A chiropractic “adjustment” involves physically shifting vertebrae which have abnormal movement patterns or are failing to function properly. Altered spinal structure may interfere with nerve function, and so adjustments often relieve chronic pain or numbness. Functional disorders involving organs and glands may also respond to chiropractic adjustment.
If the vertebrae in the spine shift out of their natural position, it’s called a “subluxation”. When this occurs, a chiropractor can adjust the misaligned bone, returning it to its healthy position. This “adjustment” is typically a quick thrust, accompanied by little to no discomfort.
This sudden movement of the vertebrae often releases built up gases from the area, resulting in a sharp snapping or cracking noise. The sound may be shocking the first time a patient hears it, but the sensation is usually experienced as a relief of pressure, tension, or pain. Occasionally, minor discomfort is experienced, especially if the surrounding muscles are spasming or the patient is particularly tense.
There are times when the snap or crack cannot be heard. This is often due to either significant muscle tightness or the patient’s difficulty relaxing during their adjustments. This does not negate the importance of the adjustment, however. The bones have been brought into proper alignment and neural information can flow as intended.
Several adjustments over time may be needed in order to encourage the body to heal in a way which holds the vertebrae in proper alignment. The chiropractor may also suggest massage, exercises, or physical therapy to help the body heal properly. To a chiropractor, treating the immediate source of pain is only the first step in a long term effort to help the body adjust and rejuvenate in a way that prevents recurrence.