Is cracking your back bad for you? If you've ever done a twist and turn to hear that satisfying popping sound and release pressure in your spine, someone has likely warned you against it at one time or another. However, licensed chiropractors provide insights into the habit that may surprise you.
Some people crack their backs when they begin to feel pain or stiffness in the area, while some do it out of habit. It's also a normal function you may notice when moving in a certain way, laying flat on the floor, or using a foam roller. In many cases, cracking your back isn't bad for you. Other times, it may indicate an underlying issue that requires professional treatment.
Keep reading to learn more about what happens when your back cracks, the benefits, and risks of continuing the habit, why seeking chiropractic treatment is a better option and alternative ways to alleviate back pain.
The Science Behind Back Cracking and How It Affects the Body
What happens when you crack your back? Before answering the question of whether or not cracking your back is bad, it's essential to understand the anatomical process that takes place when you do.
Each vertebra in your back is surrounded by tiny cushions containing synovial fluid. These cushions enable the range of motion in your spinal cord and help relieve pressure from accumulating. When you crack your back, you expand these small cushions by way of twisting them out of their standard position. This releases some of the synovial fluid and moves your facet joints.
This process provides a sense of better mobility and less stiffness. Some experts also theorize that by doing so, the "feel good" chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, get a boost. This is part of why people crack their backs repeatedly–it provides a physical sense of wellness and a mood boost.
What If My Back Cracks When I'm Not Trying?
However, others experience back cracking without intention. This could simply result in tiny gas bubbles accumulating in your facet joints that release with unintentional movement. Other times, it's a sign that you have a subluxation–a misalignment in your spinal cord that only a chiropractor can address.
Cracking may also result from deteriorating cartilage around the vertebrae, damage from overuse (such as jobs that require manual labor or repetitive motion like frequent bending down and lifting), and aging. It can also result from muscle tension that puts undue stress on your spine.
Herniated discs may also produce a sound similar to common cracking, though it's not the same and needs to be addressed separately. If you're experiencing pain when your back cracks or sustained pain between cracking, it's time to see a professional.
Benefits and Risks of Frequent Back Cracking
Like most things in life, there are benefits and risks associated with cracking your own back. When asking the question, "Is back cracking bad for you?" there are several things to consider. Are you cracking your back out of habit and the satisfying result of those pops and releases, or are you doing so to relieve pain that returns continuously?
There are a few benefits of cracking your back. These benefits can include:
- Relieving occasional pressure in your spine.
- Releasing endorphins that give you a positive psychologic feeling and reduce pain naturally.
- Improving your range of motion, as long as the tenseness isn't the result of a medical condition or injury.
- Improved joint mobility.
- Reducing tightness, stiffness, and tension in your back.
There are also risks associated with cracking your back too frequently without professional treatment. These risks can include:
- Unintentional muscle tears.
- Pinched nerves.
- Over-aggravating your vertebrae with excessive cracking leads to more pain and potential damage.
- Muscle tightness and stress from cracking your back too frequently.
So, is back cracking bad for you? The consensus among professionals is that the occasional crack is fine, but no more than once daily. There are no long-term effects associated with cracking your back. If you're feeling the need to crack your back constantly, it's best to see a chiropractor for a formal evaluation to rule out underlying conditions.
Additionally, if you have underlying health conditions such as osteoporosis or arthritis, or are healing from an injury, you should avoid cracking your own back. This can cause more harm, increase symptoms from a health condition, and extend the healing time of an injury.
Benefits of Seeking Professional Chiropractic Care versus Cracking Your Back at Home
For those who experience back pain and enjoy back cracking, seeking professional chiropractic care is the best option. If you only crack your back once in a while when you're feeling stiff, you may have nothing to worry about. However, a chiropractor may be able to pinpoint the cause of your need to hear those satisfying pops, minimize the need to do so, and it's certainly much safer.
