You may have heard your back ‘crack’ at some point or even gone to someone to get your back ‘cracked’. In technical speak it can be called a spinal adjustment or spinal manipulation.
What is a spinal manipulation?!
Well nothing is adjusted out of or into place in terms of spinal vertebra (bone) position or the discs. The spinal vertebral bones are in their structural position and DO NOT move out of their position unless they are broken/fractured. If they are broken, no one except a spinal surgeon should be “adjusting” anything!
Soft tissues around joints become can become tight through lack of movement and muscles around a joint can become tight, short or tense. This can lead to pain. One way of getting the joint moving which has been shown to give some temporary pain relief is spinal manipulation, or cracking your back!
What is the noise?!
The honest answer is no one is sure. The most popular theory is that it is the noise of nitrogen bubbles moving in the fluid in your joints. The noise is a by product of the movement, the main aim is to get the joint moving and encourage the surrounding soft tissues to become more supple and ‘loose’. Only a truly stiff joint should ever be manipulated in this way. If a joint is painful but not stiff, most likely it won’t help. It could in fact make you feel worse!
Is it harmful?
There is presently no evidence that cracking your back is harmful but it is not recommended long term. There are some people however who we would not recommend it for, such as people who are very hypermobile. That means VERY bendy, you will know if this is you. Anyone with osteoporosis should also not be having their back cracked, it’s just not worth the risk, there are other ways to move a painful stiff joint like exercise.
What else can you do instead?
If you are someone who keeps cracking your own back or keeps returning to someone for treatment who cracks it but does nothing else then please be aware there are other options.
Holding yourself in sustained awkward positions and muscle imbalances left to right sides or front to back, can sometimes be the underlying root cause of your problem. Lack of exercise, bracing your stomach muscles all the time (often unknowingly), holding yourself stiff or breath holding like when stressed can all contribute.
A stiff joint should get moving easily if combined with exercise. We use manipulations ourselves but we are not “adjusting” anything, just getting the joint and the surrounding tissues to move. Combine that with some active movement, exercise and posture changes and you could be well on your way to becoming pain free.
Manipulation is not for everyone. Some people like it, some don’t. A joint should NOT have to keep on being manipulated if you are doing the right rehab and moving your body well in life generally.
If you would like to find out more about other options for your back pain or neck pain please get in touch. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to stop all the crickety crack!