When a joint in your spine moves while you stretch or during spinal manipulation, you may hear a cracking noise. This sound is harmless, although manipulating your joints to make them crack can sometimes cause joint irritation. Both stretching exercises and professional spinal manipulation performed by a licensed chiropractor help relieve pain and tension in the back. However, severe back problems may require medication or surgery.
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Cracking While Stretching
It is normal for the joints in the vertebrae to make a popping or cracking sound while you are stretching your back. According to "The Chiropractor's Self-Help Back and Body Book," by Samuel Homola, when there is a binding or locking in a spinal joint, a cracking sound may occur when the joint is suddenly loosened through stretching or manipulation. The crack you hear is the sound of gases escaping the protective fluid barriers surrounding the joint. While it is normal, and not harmful, to experience some joint "popping" during stretches or other motions throughout the day, Homola cautions you not to get "addicted" to popping, as excessive manipulation may irritate your joints. If you experience pain when your back joints crack, see a health care professional.
Stretching for Back Pain
Whether or not you hear cracking sounds when you stretch your back, stretching is a good way to relieve back pain and prevent back injuries. Stretching exercises can improve back pain by relieving tension, increasing flexibility and building strength in muscles that support your spine. Several back stretches, including the shoulder squeeze and seated lower back rotational stretch, can be performed easily in your office chair at work. With its emphasis on gentle stretching and strengthening, yoga may be particularly beneficial for back pain sufferers. Some yoga stretches for the back include the cat pose, cobra pose and knee-to-chest pose. If you have had a serious back injury, surgery or osteoporosis, check with your doctor before trying any back stretches.
Another therapy for back pain, based primarily on the manipulation of joints that causes "cracking," is chiropractic care. During a chiropractic adjustment, a chiropractor will forcefully move the joints in your back beyond their usual range of motion. You may hear a loud crack when this happens, and afterward you may feel some pain relief. Chiropractic adjustment is safe when performed by someone trained and licensed in chiropractic care, although the effectiveness varies from person to person.
Medical Treatment for Back Pain
Although both stretching and cracking methods may help safely relieve back pain to some extent, you may require more intensive treatment if your pain is chronic or severe. See a doctor if your back pain is severe or doesn't subside after three days. You should also seek medical treatment if you experience back pain following an injury. Most back pain can be treated without surgery. Your doctor may prescribe pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medications to help relieve your discomfort. In the most severe cases, when other treatments don't work, surgery may relieve back pain caused by injury or musculoskeletal disorders.