Lots of people tell us that they like to “crack” their joints. They twist their neck into an awkward position and feel a satisfying “pop”. Others twist their lower back and hear a “clunk” which seems to provide some temporary relief. The noise you can hear when doing this is a natural phenomenon that can happen when you simply turn to reverse your car for example. But is it safe to do it yourself? The short answer is ….we DO NOT recommend it! But let us explain why. First of all, let us look at some basic spinal anatomy to help us to understand what is going on.
The spine is made up of 33 individual vertebrae. It is divided into the cervical region (neck) and is made up of 7 vertebrae. The thoracic spine forms the midsection of your back and is made up of 12 vertebrae. The lower back has 5 vertebrae and is referred to as the lumbar spine. Below this is the sacrum that sits between the pelvic bones. Each of these spinal regions has its own uniquely formed vertebrae. They vary in shape and size because each region is adapted for its role in protection, movement and weight-bearing.
The spine protects the spinal cord which runs from the bottom of the brain to the bottom of the back. The spinal cord is incredibly important. It is like a busy highway carrying messages, via nerves, to and from the brain to the entire body. The spine also acts as a site for ligament and tendon attachment. There are little joints between each pair of vertebrae, and, among other joints, we find the facet joints.
The facet joints are formed by the joining of 2 vertebrae. Like every joint in the body, the facet joints consist of two bony surfaces which are covered in cartilage. These surfaces face each other. A fluid-filled capsule surrounds each joint. A normal healthy facet joint moves freely and smoothly.
The “cracking” described is termed as joint manipulation or adjustment by a chiropractor. When you attempt this yourself you are “cracking” your facet joints. It is a natural phenomenon that can occur by itself when we turn our head and neck or torso. The fluid that is found in the capsule around each joint contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases. When you twist and turn additional stress is put on these facet joints and more pressure is placed on the fluid. This forces the gases inside the fluid to escape and a “pop” is heard.
While attempting this yourself can temporarily relieve tension and feel good it is not a reliable short or long term solution. Often relief is temporary because you are targeting the wrong part of your spine. Try to imagine 3 joints in a row the middle joint in the problematic joint and the one causing pain and discomfort. The joints above and below are slightly more mobile to compensate and allow for the movement you need. When you “crack” your own back you may not be targeting the joint from which the problem originates and instead the noise comes from the joints above and below. This usually leads to a habit-forming and people report feeling the need to do it more and more to feel relief but you aren’t necessarily getting to the root of the problem.
Possibly, if it is suitable dependent on the problem and person. It is important to keep in mind that a chiropractor will train for 4-5 years to learn how to identify the specific joint that is causing the issue. Different treatment techniques are used for different spinal regions dependent on the shape and orientation of the joints in that part of the spine. If done correctly spinal manipulate is safe and effective. There are times when we do not use this form of treatment. The chiropractor will also examine and treat surrounding soft tissues such as muscles which may be influencing the problem further. They will also give their opinion on the cause of the problem and then importantly discuss how to prevent it from coming back!
At best, done incorrectly, twisting and turning your spine too much or suddenly may lead to sprained joints which can be very painful. Don’t attempt it yourself seek a qualified opinion.
Beverley Chiropractic Clinic on 01482 870934
Driffield Chiropractic Clinic on 01377 272277