Self Chiropractic – Is It Good to Adjust Yourself?
A lot of people practice self chiropractic without even realizing it. If you sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, there’s a good chance you’re guilty of the practice, too. People of all ages are getting “Text Neck” from leaning their heads over to read the screen on their cell phones.
Sometimes manipulating your joints is something you don’t even think about. Your neck gets stiff, your back starts to ache; all you want is some relief. You lean your neck to the left, pull your shoulder down to the right, working towards that familiar popping sound. No doubt, you feel some relief right after you pop your neck. But practicing self-alignment by popping your joints offers short-term relief that doesn’t address the cause of your pain.
Getting to the Heart of the Pop!
Whether you’re popping your knuckles or your spine, it’s the “pop” that you’re after. Its proper name is “cavitation.” During the realignment, the pressure inside the joint suddenly decreases, releasing gasses in the synovial fluid into the joint space. This is what causes the popping sound.
Although you think of the pop as your goal, it isn’t really what gives you relief from pain. The real relief results from an improvement in how your joints move. When a chiropractor creates cavitations, they improve joint function, the muscles relax, and there’s less nerve irritation.
Self chiropractic, on the other hand, is non-specific. Your movements are more likely to elicit the pop from the joint that is already moving freely than the one causing your pain. That’s why you can’t get the same long-lasting relief that you get from a real chiropractor.
What Is a Chiropractic Adjustment?
Chiropractors use their hands to apply a small, sudden force to the spinal joint. Also called spinal manipulation, the chiropractor uses the procedure to improve the flexibility and movement of the spine. The goal is to realign the spinal joints to their original position. Sometimes one session is all that is needed. Other situations call for repeated adjustments to achieve this goal. This practice of spinal manipulation has earned chiropractors the nickname of “back crackers.” The sound has nothing to do with the short-term relief you achieve from popping your joints. It isn’t the sound that causes an improvement when the chiropractor does it either. The relief comes from getting your joints back in line where they belong.
Knuckle-Cracking, Neck-Popping, and Other Forms of Self Chiropractic
Most of us have heard that popping your knuckles leads to arthritis. Medical experts explain this is just a myth. For many people, cracking knuckles, twisting their waste, or stretching their neck produces pain. That’s because there is already a problem that drives them to manipulate their joints in the first place. Arthritis, tendinitis, or bursitis are conditions that cause swelling in soft tissue. These conditions can lead to popping or cracking noises in the joints during regular use. These noises aren’t the same as the popping sound produced during manipulation. It comes from the swollen tissue snapping.
Popping your joints relieves pressure; anyone with arthritis knows about joint pressure and pain. They are often driven to repeatedly pop their joints to get relief throughout their day. This is especially true for those whose work puts even more pressure on their diseased joints.
Is Popping My Neck Safe?
Like knuckle popping, research hasn’t shown any evidence that cracking your knuckles causes any real risks. Some people consider it addictive, often feeling driven to do it out of habit more than the need for relief.
When it comes to cracking your neck, the risk might be greater. Occasionally popping your neck gently probably won’t do any harm. But doing it too often, incorrectly, or with too much force could result in your feeling more pain than you did before.
The real risk of self chiropractic care isn’t joint damage. It’s failing to get the professional alignment you need for lasting results. Doing it yourself is like putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound.
About Your Spine
Your spine supports your entire body. It keeps you upright, allows you to bend, and serves as the pathway for messages sent and received by your brain and your body. The three main functions of the spine are to provide structural support and balance, protect the spinal cord, and enable flexible motion.
The spine is made up of four regions. They are the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. Seven vertebrae form the cervical spine region in your neck. The cervical vertebrae are numbered C1 through C7 in descending order. C1 is the Atlas, a ring-shaped bone that supports the skull. C2 is the Axis, a circular bone with blunt, tooth-like structures that project up into the Atlas. These two vertebrae work together to turn and rotate your head.
Leaning forward for extended periods during activities like working on a computer or texting leads to stress in the neck. Pain might radiate into the shoulders or up into the head. Getting headaches from long hours on the computer might be due to eye strain. It could just as easily be from holding your neck in an unnatural position. If your body adapts to the new posture, it will remodel itself around the incorrect positioning. When a misalignment occurs due to poor posture or from an injury, repeated alignments are the only way to restore the natural positioning of the joint.
The next section of the spine is the thoracic region, which is made up of 12 vertebrae. These vertebrae are larger than those in the cervical region and they gain additional strength from the ribs.
The lumbar region is made up of five vertebrae, which carry the majority of your body’s weight. This is also the lower back region where most back pain occurs.
