What’s the truth? Does the cracking sound from the back mean bad things are taking place inside your body? Here’s the full story:
What Makes That “Cracking” Sound, Anyway?
Whenever you apply pressure to a joint, especially the kind of joints like the ones in the back, which are called synovial joints, there’s often a release of gas from the joint that makes a popping or cracking sound. Sometimes it’s quite harmless but it can also be risky.
The small vacuum pockets of gas that escape and make the cracking sound. That in itself is harmless. It’s very similar to the sound you hear when you crack your knuckles. The problem is that the human back is a much more complex thing than a finger or a knuckle. The worst that can happen when you crack a knuckle is you might feel slight pain afterward.
But cracking a back can lead to some pretty serious problems, primarily because of all the nerves and blood vessels in the area that are likely to be injured.
You Shouldn’t Do It and Here’s Why
People who crack their backs often, or even habitually, are in danger of bringing on some rather serious problems. It’s not at all like cracking your knuckles. Whether you enjoy cracking your neck or your back, you are actually forcing creating the cracking noise by straining the muscles around the spinal column. It’s never a good idea to manipulate these muscles yourself. Only a trained medical professional should do it, and it should be done for a specific reason, like helping you to relieve pain or increase your range of motion.
Doing it yourself can easily lead to a more restricted range of motion and pain in the joints. There’s an additional risk for people who already suffer from arthritis. For them, cracking the back can irritate sore joints even more. The same goes for those who suffer from a herniated disc. Cracking usually makes things worse for the already injured disc and leads to more pain and discomfort.
The big problem, according to experts, is habitual or routine back cracking. Over time, the damage builds up and can lead to a condition known as hyper-mobility. That’s when joints are looser than they need to be. In cases like that, the sufferer is prone to joint injury.
Reasons to NOT crack your back
- It can lead to a major decrease in your range of motion
- Cracking can irritate arthritis
- It can make a herniated disc worse
- Cracking can lead to “hyper-mobility” and vulnerability to certain types of injury
- Cracking too often or too vigorously can lead to injured tendons, ligaments or joints
Why Does Cracking the Back Feel Good?
Among most everyone who has experience back cracking, there’s a common belief that the cracking leads to a generally good feeling. That’s not because you’re doing anything beneficial for your body. Quite the contrary. Back cracking us usually a risky practice. The “good” feeling is the result of the endorphins that are released when you do the cracking. Endorphins are the body’s natural way to kill pain.
Whenever they are released into the bloodstream, they cause a feeling of wellness and calm. When you crack your back, you’re actually doing something not so good for your body but getting a positive feeling for doing it. The endorphin release is how people can eventually become addicted to back cracking.
What Can People Do Instead of Cracking Their Backs?
If you are an “every now and then” back cracker, there’s no need for alarm. Most people do it a few times for no real reason, or accidentally do so while stretching or reaching for something on a low or high shelf. It’s the habitual practice that can lead to serious problems.
So, what should you do instead of cracking? If you are not in the habit of cracking your back, there’s no need to worry. Good back health comes from sleeping on a supportive mattress, getting regular exercise and eating properly. Those three things, along with getting enough sleep each night are the main factors that contribute to long life and healthy backs.
Don’t let someone else crack your back. Ever. It’s tempting to ask a friend to do so but is never a good idea. Because the other person doesn’t know how much pressure to apply, and in any case is not a trained chiropractor, having a friend crack your back is a dangerous endeavor. If you truly feel a strong need to crack your back, visit a chiropractor so you can find out if there are any problems with your joints, tendons, ligaments or nerves. Always play it safe when it comes to the health of your back.
The Importance of Seeing a Medical Professional
If you crack your back once in a while but don’t find yourself doing so every day and don’t feel the “need” to crack it all the time, you likely don’t need to see a professional about the situation. However, if you are one of the millions of adults who cracks their back regularly, it is a good idea to consult with a chiropractor. Here’s why: the urge to crack the back can be the body’s way of telling you something very important. For example, habitual cracking is often related to multiple kinds of problems.
What it might mean if you are a habitual “back cracker”
- You suffer from a range-of-motion restriction
- The joints in your back could be poorly aligned
- You have much more muscle tension than normal
- There are other serious issues with the overall health and alignment of your back