Why It Cracks

A discussion as to why this is a dangerous belief

This is a quote that, as a movement snob (admittedly), is like nails on a chalk board when I hear these words.  Allow me to explain why.

The reason for an area of the spine being locked down to the point where you feel the desire to “pop” it, is almost always due to an attempt of the brain to lock down that area to prevent further injury.  Without proper stability, the brain engages large muscles around the aggravated joint or tissue to keep further movement from causing more damage to the area.  Left unresolved for a long enough period of time, the brain encounters a catch 22.  Satisfy the mobility desire by letting down the protective bracing and risk further damage to joints, or keep the area locked down and starve the cartilage in those joints of proper nutrition resulting in degeneration (cartilage “feeds” by being moved through daily full ranges of motion).  Given these choices, the brain opts for the stiff, starvation route because at least the damage occurs at a slower pace.  By ONLY applying a self manipulation or focused chiropractic adjustment, you could be robbing the body of this desired stability.

The true fix is a combination of increasing the mobility of the stiff area while addressing the lack of stability elsewhere.  Sometimes this stability is a strength issue and sometimes it’s a motor control issue.  Meaning, sometimes the stability can be regained by performing simple exercises in a progressive manner, i.e. strengthening.  A motor control issue is resolved by relearning a movement pattern.  A good example of this is teaching someone how to hinge at the hips instead of flexing from the low back and/or knees when picking something up, pushing something, etc.

The only way to figure out what is needed post mobility is being screened by a qualified professional who is trained in peeling the layers of movement away to find that compensation.  Once found and properly addressed, the patient/client can be educated on what needs to be done to fix the lack of stability. Adding progressive routines to challenge this new stability and mobility will engrain a new movement pattern which the brain will use to perform a given task whether that be running, lifting, throwing, etc.

“I just need to be cracked” is a request which, as a knowledgeable professional, would be unethical for me to grant.  Therefore, at the very least, you should always follow us a mobility session with a stability session.  Not doing so will lead to occasion after occasion of temporary relief until eventually enough damage is accumulated, and conservative treatment is no longer the answer.

Lastly a few notes on stability/mobility. 

Strength does not equal stability.  I’ve known many strong guys (over 500lb squat and deadlift) that had stability issues.  Strong muscles just means strong compensations.

For those of you who compete on a regular basis (sport or hobby), stiffness is par for the course.  Although stability fixes are often needed, repetitive activities will eventually over stress tissues even with the best body maintenance habits.  In this case, assistance from a therapist of some sort will be needed from time to time.  However, this will be very infrequent and the damage to the tissues will be much less when a proper approach to manage your issues is taken.

So next time you find yourself cracking your own back, or going to the chiropractor to “just get cracked”, know there is more work to be done if a more complete fix is desired.  Restoring proper movement is a multifaceted approach and requires consistent work and proper habits to achieve, and with this approach, the results are much longer lasting and healthier tissues. 

So the moral of the story? Don’t Just Mend. Transcend!

Dr. Scott Dunaway is a Doctor of Chiropractic practicing in Clarksville Tn and owner of ChiroStrength.  He specializes in treating chronic ailments associated with repetitive overuse habits by combining chiropractic adjustments, Active Release Techniques, and global movement assessment and corrections.  To schedule an appointment call the clinic at 931-321-1414 or submit the new patient form on www.ChiroStrength.com

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