It can be funny the kinds of things that somehow get passed around as truth. Some people call them “old wives ’ tales” while others insist that there’s some truth in them. One popular belief, the insistence that cracking your back or joints can cause arthritis, makes sense. At a glance, it’s easy to believe. But is it true?
Cracking your back does not cause arthritis. In fact, cracking any of your joints, like your knuckles, neck, back, or hips, is generally considered safe. For some people, the opposite is true: cracking the back can actually provide relief for some types of arthritis— when done properly.
What Causes Back Cracking?
There are several reasons why a person’s back could crack. But, the most common type of back cracking— the kind that is typically accompanied by a feeling of release— happens in the synovial fluid. The synovial fluid is natural lubrication surrounding your joints. It’s normal for gases, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, to build up in the fluid. When you pop or crack your back, it’s the sound of the gases escaping from the synovial fluid.
The same thing happens when you crack your knuckles, your neck, or any of your other joints. This kind of safe cracking doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort. In fact, most people feel a sense of relief after cracking a joint, as if they relieved some pressure there. This kind of back cracking is even common during spinal manipulations done by doctors of chiropractic. But what if it happens often?
Is it Bad to Crack Your Back Every Day?
There’s no evidence that cracking your back every day causes any harm. It certainly doesn’t cause arthritis or increase the likelihood that you will develop it as you get older. However, if you do pop your back every day, it may be a sign of something else happening in your spine.
A chiropractor can help you determine what is causing you to crack your back every day, and possibly fix the issue. This may be something as simple as needing a spinal adjustment or two.
Can You Injure Yourself While Cracking Your Back?
Some people are concerned about a slipped disc or another injury while cracking their back. While this isn’t out of the realm of possibility, it’s not a common occurrence. Of course, this largely depends on how you go about cracking your back. Any fast back cracking done by yourself or someone else who hasn’t been trained to work on the spine has the potential for injury.
One common way people crack their backs involves a friend grabbing them from around the back, lifting them off the ground, and then using gravity and the weight of their legs to crack the spine. We do not recommend this practice, as it can potentially be bad for the spine. If you can’t crack your back by yourself by twisting, it’s best to have a trained doctor of chiropractic do it for you.
Is it Bad to Crack Your Back If You Have Arthritis?
Now, if you already have arthritis, is it okay to crack your back? It depends. The type and severity of your arthritis, and your pain level, should dictate whether you should crack your back or not. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis morning stiffness may be tempted to try to crack their back, but some gentle stretching is usually the better bet, and only if it doesn’t cause any pain.
For people with osteoarthritis, cracking the back may feel good. But the type of cracking matters, also. If the bones are rubbing together and causing a grinding sound or sensation, it’s best not to try and crack the back, as it can make things worse. This is why people with arthritis should see a chiropractor for help with relief. Chiropractic care helps reduce inflammation and joint pain from arthritis.
The danger of cracking your back with arthritis isn’t in making arthritis worse. Instead, it’s all about your pain levels or comfort levels. If cracking your back feels good, you’re probably okay to do it. If it feels bad or uncomfortable, it’s probably best to skip it.
Of course, seeing a professional chiropractor can give you a better idea of how to relieve spinal pain from arthritis.
When Cracking is a Sign That Something’s Wrong
There are some instances when cracking your back is not a good thing. This isn’t typically the same type of cracking most people are used to. It often feels different. So here’s how to tell when not to crack your back.
- If you find yourself suddenly having to crack your back multiple times a day, it’s a sign something might be wrong.
- Pay close attention to how you feel when you crack your back. If it’s painful or too uncomfortable, avoid cracking it. Or, if it hurts while you crack it, something else likely needs to be addressed.
- Listen to the sound of the back cracking. It should generally sound like a crack or a pop. If it makes a grinding sound or keeps popping with normal movement, it’s best to see a healthcare professional.
Don’t Crack Your Back If…
There are some times to avoid cracking your back unless advised by a chiropractor or other medical professional.
- You’ve just been in an accident or have recently been injured.
- The feeling of “pressure” that often indicates that you need to crack your back could also mean something else. Get checked out after an injury and ask if it’s safe to crack your back.
- You have spinal cancer.
- You have an increased risk of stroke.
- You have severe or advanced osteoporosis.
- You have any abnormalities in the spine or neck.
- You experience tingling, numbness, or loss of feeling anywhere in the body.
Cracking Your Joints Is Considered Safe
Normal cracking of the joints is nothing to be worried about. There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that this type of cracking or popping can cause or worsen arthritis. In this case, it’s more myth than truth that cracking your back can cause arthritis.
But that’s not to say that your joints don’t need a little help from time to time. It’s best to see a chiropractor for knee pain, back pain, arthritis, neck pain, and any other issue of the musculoskeletal system.