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Why do I need to crack my back all the time?

3 minute read

Some people relish that satisfying ‘pop’ they hear when they stretch, but why do we do it, is it normal, and is cracking your back bad?

“People like to ‘crack’ their back because it feels good, especially when they feel stiff, and it helps them achieve a sense of satisfaction,” explains GP Dr Amandeep Hansra. “It can release endorphins, and the sound and feeling can be addictive – hence people want to keep doing it. There is an assumption that hearing the ‘crack’ or popping sound means tension or tightness is released.”

But that tell-tale popping sound accompanying a good spine crack might not mean what you think it means – and no, it’s not your bones cracking!

“People often crack their back by twisting, leaning forward or leaning backwards,” Amandeep continues. “But the sound or feeling of your back cracking is actually thought to be related to air bubbles in the synovial fluid within our joints.”

When you crack your back, what happens?

What happens when you crack your back by stretching or twisting, explains Amandeep, is “you stretch the capsules around the outer edge of the vertebrae, specifically around the facet joints. This stretching allows synovial fluid within the joint to become more gaseous. As some gases are released, such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, they make a cracking or popping sound.”

If you find yourself wondering, ‘why does my back crack so much?’, don’t worry. Most people’s joints pop and crack from time to time – it’s completely normal.

Is cracking your back bad for you?

We might hear a loud popping or cracking sound when we exercise or bend, or when a health professional – such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist – manipulates our bodies to achieve the sensation. Spinal manipulation techniques apply pressure to move joints beyond their usual range of motion. This can lead to an audible crack or pop.

So, whether it happens naturally or is forced, is cracking your back bad for you? Fortunately, back cracking is not normally a cause for concern – but if it’s accompanied by pain or swelling, it could indicate arthritis or another medical condition.

“If you have ongoing pain or discomfort in your back, or any other concerning symptoms such as tingling in your arms or numbness, see your GP or physiotherapist,” suggests Amandeep.

Back cracking with too much force or too fast can have these impacts:

  • Pinched nerves in or near your spine
  • Strained or torn muscles in or around your back and neck
  • Injured blood vessels (which can ultimately cause blood clotting, potentially leading to stroke or other brain injuries)

Also, if you do it too frequently, you run the risk of stretching your back ligaments, which could raise your risk of osteoarthritis as you age.

“Always speak to a professional if you need assistance, and do not be tempted to ask a friend or family member to crack your back for you, as they may use force or pressure that is actually harmful to your back,” adds Amandeep.

Do I need to crack my back?

“There is no need to regularly crack your back and if you do it forcefully or too frequently, it can cause damage,” advises Amandeep.

There is no need to regularly crack your back and do it too frequently and it could cause damage

Is there anything you should be doing instead?

If you want to safely relieve tension at home, gently stretching your back and doing some exercises is the best way to manage stiffness and flexibility issues, says Amandeep.

“Yoga, Pilates (or clinical Pilates with a physiotherapist), or just five minutes a day of simple back exercises are alternative ways to prevent back pain, tension and stiffness,” she advises.

Are you struggling with back or neck pain?

Whether it’s a muscle spasm, sharp pain, dull ache or a combination of all of the above, back pain is something most of us will experience from time to time. Check out our article outlining the best ways to reduce or eliminate lower back pain.

Have you found yourself with a literal pain in the neck? The good news is there are things you can do to treat, manage and prevent neck pain before it worsens. Find out more about how to fix a sore neck.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

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