I’ve heard this story a lot, especially lately. I figure it’s a significant enough situation that something needs to be said about it. Let me know if this story rings a bell…
“Dr. Daly, I have a friend who cracks people’s backs for free. Isn’t that the same thing you do? If that works why should I see a Chiropractor?
Sound familiar? If not a question you’ve said aloud, I’m certain you’ve either thought it or had someone ask it in regards to Chiropractors. In retrospect my biggest mistake was not getting anything signed to get that nickel for every time I have heard it… I need better legal representation…
Good question though right? It doesn’t matter who gets your bone to crack as long as it cracks! What’s the difference?!
Well, some might claim it doesn’t matter. I however have to play the devil’s advocate and say it matters very much. As I often do, I will elaborate.
So let’s wrestle this, what’s the big deal with people “cracking” one another’s backs. I can vividly remember people in middle school, high school, and later college who would boast this ability. They would offer to crack your back, and would do so without any pre-requisite qualifications other than success after a few drinks. So let’s start this simply; the spine is complicated.
There are numerous moving parts, hundreds of muscles, and let’s not forget the spinal cord with its 62 separate spinal nerves. Chiropractors have spent over 100 years studying just the spine and how it operates. Chiropractors- Both through history and today have spent their years developing techniques to manipulate the spine (cracking). We know how to manipulate joints with the appropriate amount of force and in the right direction to both create change and avoid side effects.
Without training and education, there are many possible side effects to trying to manipulate the spine. A short list includes broken ribs, sprains/strains, and without a proper examination any number of more serious side effects- incontinence, paralysis, perhaps even strokes! Non-specific and often aggressive attempts to manipulate the spine may get the crack, but are hardly without risk. Again, not to toot our own horns, but Chiropractors are doctors who specialize in the treatment of the spine. We know how to examine it for conditions and disease, we know how and when to treat, and most importantly we know when NOT to adjust.
All side effects and nuance aside, the most important issue I have with the good ol’ back crack, is that it is practicing without a license. “So what? It’s not hurting anyone?” Wrong, first of all it is a criminal offense and a felony in most jurisdictions. Second, going blindly into anything that you have no understanding/experience with is always a bad move. Having the tools for the job isn’t the same as knowing how to do the job. Adjusting the spine may seem easy- odds are you have a spine, and most people have a hand or two, so it seems pretty straightforward. But If I received a bullet wound (yikes, what was I doing?!), I would prefer to be treated by a trained trauma surgeon over someone on the street with a knife and a set of needle-nose pliers!
So let’s discuss the real world example of what can happen when we do this. So we’ll pretend you offer to crack your friend’s back. He’s been having a rough week and you don’t think he should have to pay for what you can do right at home. You tell him to lie down and you proceed to walk on his back to get it to crack. Now, Let’s also pretend you don’t exactly have a thorough understanding of the spine and your foot slips and you break a rib. Your friend gets mad about the broken rib (which are generally pretty uncomfortable) and does a not-so-friendly thing and sues you. You have no license, so right from the start you have have zero defense for what you were doing. Next you have no malpractice/ liability insurance, so whatever he sues you for you will be paying for out of pocket. Suddenly the harmless crack you did ends up being a $200,000 oopsie with a chance for jail time.
This whole post might sound like a ruthless exaggeration, but I would caution you to talk to a Chiropractor first. We spend a significant amount of time in school learning the ins and outs of working with the spine. We know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing is worse than the “adjustments” performed from first year Chiropractors (not picking on anyone, I was there once). Limited skill and limited knowledge in anything is going to be trouble, but with regards to healthcare and Chiropractic specifically is often painful. We pay for malpractice because even the best Chiropractor, on his best day, isn’t without the possibility for risk.
I swear I’m not just writing this from a soap box to try to sound better or more capable than anyone else. The point of writing this is to bring home an important point- it’s dangerous to practice without a license. If you think someone need’s a back adjustment either take them to someone licensed to treat the spine, or tell them to wait a few years for you to get the appropriate education and license to do so. Questions? Comments? I’d be happy to talk- Dr. D.