Spinal manipulation: what it is and how it helps you

Oct 8, 2020 | Education

Spinal manipulations are a form of manual therapy which have been used worldwide for centuries. In fact, Hippocrates (460–385 BCE) was the first physician to describe spinal manipulation techniques using gravity where a patient was tied to a ladder and inverted.

While spinal manipulations have come a long way (I promise there are no ladders at Excel Therapy), many people still feel apprehensive about the idea of ‘cracking’ their back. In this post, I’ll explain what spinal manipulations actually do for the body and how they can help various issues.


What is spinal manipulation?

Spinal manipulation (also known as osteopathic manipulation) is a manual therapy technique designed to improve movement. It’s a short, sharp thrust movement done with speed to release pressure within joints and therefore increase movement.

The vertebrae of the spine are connected by hinge-like facet joints (they’re also found in other parts of the body). The facet joints help stabilise the spine and keep us moving correctly. Each of these facet joints is surrounded by connective tissue and produces fluid which lubricates the joint for better movement.

Pressure can build within that fluid, limiting our movement. Spinal manipulation releases that pressure. So that clicking and cracking sounds aren’t from your bones, it’s the sound of pressure releasing from the facet joints. And in spinal manipulation, that’s what we’re aiming for.

Imagine a fizzy drink. If you shake that bottle and then open the lid, you’ll get a hiss and fizzle (and probably lots of mess) due to the pressure that’s built up. That’s a similar noise to what you’ll hear with spinal or osteopathic manipulations as the pressure of the joint fluid releases.


How can spinal manipulation help?

Spinal manipulation or osteopathic manipulation performed safely in a clinical setting can have many benefits including:

  • Manipulations can be good for increasing proprioception, which is individual awareness of the position and movement of the body.

  • Some studies have also shown manipulations can help with hypermobility.

  • Spinal manipulation can help relieve low-back pain, neck pain, and headaches


But doesn’t cracking joints lead to arthritis?

Have you been told that cracking joints causes arthritis? Osteopathic manipulations don’t directly lead to arthritis. (Several studies also found general knuckle cracking doesn’t increase the risk of arthritis either).

Manipulations increase joint movement. If a joint gets hypermobile (from constant pulling and stretching), the muscles around the joint will eventually tense up to give stability. Typically, that stability should come from the ligaments. If the muscles are under constant pressure to stabilise, then you will likely experience adverse effects.

Overall spinal and osteopathic manipulation is a very safe technique when performed in the Excel Therapy clinic. If this is something you need, your practitioner will explain in detail and get your consent before performing any manipulations. Above all, we want you to feel comfortable with your treatment.

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