You arrive home from work, placing your keys in a circular bowl next to your front door. You can start to feel your low back pain symptoms creeping up — you've popped your back out of joint yet again. Your first thought is, "I need to make an appointment with my chiropractor," but you look at your phone and the office is already closed. What can you do? You may start to wonder if cracking your own back is a viable option.
Chiropractic care helps your body heal in a non-invasive way. One technique your practitioner might use to help you is spinal manipulation. This treatment includes massage, physical therapy, and exercise in an effort to alleviate low back pain. It's generally regarded as safe, particularly when care is managed by trained professionals.
While it's recommended that you have a chiropractor handle your spinal manipulation, there are ways to crack your back (also known as self-manipulation) at home. Learning the proper ways to crack your back can relieve some of your chronic back pain symptoms and save you time and money while giving you immediate relief.
Why Crack Your Own Back?
If you've ever had that uncomfortable feeling of restriction between the joints in your back, the first thing you want to do is crack your back. That release offers instant relief and allows you to move more freely.
“[Cracking your back] tends to feel good,” says Dr. Daniel Shaye of Performance Chiropractic in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Restricted and stiff joints often feel like they 'want' to move, and self-manipulation (cracking) is an attempt to free up those joints. Manipulating a joint, with or without a reason to do so, creates some extra mobility in that joint and an anesthetic/pain-blocking effect for a brief while.”
That advice, however, comes with a caveat.
"Treatment needs to be paired to the problem. If a part hurts, [ask yourself] does it need to be stretched, or exercised, or massaged, or manipulated? Doing the wrong thing may be useless, or harmful," Shaye warns.
"If a joint is hypermobile (moves too much), it might feel good to 'self-crack' – but you’ll be making your problem worse. The spine is wired in a way that it’s sometimes hard to tell what the pain generator is going by symptoms alone. Having a neutral (and trained) third party evaluate and treat the cause(s) is wise."
Should You Crack Your Back?
Cracking your back allows you to help your vertebrae change position in order to realign or relieve pressure from within spinal joints caused by gas bubbles. Only if it is accompanied by pain should you be concerned about damaging your back by cracking it. While cracking your back is considered harmless and no evidence supports long-term joint damage as a result, chiropractors prefer for you to use stretches and massage to get relief from your joint tension.
“It’s safe to gently stretch and if something goes “pop” then that’s typically not an issue. Self-manipulation — especially involving sudden movements or excessive twisting and leveraging joints — is generally ill-advised,” says Shaye.
He adds that spine-related pain that doesn’t go away in a few days, that radiates, that is incapacitating and/or interferes with activity, or that is the result of trauma (or sometimes without trauma), should be treated by a chiropractor or other medical professional.
"Not everyone who 'cracks their back' will end up in worse shape than when they started, but some will!” says Shaye. “Whenever you feel like you need to self-manipulate is a good starting point to ask yourself if a chiropractor would be best suited to handle this.”
How to Safely Crack Your Back at Home
In the video below, physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck demonstrate techniques for cracking your back at home. While designed for educational purposes only, they are not recommended for people with chronic back pain or a herniated disk. As with any medical education video, consult with your chiropractor or doctor for best results.
By carefully following these tips, it is possible to crack your back without a chiropractor, but proceed with caution.