"Hey, can you walk on my back?" It's a question you've definitely either asked or been asked before. Suffering from back pain can leave you turning to this wild tactic, or other home remedies, in an attempt to feel 100% again. But, are these home remedies even useful, or can they cause more pain down the road?
Read on to debunk some of the most common back pain home remedies, and discover where these myths started.
1. Daily Cracking Doesn't Hurt You
Throughout the course of the day, routine movements cause the bones to be stretched apart. While this happens, the space between the synovial joints — the points where two of your mobile bones come together — begins to widen. Air bubbles begin to form in the synovial fluid found within the cavity of the joint once these spaces widen. As a result, when you forcefully stretch your bones apart as you "crack" them, these bubbles burst to release nitrogen and dioxide — hence, creating a "cracking" noise.
In essence, you're not actually "cracking" anything. You're simply popping the bubbles that have formed in the synovial joints contained in frequently cracked areas like the neck vertebrae, fingers, and knees. However, the underlying issue behind cracking is that our joints are not meant to be repeatedly stretched. When we do frequently stretch to crack them, they gradually become less stable. This can lead to an array of pains, including dislocated fingers, chronic back pain, and even sciatica. That satisfying cracking sound doesn't seem as worth it anymore, does it?
2. Using a Chair to Crack Your Back
If you've ever visited a chiropractor, you'll know that they will most likely crack your neck and back while performing an alignment. They are often alleviating pain from subluxation in the neck and spine. In order to do this, the chiropractor has completed extensive education and has a thorough knowledge of what the spine needs to perform at its best. That being said, a chiropractor will practice light to moderate amounts of cracking in order to relieve stress on your joints without repeatedly stretching them. But what is subluxation and can you alleviate pain from the comfort of your own home?
Following an uptick in chiropractic care, many individuals have taken it upon themselves to crack their own back using a chair. The idea behind the practice is simple: by either lowering the spine slowly over the back of the chair or twisting the body quickly around the back of the chair will force the back to crack. However, when you crack your back, you're forcing your vertebrae and joints out of their normal range of mobility.
Solo, you cannot crack all of the bones in your spine the way a qualified chiropractor can. This means you're most likely only stretching joints above or below the point in which you're twisting from the chair, placing an unnecessary amount of stress on those joints. Additionally, you're stretching your muscles unnaturally, which will most likely result in increased tension.
3. Walking on Someone Else's Back
Walking on someone else's back actually dates back to the ancient practice of Chavutti Thirumal. Roughly translated, the word "Chavutti" means foot or leg, and the word "Thirumal" means massage. Stemming from the Kerala region of India, this process was popular among practitioners of martial arts and classical dance. Soon the back walking process spread to areas of Japan, in which the element of pressure points was incorporated. This was known as Ashiatsu, or foot pressure. In the Japanese language "ashi" translates to foot, and "atsu" translates to "pressure."
This phenomenon spread to the West, and even in modern days many individuals turn to back walking as a means to reduce back pain. Unfortunately, the back walking process can be a vicious cycle of pain.
The excess movement of your joints when someone walks on your back forces your muscles to work overtime to keep them stable. Similar to attempting to crack your own back with a chair, your muscles will ultimately feel tighter following this event, and you can be tricked into thinking you need someone to walk on your back again to crack it. Attempting to rid yourself of tension this way will force your muscles to become even tenser, and will lead to an extreme amount of stress on your joints that can be detrimental to spinal health.
4. Hanging Upside Down
Of all these home remedies, hanging upside-down is by far the oldest trick in the book. Dating back to 3000 BC, hanging upside-down — known as inversion therapy — has been utilized to stretch the back and relieve lower back pain. In fact, Hippocrates, one of the oldest figures in medicine, practiced suspending his patients upside-down using ropes and pulleys to relieve abdominal pressure, boost circulation and correct poor posture.
