Back cracking refers to a cracking or popping sound that comes from the back. This sound may be disconcerting, especially if someone is not familiar with it. However, it is common and not normally a cause for concern, unless the cracking comes with pain, swelling, or other symptoms.

The medical term for back cracking is crepitus. Professionals are unsure of what causes it.

One theory suggests it may occur when someone manipulates their facet joints in or out of their normal position. Facet joints connect the vertebrae, the bones that form the spine, and allow for a range of motion.

When a person manipulates the facet joints in this way, it creates an audible crack. They may also feel a release of pressure at the same time.

Another theory revolves around the build-up of gases in the joints. When a person stretches, the joints move, and the crack is the gas’s sound as it escapes.

In this article, we discuss the benefits and risks of back cracking, and explore how a person can crack their back.

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A person may experience pain relief from back cracking.

There are several potential benefits to back cracking. These include:

  • Pain relief: If a person feels pain or stiffness in the back, spinal manipulation may provide relief. For some, this relief may be instant. But for others with chronic back pain, they may need multiple spinal manipulation sessions to address an underlying cause.
  • Satisfaction: Anecdotal evidence suggests people find the experience of back cracking satisfying. An older study suggests that people may associate the cracking sound with a feeling of relief and release of pressure.
  • Improved range of motion: A 2017 study found that after a joint cracks, there is a small increase in its range of motion.

Supporters of back cracking suggest it is useful to treat the following conditions:

Although there are benefits to back cracking, it also carries risks. A 2017 review of manual treatment to the spine suggests that while harmless side effects are common, there is a rare possibility of severe adverse effects. Some risks of back cracking include:

  • Soreness: As back cracking manipulates the joints, this may cause soreness or discomfort.
  • Muscle tearing: A muscle tear can happen if a person overstretches a muscle. A person who attempts to crack their own back may end up in a position that overstretches their back muscles.
  • Stroke: Cracking your back, and spinal manipulation carry a small risk of stroke. Spinal manipulation that focuses on the neck may cause potentially dangerous tears in the neck arteries. Doctors refer to this as cervical artery dissection, a common cause of stroke.
  • Perpetual instability: Cracking the back may cause ligaments to stretch permanently. This is known as perpetual instability. A person with perpetual instability is more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
  • Pinched nerve: If a person cracks their back too quickly or uses excess force, they may end up with a pinched nerve. This can be painful and may require attention from a medical professional.

Due to these risks, a person may wish to see a medical professional who can help crack their back. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Care suggest that when a person consults a specialist, they should be:

  • checking their education and licensure
  • advising of any medical conditions, any use of prescription or over-the-counter medication, and dietary supplements.
  • asking about their experience and if they specialize in certain conditions
  • inquiring about the number of sessions they need, as well as insurance coverage

It is not advisable to attempt back cracking at home.

Only a certified or well-trained medical professional should perform spinal manipulation within an appropriate environment.

Back cracking may be due to the release of gas in the facet joints when a person manipulates them.

There are several benefits to back cracking, such as a feeling of satisfaction, pain relief, and improvement in range of motion.

However, it also carries several risks. This includes soreness, possible muscle tears, and pinched nerves.

If a person wishes to undergo spinal manipulation, a person should consult a medical professional with training in this discipline.