Are you wondering if you’re doing more harm than good when you crack your back? If so, you’re not alone. Thousands, if not millions, of people routinely ask themselves or their health care providers the same question. There’s just something about cracking your back that feels so good but also so wrong. In today’s post, we’ll give you all the information you need to know about exactly what happens when you crack your back. To start things off, let’s go over some related anatomy.
The spine is divided into cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back), and lumbar (lower back) regions. Each region is composed of uniquely shaped bones known as vertebrae. There are a total of twenty-four vertebrae in the mentioned regions. The breakdown of vertebrae per region is as follows:
An anatomical spine is one in which the vertebrae of each region perfectly align to form a channel that allows the spinal cord to pass from the brain to the lower back. This channel is called the spinal canal. In addition to forming the spinal canal, the vertebrae have the important job of facilitating movement by serving as the sites for ligament and tendon attachments. The joints that are responsible for moving the spine are called the facet joints.
The facet joints are formed by the joining of adjacent vertebrae. Like all joints of the body, the facet joints consist of two bony surfaces covered in cartilage facing one another. A fluid-filled capsule surrounds each facet joint. A healthy facet joint is one that moves freely and smoothly. An unhealthy facet joint is one in which the bone, cartilage, or capsule is diseased or damaged.
When you crack your back, you’re cracking your facet joints. The process that causes the “cracking” noise is really not that complicated.
The fluid found in the capsule that surrounds facet joints contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases. When you twist, turn, or maneuver your back in such a manner that stresses the facet joints, pressure is placed on the fluid and the gases inside it escape and a “crack” is heard.
Cracking your back can temporarily relieve tension and feel good; however, it is not a reliable short or long-term treatment option for back pain. Cracking your back every once and a while will not cause damage. Frequently cracking your back or manipulating your spine can lead to back problems. If you feel the need to constantly crack your back, you probably have an underlying problem with your spine. Some frequently seen problems include the following:
These and other problems are best diagnosed and treated by an orthopedic spine specialist. Once a formal diagnosis is made, an effective treatment plan can be prescribed and the urge to constantly crack your back will go away.
The main thing to look out for when cracking your back is the frequency in which you do it. Cracking your back on a daily basis should be avoided. If you’re in pain that won’t go away until you crack your back, you should make an appointment with an orthopedic spine specialist.
We are still open and treating patients, however, in order to assist in minimizing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and in order to make it safer for you we have made some changes which, we hope, will be temporary.
Appointments made for office visits will be distanced apart in order to avoid crowding the waiting room.
In addition, we are currently working a reduced office schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:30 AM to 12 noon. If for some reason, you are only able to come in the afternoon special arrangements can be made.
If you call the office and the answering service answers, you can leave a message with them for a routine follow-up and we will call you back. If you believe your symptoms are more serious, then please ask the answering service to patch the call through to me.
For some types of office visits, we also have telemedicine options that can be downloaded for free onto your iPhone. These include Zoom and FaceTime.
Thank you for your continued support during these times and we look forward to serving you in full capacity towards the end of April.
Donald Mackenzie, M.D, F.R.C.S.C, F.A.C.S.