Is Cracking Your Back Bad?

You have had a tough day and you feel the tension in your back. You turn a certain way and your back pops and cracks – and the tension in your back is gone. You have just done a “self-adjustment” and may have started a habit. But is cracking your back bad for you? If not, how often should you crack your back to avoid overdo it? How to perform back cracking correctly?

Is Cracking Your Back Bad?

The short answer is that if you crack your back occasionally to relive your pain or back stiffness, it should not cause any consequences. However, if you do this on a regular basis, damage may be done to your spine, and you will find yourself needing to crack your back much more often for relief.

Hypermobility and Why It Harms Your Spine

A healthcare provider (physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist) can help to diagnose the problem that is leading to the need for cracking your back. Remember that repeatedly cracking your back can lead to a condition called “hypermobility”.

Hypermobility results when the spine and muscles around the spine are stretched repeatedly. Normally, the spine, muscles and ligaments of the back are elastic much like a rubber band. As you move, this natural elasticity results in a return to normal position when you relax the muscles of your back. When you repeatedly stretch a rubber band, it eventually loses its elasticity. When the structures in your back are stretched repeatedly by cracking, they also will begin to lose this normal elasticity which can result in the inability of the back to return to its normal position. As the normal elasticity is lost, your back and spine move in ways that were never intended – your back becomes hypermobile.

How Is Back Cracking Performed?

Before doing any back cracking, be sure to consult your healthcare provider who will undoubtedly give you back exercises to build the strength in your back. When you have been examined by your healthcare professionals, they may tell you that it is OK to occasionally crack your own back. There are several different methods you can use to perform the process.

1. In a Chair

First, sitting in a stationary chair with arms, reach across your body and grab the opposite arm of the chair. In other words, reach your left arm across your body and grab the right arm of the chair. Very gently and slowly, twist your body to the right until you feel the release of tension and hear the crack. Do NOT stretch violently or quickly since this may result in damage to your back. Repeat stretching the other way.

2. On the Floor

You can also crack your back while lying flat on a firm surface. Bend one leg and stretch it across the other leg until the knee touches the floor. For example, with your left leg straight, bend the right leg up and gently and slowly stretch the left leg across the straight right leg. Try to touch your left knee to the floor on the outside of your right leg. Stop when you hear your back crack or if the stretch becomes too painful. Repeat with the other leg.

See some good yoga stretching exercises at:

Is Cracking Your Knuckles Bad?

What about cracking other joints? Many of us were taught that cracking your knuckles will result in arthritis in your hands. This is probably not true, but is cracking your knuckles bad for you? When you crack your knuckles, the sound is actually caused by gas (carbon dioxide and nitrogen primarily) in the synovial fluid of the joint to quickly move into the space caused when you pull the bones of the joint apart. After you crack a joint, it takes as much as half an hour for the gasses to dissolve back into the joint fluid where it more properly belongs. As you crack your joints, the stretching of the ligaments actually stimulates the nerves and makes the joint feel pretty good.

But are you doing harm? While the research indicates that cracking your knuckles will not cause arthritis, repeatedly cracking the joints of your hands can have the same effect as it has on your back. Just like the hypermobility that can happen in your back, the same thing can happen in your hands with repeated knuckle cracking. The elasticity of your ligaments can be affected and you can begin to lose strength and coordinated movement of your hands.

It is always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider if you notice any joint pain or stiffness. You should never use self-adjustment as a way to care for your back or your knuckles!

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