There usually comes a point in the day when it's time for a big, juicy stretch, and along with it, a nice snap, crackle, and pop of the neck, back, or knuckles. But "cracking" your joints and bones is something that you're usually told is a terrible habit that will leave your body all gnarled up and in pain. But really, is it bad to crack your back, or is that just one of those things your parents insisted on reprimanding you for as a kid? I mean, come on, it does feel pretty darn good when you do it, so what's the harm?
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news for all of the back-crackers of the world (myself included), but according to Jeffrey Yellin, DPT, CSCS, of Professional Physical Therapy, it really isn't good for you when you crack your back — at least, when you do so on your own.
"When a person performs a violent twisting motion," Yellin tells Elite Daily, "they are taking a nonspecific spinal joint and pressing it into an extreme position, giving off the audible cracking sound." Yeah, I guess that doesn't sound very good, when you put it that way.
Apparently, Yellin says, cracking your back in "an unskilled way" can be really bad for you.
The problem with cracking your own back, Yellin explains, is that the "release" you experience is not specific to the spinal level or back issue that actually needs to be corrected. In other words, it's kind of like you're scratching an itch, but you're not actually getting rid of the rash.
So, unfortunately, instead of making anything better, the cracking you do can affect certain parts of your spine that just don't need that intense or forceful of a stretch. According to Yellin, cracking your back a lot, over time, could leave you with an unstable, misaligned spine. However, the physical therapist tells Elite Daily, "a skilled back crack," one that is done by a licensed health practitioner, can isolate the part of your spine that actually needs some relief and adjustment, without making things worse in the long run.
But cracking your back isn't the only thing you can do to help your creaky, aching spine.
According to Yellin, simple, spinal-flexing stretches can help relieve the tension in your back. "Muscles that cross the lumbar spine and sacrum, including the hip flexors, hamstrings, piriformis, and glutes, should be stretched to keep the area loose," he tells Elite Daily. And if you have no idea what those muscle groups are, Yellin's basically just referring to your lower back, hips, and butt — stretch all of it! Specifically, Yellin recommends spinal mobility exercises like the cat/camel yoga stretch, prone press-ups (which you can watch in the above video), and knee-to-chest pulls.
And while this may seem kind of obvious (but also sort of impossible to accomplish) Yellin says it's important to remember that your back, on a regular basis, shouldn't feel tight, stiff, or tense. A healthy back, he explains, usually feels pretty comfortable and loose. If you're feeling like you literally need to crack your back all the time, it's in your best interest to see your doctor and/or a physical therapist to figure out what's really going on in your body.
If you're anything like me, though, you've probably kept yourself up at night wondering what, exactly, makes that cracking sound in your back in the first place.
Well, the formerly held belief, according to SELF, was that, when you put pressure on your joints, it builds up little pockets of gases like oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It was thought that when these gas bubbles move around, they produce a cracking noise when they pop.
However, a 2015 study published in the journal PLOS One looked more closely at MRIs of people's knuckles cracking, and the researchers found that the sound actually happens when a little gas-filled cavity forms while your joints are stretching, not when the gas bubbles themselves collapse. Either way, the sound really is all about gas bubbles. Hey, the more you know, right?
With all that said, I know it's so deeply satisfying to hear that crack or pop when you adjust your spine. But for the sake of your health, it's probably best to leave that stuff to the professionals.