Self-manipulation could be creating your pain, not helping it

Spinal adjustments have been studied for years as being extremely effective for relieving neck and back discomfort. So, if you wake up one day with lower back pain, should you just “crack” your back yourself? Absolutely not! And there are several reasons why.

The most obvious reason to shy away from self-adjusting has to do with the fact that chiropractors go through many years of extensive training on how to analyze the spine and adjust specific spinal misalignments. When a person self-manipulates their spine, they are unsure which bones have misaligned and in what direction those bones have misaligned. Sometimes, several bones move during a self-manipulation when only one bone was misaligned and needed to be adjusted. Surprisingly, spinal bones can misalign in a number of ways. Without objective analysis, there is no way to tell exactly how the bone has misaligned which means there is no way to self-adjust that bone back into its proper alignment.

Although there is very little research regarding self-manipulation, one of the proposed dangers of self-adjusting is the overstretching of the muscles and ligaments that support the spine due to excessive force. The repetitive movement and force required to self-adjust can also cause the muscles to become fatigued and impair their ability to protect the spine as they routinely do. This is one of the many reasons why chiropractors spend so much time perfecting their technique, to ensure that an adjustment is given safely and effectively. When it comes to self-manipulation, the overstretching of the muscles and ligaments and the fatigue created within muscles that support the spine is associated with spinal instability. It is proposed that the instability created by self-manipulating the spine can lead to or perpetuate chronic pain.

While the immediate release of self-adjusting can be satisfying initially, the result is not long-lasting. The “ahhh” feeling of an adjustment can be correlated to the release of carbon dioxide gas during the adjustment. But the immediate good feelings are only temporary, because within 15-30 minutes, the gas is reabsorbed and leaves the person feeling the exact same way as they did before the self-adjustment. This can create the habitual need to self-manipulate many times throughout the day which again, can lead to hypermobility and instability, ultimately leading to chronic pain. If a spinal misalignment is the cause of pain and/or discomfort, then specificity is key in creating long-lasting results. Adjusting only the spinal bones that are misaligned (at a frequency much less than the several times per day seen with self-manipulation) may help address the underlying structural issue causing the discomfort, without creating instability.

Because there are so many factors that go into a safe adjustment, chiropractors spend years learning how to analyze and adjust spinal misalignments. It is always our recommendation to discontinue any and all self-manipulations due to the possible dangers, and to never let somebody manipulate your spine that has not been trained to do so. It’s best to leave it to the experts!