Cracking the back is generally safe and may promote muscle relaxation and range of motion. However, it may be best to consult a doctor if a person has a frequent urge to crack their back.

Spinal adjustments do not always produce a cracking sound. If a person does not hear a crack while manipulating their back, this does not mean that the exercises they are performing are ineffective.

However, hearing a crack can provide a sensation of releasing tension and tightness from the back.

If an underlying condition causes the need to frequently crack the back, treating that condition may help reduce the need to frequently perform stretching exercises and manipulate the spine.

This article will explain if cracking the back is safe, its risks, benefits, and how a person can crack their back safely.

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According to the Arthritis Foundation, cracking the back is typically safe as long as a person is not forcing the movement or feeling pain.

The reason why people hear a cracking sound when they manipulate their joints is due to the ligaments around the joints and air bubbles in the synovial fluid, a liquid that surrounds and lubricates the joints.

However, if a person needs to crack their back more times daily, feels pain while cracking their back, or frequently experiences tightness, they may have an underlying condition causing these symptoms. They may consider contacting a doctor.

About 39% of adults in the United States have back pain. Doctors can diagnose the underlying condition that causes back tightness and discomfort and recommend the most appropriate treatment. This should also reduce the frequency at which a person feels the need to crack their back.

Learn about middle back pain.

If a person has back pain and stiffness, gently stretching their back may help improve their symptoms. Spinal manipulation may help improve health conditions such as:

  • low back pain
  • headache
  • neck pain

If a person has a condition such as sciatica, they should consult with a doctor before getting spinal manipulation.

Spinal manipulation, whether it causes a cracking sound or not, may provide relief from pain and increase the range of motion of the joints in some people. Spinal manipulation may also help people with migraine to improve their symptoms and reduce the duration of the migraine symptoms.

A person should never force spinal manipulation to crack their back or push it to the point of pain.

Doctors do not recommend forcing the back or other joints to snap or pop as this may cause injuries, such as:

Other, rarer, complications and risks of spinal manipulation may include:

  • injuries to the arteries in the neck
  • stroke
  • neurological problems

More severe side effects are associated with more forceful manipulation, which may be less likely from a person performing it themselves and more likely from another person, such as a chiropractor.

So, it is very important that people advise their doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor about their medical history. This can play an important role in preventing injuries and other complications of cracking the back.

If a person is experiencing back pain and feels spinal manipulation may help, they should choose certified or well-trained medical professionals to perform the manipulation. These experts will know how to prevent and limit the risk of injuries rather than a person attempting spinal self-manipulation.

However, if no pain or injury is present, people can do some gentle stretches for their back that may induce a cracking sound, though they should never force the movement to achieve this sound. These stretches include:

  • Cat-Cow Pose: Begin this yoga exercise in a tabletop position. Then slowly switch from arching the back and tucking the chin to staring up and dropping the stomach toward the ground.
  • Knee to the chest: Start by lying down on the back. Then slowly bend one of the knees, bringing it to the chest. Once in this position, hold it by positioning both hands on the knee or shin. After a few seconds, a person can return to the starting position and repeat the stretch with the other leg.
  • Kneeling back extension: Begin in a tabletop position. Then tuck the chin into the neck, arch the back, and push the hips back toward the heels so that the stomach is resting on the tops of the thighs or as close as possible. Keep the arms outstretched.
  • Sitting rotation: To start this exercise, sit on the floor with both legs fully stretched in front of the body. Then bend one leg and cross it over the other. Once in this position, slowly twist the upper body toward the bent leg keeping the opposite arm behind for support. The other arm should be stretched forward on the side where a person bends to provide a deeper stretch. Hold this position for a few seconds. Then slowly come back into the starting position and repeat on the other side.

While performing these exercises, people may hear a cracking sound but they should not experience pain or any other symptoms. If pain, swelling, or any other symptoms develop, they should stop immediately and see a doctor.

Learn more yoga poses for back pain.

Some questions people may ask a doctor during an appointment about cracking their backs may include:

  • Is cracking my back safe for me?
  • Why do I frequently experience the urge to crack my back?
  • How can I prevent the need to crack my back?
  • How often is it safe to crack my back?
  • Am I going to make my symptoms worse if I crack my back?
  • What other treatment options are available to improve my symptoms?
  • How can I make my back feel better?
  • What other home remedies can help my back?

Doctors, chiropractors, and physiotherapists can make lifestyle recommendations to people to help prevent back pain and other symptoms that may increase the need to crack their backs.

Learn when to see a doctor for lower back pain.

Gentle back cracking is typically safe. However, certain health conditions may increase the risk of injuries. Cracking the back can provide pain relief, muscle relaxation, and increased mobility.

However, cracking the back can cause muscle injuries, soreness, and pinched nerves. In some rare and severe cases, it may also cause blood vessel tears and stroke.

Medical professionals can recommend the most appropriate exercises for safely stretching the back and they can also perform back treatment to improve the symptoms of certain health conditions that may cause back pain and stiffness.