Chiropractors undergo years of higher education and training to obtain a Doctor of Chiropractic degree (they are not considered M.D.s). Since their primary focus of study centers on the skeletal system and soft body tissue, they're well equipped to identify back problems and properly treat the cause.
It's always better to have a licensed professional provide treatment. By doing so, you can maintain periods without back pain for longer, help realign your spine if you have a subluxation, and improve your range of motion, mobility, and treat any tension you're experiencing.
Seeing a chiropractor significantly reduces the risk of injury that can arise when cracking your back at home. In addition to providing traditional chiropractic adjustments, chiropractors also have access to instrument-assisted therapies. They can treat your spinal cord and the surrounding muscles in the same appointment and will guide you on how to maintain your back health at home between office visits.
Chiropractors help ensure your spine aligns correctly and that underlying issues are identified. They can monitor your progress and may even order procedures like X-rays or MRIs to better understand what's causing the need to crack. Additionally, they can provide you with guidance on how to safely crack your back or stretch your muscles to maintain that feel-good sensation.
Alternative Techniques for Alleviating Back Pain
There are other ways to help alleviate back pain aside from cracking your back at home. Massage therapy may help, as well as physical therapy if you're recovering from an injury. Being mindful of maintaining proper posture and using items such as lumbar support belts or cushions can help if your chiropractor recommends them.
Other alternative techniques for alleviating back pain include:
- Using a foam roller as directed by your chiropractor
- Electric Stimulation Therapy (E-Stim).
- Adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Ensure you're wearing shoes that provide adequate support.
- Over-the-counter pain relief creams.
- Applying heat or cold to the area as directed by your chiropractor.
- Exercise to retain mobility unless otherwise directed by your doctor or chiropractor due to chronic health conditions or injury.
- Always lift with your legs, not with your back.
- Stretch daily, once upon waking and before going to sleep.
- If you have a sedentary job at a desk, get up and walk around every 20 minutes or so.
- Based on your sleep position, ensure you're using the right mattress to support your spine while asleep.
- Explore nutritional or herb-based treatment therapies with your doctor and chiropractor.
- Take a warm bath.
- Use over-the-counter pain medication sparingly, if necessary.
Your chiropractor will discuss all of these options with you during your appointment and suggest the best techniques to treat your specific back condition. While these alternate techniques likely won't eliminate back pain on their own, they can augment spinal manipulation treatment and help you feel better faster and longer.
Please note that you should speak with your doctor before introducing the use of new medications or herbal supplements, or undergoing therapies such as E-Stim. This is especially true if you're pregnant, have a chronic health condition, are currently on other medications, or are healing from an injury.
You should not use these alternative treatments without prior education and guidance from a professional. In some cases, some of these treatments can make things worse. Each treatment plan should be individualized for your body, condition, and cause of pain.
Schedule an Appointment Today
ChiroCare of Florida has ten locations throughout South Florida, with over 100 years of combined experience. We provide pre-natal chiropractic treatment, pediatric chiropractic services, and treatment for chronic underlying health conditions and injuries, along with general wellness plans and therapies for those experiencing back pain.
With extended evening hours, weekend appointments available upon request, and specialty chiropractors on staff, we can accommodate your schedule and match you with the best provider.
Additionally, we work with many major insurance companies that can help cover the cost of treatment, including Medicare. Before your first appointment, we'll review your insurance benefits with your plan provider and let you know the cost before starting treatment. We pride ourselves on treating patients from a whole-body perspective and will carefully review your medical history and any prior imaging. We'll speak with you about your pain relief goals and concerns about cracking your back. From there, we'll develop a customized treatment plan and monitor your progress to adjust as needed.
While cracking your back generally isn't bad for you and likely won't result in harmful long-term effects, it's always best to seek a professional evaluation from a licensed chiropractor.
To schedule an appointment, contact us online, or call (877) 388-2165 today. Our injury and wellness providers look forward to helping you reduce back pain, provide education on how to crack your back and whether there's an issue with doing so at home, and more. Start the path to your pain relief journey today.