When a person cracks their back, the sudden movement causes air pockets in the synovial fluid of the joints to react with a popping or cracking noise.
Although cracking the back may feel good, it can result in injury, and it will not address any possible underlying conditions that may be causing the discomfort.
A person should consult their doctor if they frequently have back or neck pain. For those with occasional discomfort, cracking the back might bring temporary relief or satisfaction.
The following stretches can help ease tightness and may also cause the cracking sensation for some people.
Cat and camel is a technique that stretches out the back. The back may crack during the stretch.
To do the cat and camel, a person should:
- Start on all fours, with the hands flat on the floor in line with the shoulders and the knees in line with the hips.
- Gently raise the back into an arch, tucking the head between the arms.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Return the spine to a flat, neutral position.
- Arching the back, lower the stomach toward the floor and lift the head to look toward the ceiling.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Return to neutral.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommend the sitting rotation exercise to stretch the back. The movements that it involves can cause a person’s back to crack.
To perform the sitting rotation stretch, a person should:
- Start by sitting on the floor with both legs straight out in front of the body.
- Cross the left leg over the right leg.
- Slowly twist toward the bent left leg, placing the left hand behind the body for support.
- Place the right arm on the outer side of the bent left thigh and use it to twist a bit further.
- Look over the shoulder and hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Return to the start position slowly.
- Repeat on the right side.
The bridge is a more difficult stretch, so people should be cautious before attempting it.
To perform the bridge stretch, a person should:
- Lie on the back with the legs out straight.
- Bend the legs at the knee and place the feet firmly on the ground.
- Straighten the arms alongside the body.
- Raise the hips toward the ceiling, lifting them until they align with the torso and thighs.
- Place the body weight on the feet and shoulders.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly lower the hips back toward the ground.
People looking for a more advanced stretch can place their hands above their heads with the palms flat on the ground. From this position, they can push the shoulders off the ground.
Another stretch that the AAOS suggest for spine conditioning is the kneeling back extension.
To perform the kneeling back extension, a person should:
- Start on the hands and knees, with the hands directly under the shoulders.
- Lean the body forward onto the arms and round the shoulders while dropping the hips slightly toward the floor.
- Hold for about 5 seconds.
- Move the buttocks toward the heels, extend the arms forward, and hold for about 5 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
The extension exercise involves lying on the stomach on the floor or a mat. A person should only try this stretch if they can lie face down without experiencing any back pain.
To perform the extension exercise, a person should:
- Lie flat on the stomach and extend the arms over the head.
- Slide the arms down and prop the upper body up on the forearms and elbows, pressing the hips into the floor or mat.
- Push up the chest so that the weight of the upper body is resting on the hands.
- Hold for 30–60 seconds.
The knee-to-chest stretch involves bringing one knee at a time to the chest while lying on the floor or mat.
A person can perform the knee-to-chest stretch by following these steps:
- Lie flat on the back with the legs stretched out and the arms at the side.
- Bend the left leg toward the chest.
- Place the hands on either side of the back of the left thigh and gently pull the knee toward the chest.
- Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
- Repeat on the right side.
There is no proven benefit to cracking the back. However, stretching the back can help alleviate mild pain and stiffness.
According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching may benefit people by:
- preparing the back for the strain of exercise
- reducing muscle tension and aiding muscle relaxation
- reducing stress
- improving posture
- decreasing stiffness
- increasing the range of motion
- reducing the chance of injury
- alleviating post-workout aches and pains
- promoting circulation
- decreasing the risk of lower back pain
- improving the function of the muscles
People should avoid trying to crack another person’s back. If they apply too much force, they can easily injure the person.
Although the risk of a serious injury is low, people should still use caution when cracking their back.
Too much force can result in injuries, such as strains or muscle pain. In addition, a person may make an underlying condition worse through cracking their back.
People with back pain should visit a doctor or physical therapist to learn safe exercises to crack their back. A licensed professional will know how to move the spine without using too much force.
Long-term back pain may have an underlying medical cause, such as:
- degenerative spondylolisthesis
- disk degeneration
- spinal stenosis
- compression fractures
- a herniated disk
Until a person can seek care, they may wish to use heat or cold packs for pain relief.
A person can crack their back by performing back stretches. Stretching can have many additional benefits, such as helping prevent injury and improving range of motion.
A person should avoid letting anyone other than a certified physical therapist or chiropractor attempt to crack their back.