Chiropractic Adjustment for Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 09, 2024
4 min read

A chiropractic adjustment is a treatment to improve movement and relieve pain in your spine. A chiropractor uses their hands or instruments to apply quick thrusts of pressure to joints in your spine. The goal is to fix your alignment. Spinal manipulation is another name for chiropractic adjustment.

You don’t need to do anything to prepare for a chiropractic appointment. At the first visit, your chiropractor will ask about your medical history and examine you, focusing on your spine. They may do imaging tests like X-ray, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at your bones and joints. Then they’ll create a treatment plan for you.

During your appointment

Your chiropractor will position you according to your adjustment needs. Often, you’ll lie face down on a padded table. Your chiropractor will focus on one area of your spine at a time. They’ll apply quick, controlled pressure to a joint or move a joint beyond its normal range of motion. The purpose is to put your joints into better alignment.

You may hear a popping or cracking sound during the adjustment. It’s nothing to worry about. What you hear is the sound of gasses like oxygen and carbon dioxide releasing from your joints. You shouldn’t feel any pain during the adjustment.

After your chiropractic adjustment

You might feel some mild soreness in your joints after an adjustment. It’s also normal to have a slight headache or to be tired. You should feel better in about a day. Your chiropractor may suggest that you hold ice or heat to your joints to relieve the soreness. They may also recommend doing stretches at home to keep your joints flexible.


The most common uses for chiropractic adjustments are to treat: 

  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headache
  • Sciatica

Yet there is very little research to confirm whether adjustments work for any of these conditions. 

Low back pain. Chiropractic adjustment may slightly improve low back pain, and it might be a safer alternative to opioids and other pain relievers. Guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommend spinal manipulation for acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) low back pain, even though the evidence on its benefits is limited.

Neck pain. The evidence isn’t clear, but adjustments may help reduce the pain of acute and chronic neck pain.

Headache. Adjustments may lead to fewer and less intense headaches caused by a problem in the neck. But for migraine there’s not enough evidence to show that chiropractic works.

Sciatica. Pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the leg. One research review found that spinal manipulation may help relieve sciatica pain, but the evidence isn’t strong.

There’s even less evidence that chiropractic adjustment works for other types of conditions, like high blood pressure or period cramps.

Chiropractic adjustment is safe when you go to a licensed and trained chiropractor. Most side effects that happen are mild, such as:

  • Soreness or increased pain
  • Stiffness
  • Headache

These problems usually improve in about a day.

There have been reports of people having a herniated disk, stroke, or nervous system problems after an adjustment, but serious side effects like these are very rare. 

It may not be safe to get an adjustment if you have:

  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in an arm or leg
  • Very weak bones from osteoporosis
  • Cancer in your spine
  • An increased risk for stroke
  • A problem with the bones in your neck

Ask your doctor before you get an adjustment if you are pregnant. There hasn’t been enough research to show whether this treatment is safe during pregnancy.

A chiropractic adjustment is a treatment where the chiropractor applies quick thrusts to the spine to fix alignment, relieve pain, and improve movement. This treatment may help with low back pain and neck pain, but research hasn’t confirmed that it’s helpful for other conditions. An adjustment is safe when you go to a licensed and trained chiropractor. Side effects are usually mild and improve in about a day. 

Does a chiropractic adjustment hurt? 

An adjustment shouldn’t hurt. You will feel some pressure but not pain if it’s done correctly.

Is chiropractic care a good idea?

This treatment might help with low back pain and neck pain. But it may not be safe for people with severe osteoporosis, cancer in the spine, or an increased risk for stroke. It’s not clear whether chiropractic adjustment is safe during pregnancy.

Why do popping sounds happen during a chiropractic adjustment? 

The popping you hear is the sound of your joints releasing gasses like oxygen and carbon dioxide.

How does chiropractic heal the body?

This treatment aims to realign the spine, reduce pain, and improve movement.