What is that popping sound in your spine?
Patients often tell me that their spine is out of line and needs to be ‘put back in’. But is that what is actually happening inside the body when you feel ‘out of line’?
Bones and joints do not move on their own, and is usually under the influence of muscle tone and voluntary contractions. Often times when muscles are stressed or overworked, their natural tension becomes pronounced, and in certain conditions become spastic…meaning they become so tight that they cannot release their tension on their own or by simply trying to relax. This is when bodywork is necessary to release the tension and allow the muscle to resume it’s natural tone and length. Inevitably, when muscles go into spasm, the bones and joints that they are attached to are also influenced and are pulled in the direction of the spasm.
When bones and joints are affected by muscle spasm and tension, they become compressed, rigid, and the surrounding ligamentous capsule also become stressed which invites swelling and inflammation. This cascade causes local pain to the joints, and make movement painful, guarded, and produce the feeling of mis-alignment from un-even pressure around the spasm.
When joints around the spine become compressed, rigid, and swell, the central nervous system’s ability to perceive and interpret information that are provided by joints become maladjusted which leads to another cascade that affects reaction time, circulation, movement quality, and reflexes.
Joints are full of mechano-receptors and proptioceptors, a system by which the brain receives information about position, function, and hundreds of sensory components that provide realtime feedback so the brain can then regulate a proper response to that body part. In sports, these cues are so important that it has an ability to prevent injury as well as direct intuitive motion that happens instantaneously without thinking. Naturally, if the information the brain receives is distressed or inaccurate, the resulting brain response becomes aberrant, causing movement compensation and various stress reactions to take place. Its a slippery slope, but the cascade is evident in our daily experience especially during acute injuries.
Now the popping…
Remember those joints under compression and tension? They begin to function like two suction cups stuck together and have a difficult time separating, which is what it needs to receive nourishing fluids and circulation. Manipulation of these joints, especially when surrounding muscle tissues are addressed cause the joint to quickly decompress and often ‘pops’ in the process. When properly performed, the therapeutic cascade is initiated, often reversing the distress and pain that was disturbing the joint system.
Joints are meant to pop!
Most instances of self popping are harmless and occur naturally. But popping that is associated with pain can indicate other distress situations and should be evaluated properly. So don’t just get cracking, get mobile! Your body will thank you!
Dr. Adrian is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Doctor of Chiropractic, serving South Pasadena since 2000.