The idea behind inversion therapy is that by hanging upside-down, you're relieving the pressure on your spine. This is due to the force of gravity pulling your vertebrae away from each other, which takes the pressure off your discs. What many people don't realize, however, is that while inversion therapy might provide temporary relief from back pain, it can also lead to serious injury if not done correctly.
Additionally, while you might think that being upside-down would help boost circulation and improve posture, this isn't always the case. If you have poor circulation or suffer from conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, or glaucoma, hanging upside-down can actually be dangerous. The increased blood pressure in your head can cause serious health complications, and the last thing you want is to end up in the hospital because you were trying to crack your back at home.
Luckily for us, modern medicine eliminated the need for the ropes. Instead, many people utilize inversion tables or pull-up bars to suspend themselves upside-down. The theory behind inversion therapy is that the force of gravity incurred on the body when it's stretched upside-down will draw apart adjacent vertebrae that are placing pressure on the nervous system.
While it has not been scientifically proven that this therapy is a long-term effective treatment, this has not stopped thousands from trying it on their own. However, putting the body in this position could be risky for anyone with high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma. Likewise, utilizing this method too often can throw the entire balance of your spinal system out of whack.
5. "Bear Hug" Spinal Adjustments
Many people are familiar with an easy way to get some satisfying cracks from your back with the help of a friend. With this method, the "patient" crosses their arms over their chest and their friend wraps their arms around them from behind, hugs firmly, and picks them up — often with the result of major popping and cracking through the cervical and thoracic spine, as well as the sternum and other areas in the chest or ribcage. Don't do this.
As you have likely recognized from the aforementioned remedies and the associated risks, it is important to realize that the cracking sounds are not necessarily an indication of an improvement to your health or a successful remedy.
These cracks are caused by popping the bubbles in the synovial joints, and while the cracking may sound like the maneuver is helping, it rarely, if ever, actually is. In fact, a bear hug can lead to other significant issues such as compressed nerves, herniated disks, or even a stroke.
If you are experiencing back pain, posture issues, limitations to your mobility, or a feeling of constant pressure in your thoracic or cervical spine, working with a trained professional is the best way to minimize your risk of additional injuries or complications while getting the care you actually need. Repeatedly using this method may ultimately worsen your condition in a number of ways, and we strongly encourage you to avoid relying on at-home treatments such as a bear hug for your spinal issues.
6. Taking a Hot Bath
While a hot bath might sound like a relaxing way to relieve back pain, it's actually not as effective as you might think when your pain stems from an alignment issue. Soaking in a tub of hot water might provide temporary relief, but it won't do anything to address the underlying cause of your pain. For sore muscles, a hot tub is a great option — for back pain, not so much.
In fact, taking a hot bath can actually make your back pain worse. When you soak in a tub of hot water, your muscles loosen and relax. This might feel good at first, but when you get out of the tub and try to move around, you may do more damage to your spine because the muscles holding it in place are weakened.
Soaking in a tub of hot water might provide temporary relief from the pain, but it won't do anything to address the underlying cause of your pain.
Are you looking for pain relief? Please, do yourself a favor and don't attempt it alone. Whereas simple stretches, moderate exercise, and natural treatments can be helpful, in the case of back or neck pain, attempting to contort the spine without the aid of a professional is dangerous and can have lasting side effects.
Cracking your back may feel good in the moment, but it does not guarantee lasting results or provide a cure for underlying issues. In fact, as we have seen, some of the most popular methods for cracking your back can actually do more harm than good.
At ChiroCare of Florida, we provide comprehensive care for patients with back and neck pain, utilizing a variety of techniques that are designed to relieve pain while also correcting the underlying problems and developing a long-term plan for recovery and maintenance.
Chiropractic care is gentle, effective and often covered by insurance! If you're looking for a chiropractor Aetna and other insurances will cover, contact us for more information. Leave the home remedies where they belong - in the past - and contact a ChiroCare professional today for a body adjustment.