Cracking your own spine: Is it ok or are you doing more damage?

We see many patients who have the habit of cracking their own neck or lower back. In most cases, people experience stiffness after prolonged sitting or looking at a computer screen. Many crave the feeling of relief that comes from a crack or pop in the neck, but is it actually good for you? The short answer is no, and it could actually contribute to your problem or maintain your long term stiffness.



Cracking own spine

WHAT IS THAT CRACKING OR POPPING SOUND?

The first cause of a crack or pop when doing a movement is either a ligament or tendon that moves over a bony part or one another. A ligament connects bone to bone; it restricts movement. A tendon connects your muscle with your bone. Sometimes these ligaments or tendons are tight and will roll or rub over your bones and a clicking sound will appear. This is the case when the click keeps happening with every movement you do.

The second cause of a cracking sound is called cavitation. Our joints contain gases, such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide; together with fluid they cushion and lubricate the joints. Specific movements or pressure in the joint will create gas bubbles that make a cracking or popping sound. Getting that cavitation can give you relief and can ease the discomfort in a tight area.

Getting the crack or pop in your spine (neck, mid back or lower back) can give you endorphins and will feel good initially, but it’s not necessarily what you need and can cause you more harm in the long run!

WHY IS CRACKING YOUR OWN SPINE BAD?

Leave the adjustments to a specialist health practitioner, who has extensive knowledge and experience. There are many arteries and veins that can be damaged by cracking your neck if you’re not sure what you’re doing. These vessels carry blood to and from the brain, so forceful movements could increase the risk of a stroke.

Another danger of repeatedly doing these movements is damaging or stretching your ligaments. This can cause hyper-mobility and/or instability, which could cause muscle tightness. This will then give you the urge to crack your spine again, and so on. It’s a negative spiral that you need to stop as soon as possible.

HOW DIFFICULT CAN IT BE TO STOP DOING THAT?

Many people find it hard to stop cracking their own spine; it’s a habit and changing behaviour is not easy. The first step is being made aware of it and realising that it can be causing or contributing your problem, rather than solving it. Many people don’t even think about it or do it consciously.

When you stop for a few weeks, in most cases your soft tissue will normalise and the urge to crack will reduce or ideally disappear. Strengthening your core muscles can be helpful to help support and improve your spine mechanics.



WHICH CRACKS ARE OK AND WHICH ONES SHOULD I AVOID DOING?

Generally speaking, the clicks or pops that give you an instant relief when you search for it are the ones you should avoid. When something repetitively pops with normal movements, but it doesn't give you that relief that you're after, that's usually ok.

E.G. When you roll your shoulders backwards or forwards, you might hear a popping sound every time you do that movement. This is most likely not a cavitation, but muscle fibres flicking over your ribs. That's ok and is not dangerous.

CAN I CRACK MY KNUCKLES AND WILL IT GIVE ME ARTHRITIS?


The effects of cracking your own knuckle

The story of arthritis that’s caused by cracking your knuckles is an urban legend. It was probably invented by someone who didn’t like the sound and your mom used it to scare you. There is no evidence or research showing direct links between arthritis and cracking joints.

The fingers or toes are simple joints and will not be impacted by these actions. If you can’t resist cracking something, go ahead and pop your knuckles. Oh, and tell your mom that it won’t hurt, refer her to this article :-)