Back Cracking: What Causes Your Back to Crack or Pop & Is It Safe?

About Back Cracking:

If you work in construction or are a manual laborer and bend and lift heavy items frequently throughout the day, then it is usual for your back to become stiff and cause pain. The stiffness may be so much that you start looking for a quick fix to relieve the tension, so that you can go about with your work without much fuss. This is when you move your back in a certain way and you hear a crack in the back. This not only gives relief from the intense stiffness, but also gives a sense of pleasure and relaxation and allows you to go about your work. The first time when this happens, it may have happened accidentally but the relaxation that it brings with it wants you to do it more frequently. This is when you start cracking your back to relieve discomfort and stiffness habitually. The question is what causes your back to crack or pop and whether it is safe for your back or not. The answer to both these questions has been delineated below in detail.

What Causes Your Back To Crack Or Pop?

What Causes Your Back To Crack or Pop?

Now we go into the details of what actually produces the cracking sound when moving the back in a certain way. For this, we need to understand first about a fluid which is present in the body called the synovial fluid. This fluid is present between the joints in the body and acts as a lubricant or shock absorber. This synovial fluid is present in the synovial membrane, which encompasses the end of our bones. The synovial fluid prevents the bone from rubbing against each other because increased friction between bones may lead to degeneration of the bones, a condition called as arthritis.

Coming to the cracking sound, when we move a tight or stiff back in a certain way, the space between the bones get expanded, which results in a gap being created between the bones where synovial fluid gushes in to fill the gap. The movement of the synovial fluid in this gap is what that produces cracking sound from the back.

There have been certain other causes given for back to crack or pop when they are moved a certain way. These causes are:

  • The cracking sound occurs when the joints are moved apart from each other creating a gap where synovial fluid forms a bubble. This bubble when it collapses or bursts causes the cracking sound.
  • Another cause for Back Cracking is believed to be over stretching of ligaments that surround the synovial membrane which produce the cracking sound.

These causes have been hypothetically suggested as possible causes of Back Cracking, but the cause which is believed the most in medical science is the one in which the synovial fluid gushes in to fill the gap that is created when the joint is moved or stretched producing the Cracking Sound in the Back.

Is Back Cracking Safe?

Back cracking does not cause any injury to the back itself when it is done occasionally and in moderation. However, when this is done habitually and more often then it may lead to some permanent damage to the joints in the back and spine. This condition is called as hypermobility of the joints.

Hypermobility of the joints of the back occur when the muscles surrounding the back and spine are over stretched. This is what happens when you crack the back on a routine basis. This causes the ligaments, muscles, and tissues to lose their elasticity. This in turn decreases the functionality of the back and spine muscles causing hypermobility of the joints of the back. This may be a condition which may require aggressive treatments with a physiotherapist or a chiropractor to bring the muscles, tissues, and ligaments back into shape so that they can function normally.

To summarize, Back Cracking is caused due to the synovial fluid rushing in to fill the gap that is created when you stretch the back and the space between bones get expanded. As long as this is done occasionally it does not cause any injury to the back or spine. The problem arises when Back Cracking is done habitually and routinely, which is when a condition called hypermobility is caused which may result in symptoms that require immediate attention by a physiotherapist or a chiropractor to stabilize and normalize the function of the back, which may become dysfunctional due to frequent Back Cracking.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 19, 2018

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