Stomach Crunches & Back Pops

Side view of fit mature couple practicing sit-ups. Man and woman are practicing yoga at home. They are in sports clothing, in brightly lit apartment.
Your back may make popping noises when you're doing crunches. (Image: tetmc/iStock/Getty Images)

Does your back make popping noises when you’re doing crunches, sit-ups or other exercises? If it does, there’s no need to be alarmed. It’s quite common for joints to snap, pop, crackle and make all sorts of percussive sounds.

The back, neck, hips, knuckles and ankles tend to be the noisiest customers. There are a number of causes for this and most of them are nothing to worry about. However, if inflammation and pain goes along with the popping or cracking, you should consult your health care practitioners.

When you flex your spine doing crunches, you open space between the vertebrae, causing pockets of gas to escape.

Escaping Gases

Your joints are lubricated by a substance called synovial fluid that contains certain gases, including oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. When you flex your spine doing crunches, you open space between the vertebrae, causing pockets of gas to escape.

That rapid release of pressure is what causes the noise. In fact, the release of these gases can improve your range of motion between 5 and 10 percent, according to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Spine x-ray view ,isolated on white
Pockets of gas escaping rapidly between vertebrae can cause the popping sound. (Image: alex-mit/iStock/Getty Images)

Movement of Joints, Tendons and Ligaments

Popping and cracking can also be caused by the movement of tendons and ligaments. When a joint moves, the highly elastic tendon or ligament changes position and moves somewhat out of place.

It may make a sound as it snaps back into its original position. Another cause can be arthritis. In this case, the loss of smooth cartilage that normally buffers friction between joints can cause sounds because of the roughness of the joint surface.

Snapping Hip Syndrome

The popping sound you hear when doing crunches may seem like it’s coming from your back, but actually your hip may be the real source of the sound. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, snapping hip syndrome occurs when a muscle, tendon or ligament rolls over a bony protrusion in the hip.

Snapping hip can occur in different areas of the hip. In the front of the hip, it involves the hip flexor muscle rolling over the front of the hip bone or the hip ligaments snapping over the thigh bone or the hip joint tissues.

At the side of the hip, it involves the iliotibial band, which runs along the lateral or outside aspect of the thigh, from the pelvis to the tibia, crossing both the hip and knee joints, sliding over the outer thigh bone. In the back, it may be the hamstring muscles rolling over the bottom of the hip bone.

Snapping hip often occurs when the hip muscles are overworked and become tight or inflamed. In some cases, snapping hip syndrome can cause problems walking or rising from a chair. Physical therapy may be required to overcome the condition.


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