveals some of its benefits to our health and well-being. 


Chiropractic adjustment or spinal manipulation is much more than just a "back crack". For over 100 years, chiropractors have been performing spinal adjustments or manipulations. This makes it easy for most people to think ONLY of "spinal manipulation" when they hear the word chiropractor—they think that's all we do.

In reality chiropractic professionals have evolved into much, much more than being "back crackers". For example, our chiropractors screen and correct movement dysfunction, apply Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), cupping, and manual mobility therapies to name a few. A thorough chiropractor uses spinal manipulation as part of a larger treatment plan.

Spinal manipulation is not just for chiropractors to use. In fact it is now being used by a number of different health care practitioners including physical therapists, medical doctors, and osteopaths.

What is Spinal Manipulation Used For?

A spinal adjustment or manipulation is where a doctor uses their hands to move the joints in someone's spine. Research shows it to be an effective way to reduce pain, increase mobility, and decrease muscle tone. With decreased pain and muscle tension, and more mobility, it is easier to rehabilitate an injury and teach new movement patterns.

You don't need to have had an injury or pain to get spinal manipulation. Our goal is to find the joints in your spine that are stiff, tender, or not moving properly, and  help them move again.

Why might I need it?

The human body is incredibly adaptive. This means that the nervous system is always trying to cement us in the positions that we spend the most time in. For example, if you are curled over your laptop or smart phone, your body will slowly stiffen the joints in the spine to keep you in that position. This will make your joints stiff, your muscles tight and sore, and your movement mechanics will change. 

The goal of spinal manipulation is to move all those joints that have become stiff. The fast stretch of the joint capsules and muscle fibers around the spine also alter neurologic function in a mechanism that is not yet fully understood. Nevertheless, this altered neurologic function decreases muscle tone and reduces pain. With decreased pain and more mobility, we are able to find the true problem—whether it be a faulty movement pattern, chronic overuse, muscle weakness, and the list goes on.

Are there any side effects?

Although satisfying, the cracking and popping you hear is simply gas releasing from the joints and is not as important as you may think.

Some people love the feeling of spinal manipulation, while others are wary. I understand that it can be a little scary to have someone using their hands to manipulate your joints and the loud cracking can be alarming.

While it does seem aggressive, spinal manipulation is actually very safe. The techniques used have been specially designed to make sure that the integrity of the spine is kept intact. This means that we are not pushing your joints beyond what they are anatomically capable.

Put simply, spinal manipulation carries very little risk. It is more likely that you will have a severe adverse effect from taking ibuprofen than receiving a spinal manipulation.

The most common side effect we see is soreness. Many times the reason is that we are moving a joint that has been “stuck” or not moving properly for some time. Think of how your elbow would feel if you casted it for 6 weeks and then started to move it again when the cast was removed.

What are we accomplishing?

  • Increased mobility

  • Decreased pain

  • Improved function of the nervous system

  • Reduced muscle spasm


Finally, although spinal manipulation is a great tool, it should be used as just that: a tool. At Your Healthy Spine it is never used as a stand-alone treatment—it's part of a comprehensive treatment strategy. However, spinal manipulation is efficient, effective, and here to stay.


Get out of pain, speed through rehab and prevent re-injury. Book a movement & mobility session with Dr. Ryan today.