About Back Cracking
“Back cracking” is a deceptive term. The spinal facet joints make cracking sounds when they are manipulated. However, the back is not broken or cracked. Additionally, the cracking sound is often accompanied by a grinding sensation or feeling of pressure relief. There are three conditions that cause back cracking: cavitation, ligament or tendon snapping, and bone grinding. Generally, the first two conditions are not harmful. Each facet joint is surrounded by fluid, and cavitation occurs when the joint moves and an air cavity forms or collapses. Ligament or tendon snapping is the sound that the tissue makes as it is pulled across another internal body part. On the other hand, bone grinding can become an issue over time. Usually, back cracking is not painful, and it does not require medical attention. In fact, many patients experience temporary relief from stiffness or joint pressure from cracking facet joints.1
Is Cracking Your Back Bad?
Usually, back cracking is not bad. More research is necessary, but current medical knowledge does not suggest any long-term ill effects. However, there are situations where cracking a back is dangerous. Specifically, painful symptoms paired with back cracking may warrant medical attention. First, stinging, throbbing pain could indicate a pinched joint or irritated nerve root. Second, a joint that consistently cracks when manipulated could be dysfunctional. For example, the joint could have a damaged ligament, deteriorated synovial capsule, or osteoarthritis. Third, a locking spinal joint could have a deteriorated structure. Fourth, an injury that causes a change in joint cracking could indicate that there has been a structural change. Of course, patients should report any concerning symptoms to a doctor. Generally, though, joint cracking is not a dangerous activity. Most patients will not experience any long-term issues.2
How to Crack Your Back at Home
There are many safe ways to crack a back at home. Of course, patients should never use too much force. If the joint is resisting, the patient should use gentle stretches and movements to loosen tight areas. One stretch is the back extension, and the patient can use a fist to put pressure on and stretch the spine. The standing lumbar extension requires some flexibility and balance. Specifically, the patient uses their hands to put pressure on their back while they arch their spine backwards. In the upward stretch, the patient has to interlace their fingers and slowly lengthen their spine upwards and back. The standing spinal rotation has the patient gently twist their upper body left and right. Similarly, the seated twist and the supine twist are performed in a sitting position and supine position with a deeper stretch.3
Tools for Cracking Back
Patients can use objects to assist in the back cracking. For example, a chair is a very useful tool. Patients who have trouble balancing can sit on a chair and perform the upward stretch and lean back. The top of the chair puts pressure on the shoulder blades and upper back, and the patient can lean back until their back is cracked. Similarly, the chair twist uses the same motions as the seated twist. The supine foam roller stretch utilizes a foam roller to put focused pressure on the back as the patient rolls back-and-forth along the ground. Generally, patients should be careful whether they are using tools or not. Back cracking should never cause discomfort or pain, and patients should be wary of asking a nonprofessional to crack their back. Untrained people can cause serious damage without meaning to.4
Neck cracking can also be safe, but patients should still exercise caution. They should be very gentle and only neck crack occasionally. Unfortunately, neck cracking improperly, too frequently, or too forcefully can cause pain and damage. Neck cracking performed by a professional is generally safer, and it can provide relief. Some of the relief may be a placebo effect, but neck cracking also releases endorphins in the neck joints. Endorphins help with pain management, and they can also provide feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. On the other hand, improper neck cracking can pinch the nerves in the neck. It can also strain the muscles and joints, and it can become painful and difficult to move the neck. Furthermore, hypermobility caused by a lot of neck cracking can contribute to osteoarthritis. Finally, the blood vessels in the neck can clot and block the flow of blood to the brain.5
Cracking Lower Back
Lower back pain is one of the most common types of pain. Patients may experience relief when they stretch their lower back muscles. Many of the previously mentioned stretches can be used to crack the lower back. The seated lower back rotation, cat arch, knees-to-chest, supine lower back rotation, bridge stretch, and lower back flex can all relieve pressure on the lower back. Of course, patients should always stretch slowly and carefully. Fast, overstretching motions can cause muscle strains, joint sprains, and even bone dislocation. Patients who have recently injured backs, range-of-motion issues, or persistent pain should not attempt to crack their backs. Patients should never experience pain or discomfort while cracking their backs, and they should immediately stop back cracking if they do experience any negative effects. Temporary relief is not worth a safety risk.6
Chiropractic Care and Cracking Your Back
Chiropractors are trained to safely manipulate joints. It is normal to experience popping sensations and hear cracking sounds when a patient is undergoing a chiropractic manipulation. Trained chiropractors should never damage the back or neck, and patients should report any pain or discomfort. A chiropractor does not know if a patient is in pain, so it is always important to have clear communication during a visit. Spinal adjustment is used to bring the body back into alignment and relieve stiffness and pain. Chiropractic manipulation can also help treat many physical and mental ailments. Chiropractic care is safe, natural, and it is a better alternative to traditional treatment options. Chiropractors can also teach patients about helpful exercises, stretches, and lifestyle changes to maintain good health. The goal is for patients to keep the patient in peak alignment because misalignment contributes to negative conditions.7
Learn more about chiropractic care and adjustments.