If your back is constantly aching, you've probably twisted in a chair to crack your back or have had a friend push down on your spine to release some tension. This may have given you some temporary relief, but then you are back to aching later. While cracking your back may feel good in the moment, you may be doing more harm than good. Take a look at what's actually going on when you do that and why you should leave the adjustments to the professionals.
What Is Actually Happening When You Crack Your Back and Why Does it Feel Good?
Between your bone joints you have cartilage and synovial fluid, a mixture made up of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen. This fluid is vital because it acts as a lubricant, letting your bones glide without friction. When you overstretch your back, the joint capsule containing the fluid expands, the rapid change in pressure causes bubbles to form and collapse.
Cracking your back feels good because it stretches the joint, stimulates nerve endings, and releases pressure. However, this feeling is only temporary since the joint capsule will fill up with synovial fluid.
Is it Safe to Crack Your Joints—especially Your Back?
You've probably heard all sorts of opinions for and against joint cracking. Donald Unger won an "Ig Nobel Prize (a parody of the Nobel Prize for trivial or unusual research) because he cracked the joints in one hand every day and didn't crack the joints in his other hand. His research showed that cracking those joints didn't cause his knuckles to get arthritis.
So if Unger debunked that old wive's tale about knuckle cracking, does that translate to back cracking? Not exactly. The main issue with back cracking is the loss of elasticity in the ligaments. As you hyper-extend your back to feel a crack, you force your joints to extend beyond their usual range and so they can wear out over time. As they wear out,your muscles will tense up and have to work harder to keep your spine supported.
Also, since the structure of your spine plays such an important role in the nervous system, twisting or doing anything that could potentially harm the spinal cord isn't a good idea.
How Are Chiropractic Adjustments a Safer Alternative?
If you just crack your back to release tension you aren't really fixing the underlying problem. For instance, the condition Spondyloisthesis occurs when a vertebra has slipped forward. If you twist your back, it will relieve tension but it won't push that vertebra back into its proper position. A chiropractor on the hand, will take x-rays and physically correct these misalignments so that you won't have to constantly crack your back for relief.
Some people are afraid of the adjustment because they've seen pictures or videos of chiropractors manipulating the head and neck in what looks like a forceful adjustment. However, these adjustments are performed while you're relaxed; and, ADAtoday.org says the adjustments are safe and use less movement than you actually use to look over your shoulder.
So if you find that you are cracking your back a lot to relieve tension, it's better to be safe and have a chiropractor at places like Citrus Chiropractic Group address the root issue.