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Not What It’s Cracked Up to Be

November 1, 2017
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Most everyone has done it: when you feel some tightness in your back, you grab a friend, coworker, or significant other to a patch of carpet, position yourself face down and ask them to crack your back.


But is that good for your chronic back pain?  Let's find out. 

What’s Crackin’?

When you crack your back the joints in your spine, which contain oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide gasses, as well as fluid, lubricates the area where two bones meet. When liquid is placed under pressure tiny gas bubbles in the joint ‘pop!’

Depending on the severity or type of back injury that you have, the popping sound can also be joint, tendon or ligament movement. This commonly occurs more in the knee or ankle. In worst scenarios, the popping is caused by arthritis.

For most of the population, it’s the gas and liquid release that caused the sensation and leads to relief. So what’s the big deal?

Hypermobility or You’re Not Mr. Fantastic

Repeatedly cracking your back can lead to a condition called “hypermobility.” This happens when the spine and muscles around the spine are stretched repeatedly. Each time you crack your back you manipulate its joints and your ligaments stretch out like a rubber band. If you’ve ever tinkered with a rubber band, you realize that after enough stretching and pulling, it begins to lose its elasticity.

Unlike Mr. Fantastic, the emotional leader Marvel’s Fantastic Four, your ligaments will not return to their previous elasticity. As normal elasticity is lost, your back and spine move in unintended ways and your back becomes hypermobile. If you continue cracking your neck or back, your ligaments can no longer provide the structure and stability that the joints in your neck or back need to maintain proper alignment.

“Cracking or self-adjusting any joint within the body is bad for you if it is done in a habitual manner,” Dr. Christopher Anselmi, a chiropractor at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Integrative Care Center in New York City told Fox News. “These joints are composed of ligaments, tendons and other soft tissue structures which can wear out over time. Any undue placed on these joints can lead to premature breakdown.”

So Is It Safe to Crack?

Robert Hayden, D.C., former president of the Georgia Chiropractic Association told Shape that “he hears all the time about people trying to crack or adjust their back, neck, or other joints themselves or asking friends to help them out.”

Hayden warns that “unless your sister, BFF, or roommate has a license in chiropractic medicine or has studied osteology (that's the study of the structure and function of the skeleton, in case you were wondering), it's probably not the best idea.”

He said that there are numerous dangers to self-adjusting such as brain injuries, disk damage, even the potential stroke. None of those outcomes are worth the few minutes on the floor having someone step on your back for temporary relief. Instead, see your chiropractor for a proper professional adjustment.


Backers, we want you to weigh in. What are your thoughts on back cracking?

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