The next region of the spine is the sacrum, which is situated behind the pelvis and between the hips. Five bones make up the sacral spine, all of which are fused into a single triangular shape. Below the sacrum is the final section of the spine, the coccyx, or tailbone. The sacrum is composed of five bones fused together. The spine is not straight but has four distinct curves when viewed from the side.
The joints in the spine are called “facet joints.” Each vertebra has two facet joints that help you bend, twist, and extend while also preventing excessive movement that can cause damage. Each facet joint is surrounded by connective tissue and produces synovial fluid that acts as lubrication. Cartilage on the surface of the joint helps you move smoothly.
Discs are positioned between the different vertebrae to act as a cushion. They prevent bone from contacting bone and grinding together when you move. Additionally, the tire-like annulus fibrosus encases the gel-like nucleus pulposus to help maintain the stability of the spine and resist compressive stress. Each vertebra also has a top and bottom endplate that helps hold the disc in place.
What Chiropractors Know That You Don’t
Most people aren’t familiar with the anatomy of the spine. In addition to the location and function of the facet joints, there are muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and body processes that play a role in the function of the spine.
Chiropractors are specialists trained in all areas of the body’s structure and function. They know the normal positioning and function of every area of your spine from the neck to the tailbone. It might be tempting to self chiropractic when you have a pain in the neck. Thanks to the various forms of technology available to us today, more people are dealing with neck injuries and pain. But trying to fix your neck without the knowledge of how it’s supposed to work can’t get the same results as professional care. There’s also the concern that something unexpected is causing your neck pain. Some of the most common types of injuries and types of neck pain include:
- Muscle Strains – Strains are injuries to the muscles that allow the head and upper spine to move. You may experience muscle spasms, loss of flexibility, and pain.
- Neck Sprains – Sprains are injuries to the ligaments that hold bone together. Sprains to the neck often result from falls or sudden twisting motions that cause you to overextend one or more of the cervical joints. Repeated stress can also cause neck sprains. Sprains can cause a range of symptoms from pain that intensifies with movement to sore throats, weakness or tingling in the arm, muscles spasms and pain in the upper shoulder.
- Whiplash – Whiplash occurs after the head is thrown backward and then forward as in a car accident. Other causes of whiplash include sports injuries and falls. It isn’t a medical condition, but a set of symptoms that can be due to a variety of injuries including strains, herniated discs, and more. The symptoms and source of pain depend on the actual damage.
- A Herniated Disc – When the nucleus pulposus inside the disc (discussed above) escapes, it’s described as a herniated disc. Sometimes it causes pain and/or nerve-related symptoms such as feeling a burning sensation or the feeling of an electrical shock that goes down one arm. A herniated disc can occur anywhere along the spine including the neck.
- Fractures– Fractures are breaks in the bone that result from impact, falls, or degenerative changes in the spine. They vary in severity and symptoms. Those that are most severe often include a dislocation. People of all ages get neck fractures.
- Dislocations – A dislocation is a neck bone that has moved out of its normal position. This results in a loss of spine stability. It can be caused by injuries and degenerative conditions that disrupt the ligaments holding the bone in place. The most severe dislocations are those in which the bone is fully displaced forward. They can also damage the spinal cord. Mild dislocations can go back in place on their own or with the help of a chiropractor. Never self chiropractic with this type of injury as it could end up doing more damage than good.
Some of the most common conditions people seek chiropractic care for include headaches and migraines, facial pain and TMJ, balance problems, and neck disorders. Sometimes the source of pain is not as obvious as it seems. Like any medical doctor, a Doctor of Chiropractic begins treatment by making an accurate diagnosis.
Attempting to relieve your symptoms through self chiropractic results in the underlying condition for your symptoms failing to get treated. This gives your symptoms the opportunity to expand into serious health conditions and can lead to chronic pain.
The most important thing you can do to protect your spine is to take a preventive approach. If you spend hours in front a computer screen each day, keep your monitor at eye level. Take frequent brakes and ensure you maintain correct posture at all times.
Almost everyone texts these days, putting you at risk for “Text Neck.” Try raising the phone while texting and bring the phone to eye level. Keep texting time to a minimum and take frequent breaks.
If you wake up with a wrench in your neck, try a new pillow that’s designed for your sleeping style. Invest in a pillow that’s good quality and made to keep your spine and neck in natural alignment.
Instead of self chiropractic, do some strengthening exercises for your neck. A strong neck is more resistant to injury and it helps keep any pain away. Being aware of the risks will help you take a pro-active approach to keeping your spine and neck their healthiest. Prevention is always the best approach.
If you have symptoms of neck pain or any of the other conditions listed here, contact True Spine. Dr. Hallmeyer D.C. takes a unique approach to treating cervical conditions. Don’t leave anything as important as your spine health to chance. Get a diagnosis for your symptoms and get the best treatment to keep them from becoming worse.