Being on go mode at all times takes a toll on your body. Typing away at your computer or running around all day can result in an uncomfortable, achy feeling. You know how it goes: Your joints tighten up, and the urge to twist and turn to crack your back creeps in. You give in, and that familiar “pop” sound signals a soothing release. Your back feels a little better afterward. And every time your back tightens up, you crack it again in hopes of relieving the tension.
Is it bad to crack your back all the time? The short answer is yes. Treating your back to a crack is not the answer. If done in moderation, you’re less likely to experience dangerous side effects. We’ve all probably cracked our back every now and then, and we’re fine, right? However, becoming a habitual back cracker can actually make your joint pain severely worse.
A recent analysis conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that if you’re feeling pain in your lower back, cracking your back only helps with short-term pain and won’t cause any significant improvements. Things like this are better left to a professional. So we called on Todd Sinett, DC, a New York–based chiropractor and author of 3 Weeks to a Better Back, and Amanda Brick, DPT, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy, to spell out signs you need to pay attention to if you find yourself having to crack your back way too often.
Chiropractors crack the code below. Read on for everything you need to know about this unhealthy habit.
It Can Cause Even More Strain to Your Joints
“The cracking sound is actually a release of carbon dioxide gas that builds up in a joint,” explains Sinett. “Self–back cracking can cause injuries such as muscle pulls or even strain tendons and tear ligaments. You can also over-stretch yourself in an attempt to crack your back. It is even more contraindicated to self-crack your neck. Self-cracking your neck can compromise your blood supply to your head and neck.
“Ideally you want to get to the cause of why you feel the need to crack your back. A chiropractor or physical therapist are both trained to evaluate the need and cause of back problems. If your back cracks naturally and unforced during a simple stretch or exercise, enjoy the release. However, the crux is you don’t want to purposefully try to crack your back.”
Brick also believes that instead of constantly cracking your back, you need to see a professional. “Unlike a physical therapist or a chiropractor who can precisely crack the level of the spine they deem necessary, when you crack your own back you may be targeting an area already under strain or compensating for other segments from abnormal movement patterns,” says Brick. “Also, routinely cracking your back can just be another way to prolong or mask the issue, rather than address it.”
You Could Be Suffering From a Chronic Instability
“Many times, the people who crack their backs often are people with chronic instability or weakness,” explains Brick. “Cracking their backs causes relief from a buildup of pressure or tightness, which is essentially the release of gas build up inside the joints. The urge to crack your back really stems from a segment in your spine not moving correctly.”
Brick continues: “A decrease in range of motion, pain while cracking, and a numbness or tingling that radiates into your leg after you’ve cracked your back are all signs that you should stop and follow up with a skilled professional.”
You Can Do Healthy Stretches Instead of Cracking Your Back
“Stretches that promote movement in all directions can help relieve pressure without cracking your back,” advises Brick. “Yoga positions, such as cobra and child’s pose, both may feel good, as well as a stretch known as the ‘open book.’”
To do the open book stretch, Brick suggests you 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.
Next up: find out the real reason you're addicted to cracking your knuckles.