The Cracking and Popping Back

Some people have noisy backs, that pop and crack whenever they twist to the right or left, or bend over to pick something up or touch their toes. Others don’t find the sound occurring organically, but purposely put themselves through a series of stretches (or manipulations) with the specific purpose of making their backs crack. Whichever camp you’re in, here’s what you need to know about the cracking and popping sounds emanating from your back.

First, let’s address what the sound actually is. When you hear a pop or a crack, it’s coming from the facet joints moving into or out of their proper position. Facet joints are bony protrusions that stick out from each vertebra. The medical for the sound is crepitus. In most cases, it is completely harmless, and for many people it provides significant relief from stiffness and discomfort.

Medical science has never come to agreement on what causes crepitus, and they also aren’t entirely clear on whether the sound appearing is a good thing or a bad thing. The consensus is that it’s one of three possibilities:

  • Cavitation – Air pressure within the facet joint suddenly changing and leading to an air bubble in the synovial fluid either forming or collapsing
  • Ligament snapping – The same thing that happens when you stretch your ankle and it makes a popping sound. It’s caused by a tight ligament being pulled across a bone, another ligament or some other internal surface.
  • Bone grinding – This explanation is particular to people who don’t start experiencing the popping or cracking until they either are aging or have known overuse. It’s attributed to a deterioration of the cushioning that surrounds spinal joints, leaving the bones to rub together and make a grinding or popping sound.

Whatever the cause, the effect is not permanent. About 20 minutes after you hear a crack, you’re likely to hear the same sound again if you repeat the same motion that evoked it in the first place. That being said, making your spine crack repeatedly is probably not a great idea. If it gave you relief when you first did it, the relief should probably stick, and cracking joints probably isn’t something that should be done for amusement, though there is no medical research indicating that it causes harm.

Many people find that cracking their back provides tremendous relief from stiffness, particularly in the morning when they first wake up. Others are unable to achieve that effect on their own.

Our spine specialist in New Jersey offers massage and other types of manipulation that may provide relief of pain and increased range of motion. If you are able to give your back a good stretch in the morning that makes you feel better, and it produces cracking and popping sounds, there is nothing for you to worry about.

If you are in pain and unable to achieve relief on your own, make an appointment with our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey to discuss the various options that are available.

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