Why Does My Back Crack So Much?

Many people crack their backs regularly for relief from tension and stiffness. Cracking your back may bring comfort and open up your range of motion. But, when is this cracking too much? 

Experts agree that cracking your back isn’t an immediate cause for concern. But, if it’s painful or frequent, it could point to a spinal injury. In this article, we’ll answer the most common questions about back cracking, including when to seek medical care for your symptoms. 

Is It Normal for Your Back to Crack Easily?

It is normal for your back to crack easily, so long as the crack isn’t accompanied by pain. Generally speaking, if a back crack can be repeated again easily within a few minutes and isn’t painful, it’s considered normal. 

Many people’s backs crack every once in a while. This cracking is medically referred to as crepitus and usually originates in the joints, although it can also stem from soft tissue. There are two general types of crepitus, and the type can largely determine whether or not back cracking is a potential problem:

  • Cavitation-related crepitus: Cavitation occurs when pockets of gas or vapor form within a joint. When these pockets collapse, they can produce a popping or cracking sound. This is a normal sensation that may occur when the spinal joints reach the extent of their range of motion. In most cases, cavitation isn’t painful or a reason to worry. 
  • Arthritis-related crepitus: In some cases, crepitus occurs as a result of spinal wear and tear from osteoarthritis. Although osteoarthritis is irreversible, its symptoms can be improved with prompt treatment. Arthritic crepitus may feel like a coarse grating or clicking sensation. 

Back cracking can also be caused by a ligament or tendon snapping across another surface, such as bone, cartilage, ligament, or tendon tissue. The snapping can make a sound that’s often confused with the cracking of a joint. 

How Much Back Cracking Is Too Much?

Back cracking may be too much if you feel like you need to crack your back frequently throughout the day. It can also be too much if you use rapid, forceful movements to crack your back. 

Forcefully cracking your back can lead to back pain, inflammation, and even spinal injuries. If you’re concerned about cracking your back throughout the day, talk to a physical therapist or spine specialist. 

Why Does My Lower Back Crack So Easily?

Your lower back may crack easily because of your spine’s unique anatomy, or due to a spinal injury. 

If you have a lower back that cracks easily, you don’t need to seek medical care unless the cracking is painful. The precise inner workings of facet joint cracking aren’t fully understood by medical professionals, and some people’s lower backs simply crack more easily than others.  

Why Does My Back Crack So Much When I Twist?

Your back may crack when you twist because the spinal joints, ligaments, or tendons are moving into or out of their proper position. Back cracking with twisting can also result from gas bubbles in synovial fluid.

Back cracking when you twist the spine may be normal and no cause for concern. In most cases, it simply results from synovial fluid, which becomes gaseous when you release pressure on the back by twisting. However, if you experience frequent back cracking when you twist the spine, it may indicate spinal misalignment or even arthritis. 

Spinal arthritis leads to increased inflammation in the spine. In some people, this causes cracking noises when the back twists. If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal arthritis (also known as ankylosing spondylitis) and experience cracking with back twisting, talk to your doctor about this symptom for personalized guidance. 

How to Safely Twist Your Back

Additionally, make sure to avoid twisting your back suddenly or forcefully. While a gentle twist can stretch the back muscles and help alleviate tension, a forceful twist could injure the spine or worsen existing spinal symptoms

To safely twist your back, sit upright with your spine properly aligned. Then, slowly twist your torso in one direction, maintaining your posture. Hold the twisted position for a few deep breaths, then repeat to the other side.  

Is It Normal for Your Back to Crack During a Massage?

It is normal for your back to crack during a massage, to an extent. Massage therapy improves back mobility, and this increased range of motion can lead to cracking. However, painful or frequent back cracking during massage isn’t normal. 

If you’re interested in massage therapy, make sure to see a qualified, certified, and experienced massage therapist.

What Does It Mean if Your Back Cracks a Lot?

If your back cracks a lot, it may be a sign that you have tight back muscles, are over or under-using spinal joints, or have osteoarthritis. 

  • Tight back muscles can limit your spine’s range of motion. As a result, the facet joints may frequently reach the extent of their flexibility, causing back cracking. 
  • Over or under-using spinal joints can lead to frequent back cracking. For example, if you have to sit at a desk for much of the workday, your spinal joints don’t get used regularly. This can lead to regular back cracking. 
  • Osteoarthritis can gradually break down the cartilage that protects the facet joints, potentially causing crepitus, pain, and stiffness. 

Is It Good to Have Someone Walk On Your Back?

It’s typically not good to have someone walk on your back. It can be unsafe, place excessive pressure on the spine, and even lead to serious injury.

If you’re experiencing stiffness and pressure in the spine, don’t resort to having a friend walk on your back. Instead, try these safe remedies:

  • Gentle stretching
  • Yoga
  • Changing your posture (avoid long periods of static posture)
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Massage therapy from a trained massage therapist

In the long term, improving your posture, managing stress, and regularly partaking in low-impact exercise can help you avoid back stiffness. 

When Should I Be Worried About My Back Cracking?

You should be worried about your back cracking if it’s painful and/or accompanied by other symptoms, like neurological symptoms or swelling in the affected area. This may be a sign that the cracking is a symptom of a more serious spinal condition

What Injuries Can You Get From Cracking Your Back?

You can get the following injuries from cracking your back:

Pinched Nerve

A pinched spinal nerve develops when tissue impinges on one of the nerves in the spinal column. This can lead to back pain and neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness, and tingling. Forcefully cracking your back may place excessive stress on the spine, causing a pinched nerve. 

Muscle Strain or Tear

The sudden pressure placed on the back muscles with a forceful crack can cause a back muscle strain or tear. When a muscle is strained, it means that the muscle fibers have stretched and torn. A torn muscle involves a more severe tear in the muscle fibers. 

Herniated Disc

Cracking your back with too much force can strain the spinal discs. In severe cases, this can lead to a herniated disc. When a disc is herniated, it means that the disc interior protrudes from a crack in the outside of the disc, often causing back pain and neurological symptoms. 

Worsened Existing Spinal Conditions

Back cracking can worsen the symptoms of existing spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and degenerative disc disease.

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If you experience lasting back pain, stiffness, or nerve pain after cracking your back, schedule an appointment with a spinal specialist in your area.