Can You Adjust Yourself? Is It Safe?

By Dr. Kevin Wafer

August 13, 2012

Can you adjust yourself? I’m sure you see people doing this on a regular basis, but are they really doing anything? Are they rising their spine and injury by grabbing and twisting their own neck? One of the most common questions that I get from patients is if they can adjust themselves. To answer simply, no, not even chiropractors can adjust themselves, more on that later in this post.

So why do people think you can adjust yourself?

Most people view the adjustment as just “cracking” your back and don’t understand the purpose that the adjustment serves. They figure if they get some noise or popping, then it’s totally safe to adjust yourself. (Or they have someone give them a big bear hug or walk on their back to get some motion in the spine — these “techniques” are also not safe.)

First, the adjustment is much more than just “popping” your neck or back, even a self adjustment. It is a specific maneuver that is designed to either place a vertebra in the proper position, or to restore proper motion to a joint. Chiropractors perform detailed exams and any necessary x-rays before adjusting patients to ensure that they know which joint needs to be adjusted and that it is safe to do so.

We see patients with conditions in which an adjustment wouldn’t be recommended at all. More often, we see spinal conditions that require some modifications on our end in order to safely treat the patient. We may not do any twisting, use a special instrument, or not adjust a certain vertebra based on the exam and x-ray findings. 

When you’re adjusting yourself in public, we see people popping their own neck by putting their hand on their chin and turn their neck until they hear something pop. They have no idea what they are getting to pop, and what isn’t. For this reason, chiropractors use a specific contact to ensure that they know exactly what segment is being adjusted.

Is it possible to adjust yourself incorrectly?

Another important note is that a vertebra can be misaligned in a number of ways. A vertebra can move in 16 different directions, so it is important do know in which direction it has moved before making the adjustment. Chiropractors are trained to determine what direction the vertebra has moved and how to put it in the proper position. People who crack their own backs have no idea what direction the bone has moved, therefore they can actually be moving it further out of position.

Why does it feel better when you adjust yourself?

Have you ever noticed how often people crack their own neck? The reason for this is that when the popping noise occurs the body releases endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel good. The problem is endorphins only last in the blood stream for 15-20 minutes.

After that you start to feel the need to pop your neck again. So, you’re not correcting the problem at all, you are just using endorphins to cover the problem temporarily. An adjustment, on the other hand, is putting the vertebra into the proper position, therefore fixing the problem, so you don’t have to rely on endorphins to feel better.

People that get adjusted correctly will report that the results last much longer and they don’t continue to feel that “it needs to pop” feeling that makes them want to keep on cranking on their neck. The relief lasts long enough that they don’t keep overusing the joint and causing additional problems. 

In conclusion, no one can adjust themselves, not even chiropractors. While a chiropractor may be able to determine that the spine is safe to adjust and know exactly which bone needs to be adjusted, the direction of force and proper contact are just not possible to do yourself.

Even if you can pop your own neck or back, you are not fixing the problem, and you may even be making it worse. If you feel like the cracking you’re doing just isn’t lasting beyond 30 minutes, seek our chiropractic care and get the spine addressed more specifically.

Dr. Kevin Wafer

About the author

Dr. Kevin Wafer was born and raised in Spring, TX. Since his mother worked as a chiropractic assistant, he spent much of his childhood in a chiropractic clinic and was adjusted for the first time at only 3 months of age. Click Here To Read Full Bio

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