NEW YORK – There’s a recurring motif in the comments on Instagram videos featuring Justin Lewis, a blond Manhattan chiropractic doctor with broad shoulders and a boyish grin: Alongside comments marveling at how crisply and loudly his patients’ joints clicked into alignment are unmasked expressions of longing.
Lewis’s 165,000-plus followers wrote “I need it” in response to a post showing Lewis adjusting a lower back while a clip-on mic amplified the crunching, cracking and grating sounds.
“I need some,” a woman commented on a video showing Lewis adjusting the neck of a female patient with a series of loud pops.
“Ugh, I NEED this right here,” one user writes beneath a video showing Lewis scraping shoulders of a young female wearing a workout top before he sinks deep into the crevice of the spine and shoulder blade. This is Lewis’s “scapular-release,” a technique that aims at relieving shoulder pain and increasing range of motion.
After watching enough videos of Lewis releasing scapulae and cracking backs, one can easily notice the stiffness of their own lumbar. Hearing their mic’d up pops and cracks also evokes a desire for a sudden bodily release bordering on the indecent, as well as a secondhand feeling of relief.
Lewis is one of many friendly, photogenic chiropractors who have become influencers in recent years. This is largely due to algorithms that keep recommending more chiropractors for people who have watched just one chiropractor. Lewis, who has a following of nearly 3 million on TikTok has a lot more than Alex VanDerschelden, the “OC Chiropractor” from Southern California, with 4.5 million. Dr. Cracks, a chiropractor known only by his name, has upwards of 6 million. CrackAddictz, a YouTube page, offers a compilation of the most satisfying chiropractor adjustments. These are to be consumed in the same way that pimple-popping videos are: obsessively and parasocially.
Humans have always sought to restore their bodies to a vague sense of their natural, divine functioning order — a feeling of overall well-being that specialized, targeted medical care can’t provide. For better or worse practitioners have always been ready to intervene whenever our chakras appeared blocked, when our humors were unbalanced, when our meridians became constricted, or when our orgone levels seemed out of whack. The search for relief is universal, and the solutions are as endless as the options. In 2023, it’s not surprising that laptop workers connected to the internet around the world will find relief through online videos.
Lewis, 35, began posting videos on Instagram in spring 2020 with the help a social media-savvy pal, after the steady stream of visitors to the newly-opened chiropractic clinic suddenly slowed down. Three years later, Lewis posts between three and five clips a week on his various pages on YouTube, Instagram TikTok Facebook and Pinterest. These include adjustment videos that are usually made in partnership with influencers or sportspeople, as well as songs or memes tailored for chiropractic care. Lewis’s fanbase has grown accordingly.
“We receive messages from people as distant as Africa, and Europe.” Lewis tells me that patients have flown in from Italy. Visitors “are often like, ‘Oh we’ve watched hundreds of your videos. Like, that’s crazy,” he adds.
Michael Rowe, a St. Joseph, Mich. chiropractor with nearly 2.8 million YouTube subscribers, has found that his popularity online has inadvertently threatened the stability of his office. “I’m a small town chiropractor, but now we have people calling us from all over the globe, just to talk to me or come see us. Rowe tells us that we have to explain what I do at the office is not different from what you get at your local chiropractic clinic. “I feel bad for my receptionist.”
Chiropractic videos are no different. At a certain point you start looking for more intense content. This may explain the popularity the Y-Strap – a tool that is fastened under a supine patients’ chin, and then yanked from the body in order to “release the pressure from the vertebrae on the spine from top-to-bottom,” according to the website of the manufacturer.
Caroline Smith, a waitress from Columbus, Ohio who shares chiropractic videos with her sister via direct message, jokes she’ll block any chiropractors whose videos do not feature the Y strap — for wasting her valuable time. Smith, who has suffered from back pain ever since a basketball accident in her teenage years, fantasizes about how life would be without it. “I want my spine decompressed,” says Smith. Smith enjoys watching VanDerschelden’s Y strap adjustment videos.
VanDerschelden is possibly the most popular idol among all the Internet’s dreamy chiros. He is also known for his “magic-hug” videos in which he stands up on the table and leans in to his patients. He then cradles the head and neck of his patients in his arms, until he finds a stiff spot, at which point he pulls inward. A microphone picks sounds that are crunchier than the sound of a brick falling into a bowl full of potato chips. (The cracks and crinkles, for what it’s really worth, are caused by pockets of gas escaping between joints – not bones colliding.
The Y-Strap is what fascinates and alarms the most aficionados. VanDerschelden declined my request for an exclusive interview. However, Joseph Cipriano a chiropractor who has offices in Tampa, Atlanta, and Greenville, S.C. and a YouTube channel that boasts him as “Y Strap Doctor” and has more than 2,000,000 subscribers, told me he swears it. He says that patients feel “lighter and taller” after using the straps. Many swear they can “breathe better, smell better, hear better, and even see clearer” after using the device.
Lewis and other chiropractors have reservations. “When I adjust someone’s neck, i’m feeling the neck. “I can adjust this area by putting my hand there,” he said. A Y strap, on the other hand, uses a more blunt force. “You’ll feel cracks in your back, but they’re not specific.” I think that specificity is important in this industry to ensure your safety. (William Zelenty a spine surgeon from New York’s acclaimed Hospital for Special Surgery watched a few Y Strap videos for this article.) He was dismayed when we spoke over the phone. “There is very little difference between these straps and a noose.”
Cipriano estimates that “99.9 per cent” of his patients visit him because they have seen his clips on the internet. “Everyone says that the Y strap is the main reason that they are coming.”
The videos have become a part of many people’s jobs in this field. Lewis films at least a couple of hours every day he is in the office. He estimates that 80 percent his clients book with him because they saw his videos. Cipriano wants to post new content on YouTube every other day, and offers a discount for patients who allow him to film their adjustments.
One wonders, of course, if being adjusted by a viral chiros gives the same satisfaction as watching someone else do it. When I visited Lewis on a warm, sunny Friday in his office, located on the 8th floor of a gray, nondescript building near Penn Station I requested a full-body adjustement, including the scapular releases. I thought the latter looked beautiful in the videos. Lewis warned me that it didn’t feel lovely while it was happening.
Lewis contorted my arm back behind my torso, slowly and painfully, with the Graston tool. It felt like a rug-burn, not a massage. He assured me that it would only take a few seconds each time. I could only nod, my brows twitching like an accordion.
Even the fabled, back-cracking back-cracking felt surprising similar to my brother body-slamming into the couch, when we were children. The crunch could be heard. The relief was muted.
The next morning, however, as I stretched out my arms into angel wings during a sun salutation class on a Saturday morning, I felt that they extended longer and further back than in previous years. That was transcendent.
We understand how important it is to choose a chiropractor that is right for you. It is our belief that educating our patients is a very important part of the success we see in our offices.