When your back is sore from sitting in the same position too long or from repeatedly bending over, it’s only natural to assume that twisting, turning and arching your back is going to release the tension and make it feel better. Indeed, when you hear that little cracking sound, your back often does feel a little better.
But indulging the habit of cracking your back like that can do more harm than good in the long run, causing more strain on your joints that could, over time, make your pain even worse.
Snap Crackle Pop!
The sound you hear when you crack your back is actually a release of carbon dioxide gas that has built up in a facet joint. Besides releasing that gas, cracking your back could lead to a muscle pull, a strained tendon, or a torn ligament. It’s even worse to crack your neck when it feels stiff because it can weaken blood supply to both your head and neck.
Although your back cracks naturally and unforced during exercise or a simple stretch, you don’t want to crack it on purpose because you may be affecting an area that is already under strain or compensating for other segments from abnormal movement patterns. Also, routinely cracking your back is just a way to prolong or avoid an issue that needs to be addressed.
Stretch it Out
The urge to crack your back is often a sign of chronic instability or weakness. It may provide instant, temporary relief from the buildup of pressure or tightness, but it actually indicates that a portion of your spine is not moving correctly.
Instead of cracking your back, you might consider doing healthy stretches designed to promote movement in all directions and help relieve pressure. Yoga positions, such as cobra and child’s pose, can be beneficial, as well as a stretching exercise known as the “open book.” Here’s how it works:
Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Stretch both arms out to one side, so both hands are touching, then turn your upper body to open up your chest while moving your top arm across your body. Hold this pose for two to five seconds. You can do this 10 to 15 times on each side to really stretch out your back.
The Bigger Issue
If you experience a decrease in your range of motion, pain while cracking, and a numbness or tingling that radiates into your leg after you’ve cracked your back, you should stop what you’re doing and follow up with a trained chiropractor or physical therapist to evaluate the cause of your back problems as it could indicate a structural or degenerative problem with one or more of your joints.
Using manual manipulation, a physical therapist or chiropractor can precisely focus on adjusting your facet joints to provide a healing environment and reduce your back pain.