How to crack your back?
By Ehren Allen, PT, Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist
How to Crack Your Back?
As a physical therapist that specializes in manual therapy, patients ask “how can I crack your back?” or “is cracking my neck bad for me?” “Cracking your back,” “Cracking your neck”, or self-manipulation is common but not necessarily a healthy option for relieving pressure or pain in the spine.
People who regularly self-manipulate may enjoy the euphoric sensation that occurs due to the endorphins that are released when they feel the “crack or pop.” These natural chemicals can become addictive and stimulate your brain to crave a frequent release which may lead to habitual “back cracking.” Over stressing the joints of the spine with frequent self-manipulation may lead to instability and worsening of degenerative or inflammatory issues in the spine.
A “pop” or “crack” may occur when a facet joint in the spine is rapidly separated. Facet joints are encapsulated and contain a viscous substance to lubricate the joint called synovial fluid. When the joint is quickly gapped or separated, there is a rapid change in volume of the sealed joint capsule which expands the synovial fluid. When this occurs, the fluid releases a gas which makes a popping sound. The joint is not “popping back in place” when this occurs. If the joint is irritated a quick separation of the joint surfaces also stimulates movement receptors, which inhibit pain receptors. This process may relieve pain temporarily but there is also risk of irritating or damaging tissues if the pain is due to other issues such as disk problem or sciatica.
Manipulation requires a trained professional who can perform a thorough evaluation to determine the best course of treatment within the scope of their practice. I do not recommend attempting this on your own.
A safer option to relieve pain is to consider gentle ROM exercises in a range of motion that does not increase pain. This stimulates movement receptors similarly to self manipulation, but produces significantly less risk for further injury.