Whether you're stuck in an uncomfortable seated position behind a desk or spend most of your days completing strenuous tasks, chances are that your back is experiencing the brunt of the pain and discomfort. If you find yourself wanting back relief, you're not alone. The CDC reported that nearly 40% of adults had back pain in 2019. Cracking your back, when done safely, can help you experience major relief and help remove built-up tension and pressure from your spine. Keep reading to learn more about what causes back pain, if cracking your back is a safe method of relief, and how to crack your back safely.
What Causes Back Pain?
It's important to understand that there are varying levels of back pain, and although some back pain can be diminished by cracking your back or stretching, more serious and long-lasting back pain should be addressed with your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing back pain that can find relief from simple movements and cracking, chances are that you are experiencing pain and discomfort due to your lifestyle. Some of the common causes for this type of back pain include:
- Sitting in a single position for long periods, especially with poor posture
- Obesity, which can cause excess pressure to be placed on the spine
- Completing strenuous tasks like exercising, lifting something heavy, or pushing and pulling without proper back support
- Being older than 45, which is when these pains become more common
The back is made up of several different structures in the spine that rely on each other to support your body's everyday movements. When one of these structures is not properly supported, it can make completing daily tasks increasingly difficult. Before you decide to give cracking your back a try, assess your back pain and confirm that it is not due to an injury, as cracking your back could cause further damage.
What Happens When You Crack Your Back?
Hearing your back crack and pop can be alarming the first time around, as the sounds can make you feel as though you are doing damage to your spine. However, understanding where this noise comes from can reassure you.
When you begin to feel the urge to crack your back, it's because your back is experiencing a certain level of pressure between the vertebrae, which are the interlocking bones of the spine that help support about half of your body weight and give your body the strength and flexibility to move the way that you do. Pockets of fluid surround each vertebra, and when pressure is built up, gas forms within this fluid. When you move or stretch in a certain manner, this pressure and gas are released from the fluid, which contributes to the cracking or popping you hear.
Once this gas is released, there is less tension and pressure buildup between your spine. This is what allows you to feel relief following a good back-cracking session.
Is It Safe to Crack Your Back?
For most, back cracking and popping can unintentionally happen with certain stretches and movements. Although natural back cracking is typically considered to be safe, intentional and continuous back cracking should be avoided. Forcefully cracking your back may not have repercussions the first time around. However, a back cracking habit can lead to concerning injuries, including:
- Pinching a nerve
- Inflammation of your joints
- Muscle strain
- Blood vessel injury
- Joint instability
Overall, back cracking should not be a painful experience. If you are experiencing pain, speak with your doctor about an underlying cause and rule out a possible injury.
How to Crack Your Back
Chiropractors are a great alternative if you are wanting to realign your spine, pinpoint the pain site, and get relief. This also ensures that you are not moving in a way that may cause further injury. If you are wanting to take matters into your own hands and have tools for back pain relief in your daily life, consider doing some of the following stretches that might provide that natural back-cracking response:
Sitting rotation. Sit on the floor with both legs stretched out in front of you. Bend one leg and cross it over the other. Slowly twist your upper body toward your bent leg. One arm should be behind you for support and the other should be on the side of your bent thigh for a deeper stretch. Hold this position, slowly release, and alternate.
Cat and camel pose. Begin this pose in a tabletop position. Slowly alternate from arching your back and tucking your chin into your neck to gazing up and dropping your stomach toward the floor.
Kneeling back extension. Begin this pose in a tabletop position. Tuck your chin into your neck, arch your back, and push your hip back towards your heels.
Knee to chest. Begin in a lying-down position. Slowly bend one of your knees, and, holding onto your shin or knee with both hands, bring your knee to your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds, then do the same for the other leg.
When doing these gentle stretches, you may experience the natural cracking and popping of your back. This is normal and should not be a cause for concern unless they are accompanied by pain. Continue these stretches to relieve any pressure and tension in your back. Tell your doctor if you keep having pain and discomfort.