Are you wondering if you’re doing more harm than good when you crack your back? If so, you’re not alone. Thousands, if not millions, of people routinely ask themselves or their health care providers the same question. There’s just something about cracking your back that feels so good but also so wrong. In today’s post, we’ll give you all the information you need to know about exactly what happens when you crack your back. To start things off, let’s go over some related anatomy.
The spine is divided into cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back), and lumbar (lower back) regions. Each region is composed of uniquely shaped bones known as vertebrae. There are a total of twenty-four vertebrae in the mentioned regions. The breakdown of vertebrae per region is as follows:
- 7 cervical
- 12 thoracic
- 5 lumbar
An anatomical spine is one in which the vertebrae of each region perfectly align to form a channel that allows the spinal cord to pass from the brain to the lower back. This channel is called the spinal canal. In addition to forming the spinal canal, the vertebrae have the important job of facilitating movement by serving as the sites for ligament and tendon attachments. The joints that are responsible for moving the spine are called the facet joints.
Facet Joint Anatomy
The facet joints are formed by the joining of adjacent vertebrae. Like all joints of the body, the facet joints consist of two bony surfaces covered in cartilage facing one another. A fluid-filled capsule surrounds each facet joint. A healthy facet joint is one that moves freely and smoothly. An unhealthy facet joint is one in which the bone, cartilage, or capsule is diseased or damaged.
Cracking Your Back
When you crack your back, you’re cracking your facet joints. The process that causes the “cracking” noise is really not that complicated.
The fluid found in the capsule that surrounds facet joints contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases. When you twist, turn, or maneuver your back in such a manner that stresses the facet joints, pressure is placed on the fluid and the gases inside it escape and a “crack” is heard.
Cracking your back can temporarily relieve tension and feel good; however, it is not a reliable short or long-term treatment option for back pain. Cracking your back every once and a while will not cause damage. Frequently cracking your back or manipulating your spine can lead to back problems. If you feel the need to constantly crack your back, you probably have an underlying problem with your spine. Some frequently seen problems include the following:
- Poor posture
- Muscle imbalances
- Ligament sprains
- Tendon strains
These and other problems are best diagnosed and treated by an orthopedic spine specialist. Once a formal diagnosis is made, an effective treatment plan can be prescribed and the urge to constantly crack your back will go away.
The main thing to look out for when cracking your back is the frequency in which you do it. Cracking your back on a daily basis should be avoided. If you’re in pain that won’t go away until you crack your back, you should make an appointment with an orthopedic spine specialist.