The truth about cracking your back according to an osteopath

Health

There is nothing more satisfying than that sweet release after you crack your back, especially if you’re experiencing pain. But is a pop here and a crack there doing any damage? We consult osteopath Poonam Shah

What causes ‘back cracking’?

There are a few hypotheses of how back cracking, clinically known as joint manipulation, works. One of the theories suggests that it is the tight muscles, and little gas bubbles being trapped within the tight structures, suddenly getting released which causes this audible pop. Joints can sometimes form adhesions and get ‘stuck’, and with a little pressure in the right direction, speed and thrust, these adhesions get disrupted and hence can also cause this audible noise.

Why does it feel so good?

The reason this feels good is that this sudden release can improve local blood circulation to the irritated area, reduces pain, loosens tight muscles and improves range of motion to an area that might have been once restricted. It can also help to lessen areas of stiffness, which is why someone may opt to crack their own back, to help feel freer and more mobile. This is becoming more and more evident with desk-based workers.

Is it true it releases endorphins?

Endorphins are chemicals produced by the nervous system that helps us cope with pain or stress. When we pump more blood supply to certain areas of the body, especially post-gym/exercise/running, we get a rush of these chemicals. Getting your back cracked may provide relief of pain and a sense of wellbeing, and therefore this can boost mood and has been found to increase endorphin release.

Is it bad to do it every day?

Cracking your back every day is not advisable by professionals such as myself. With anything, too much of something is never a good thing. The same applies to back cracking, the body can develop a sense of dependency which means over time, the joints can become weakened and unstable. This then causes the muscles around the area to overwork, tighten and compensate for this weakened area, which will lead to a vicious cycle of more pain and stiffness.

What are the risks?

It’s always advisable to see a professional such as an osteopath who can screen patients to see if manipulation is the best course of treatment. It’s necessary to rule out any red flags which can act as a contraindication and do more harm than good. Please do not assume cracking your back is safe for you, without professional advice from a qualified practitioner.

How can you do it safely?

The advice I can give as a fully qualified osteopath is, if your back cracks or clicks naturally upon stretching or using a foam roller, which is very common, this is fine as long as it’s not done intentionally. There is nothing to worry about if you hear spontaneous audible noises, but if these pops and cracks cause pain and discomfort, then this is the time to consult your local osteopath.

By Sam

Main image: Shuttershock

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