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First and foremost – a ‘crack’ implies a fracture which is the last thing you should want to self-inflict. Manipulating joints on your own body may create a sound which is more accurately described as a ‘pop’. This occurs because when you separate two articulating surfaces (distracting a joint), a small vacuum is created within the joint space. The ‘pop’ sound is created as air rapidly refills this space.

What’s the difference between ‘cracking’ your own back and having a trained professional, like a chiropractor, do it? Chiropractors use a high velocity, low amplitude thrust. This is a fancy way of describing a manoeuvre that is performed quickly and with sparing force. It’s specific to a particular area within your spine, or a joint in an extremity. Chiropractors use the tool of manipulation to free joints of restriction. This is much like massage therapists using soft tissue techniques to free muscles of restriction (or tightness).

When you crack your own back, it’s unlikely you know the exact level of spinal segment you’re targeting, or for that matter, why in fact you’re doing it. Most of the time, people do it simply because they think they’ll feel better afterwards. Most people don’t consider how self-manipulating one part of their body may impact other areas. It’s a crude form of self-treatment and people would generally be far better off by doing gentle stretching and basic mobility exercises.

The risk of ‘cracking’ your own back is mostly that you might ‘over service yourself’. You might attempt a certain manoeuvre too many times, thus thrashing your body repeatedly only to make yourself more sore. Alternatively, your efforts may lead you further down the path of creating more instability in a joint segment, and ultimately becoming hypermobile. Hypermobility at a joint segment is when the joint permits too much movement. The joint has become too lax and is less supportive.

‘Cracking your back’ might be coincidental. After a long drive you might find yourself getting out of the car, reaching your arms upwards and outwards, arching your back, and feeling a plethora of pops trailing down your spine. That’s fine – you weren’t intentionally trying to ‘crack your back’, it just happened. Pops like this can occur throughout the day. All it means, is that your joints are moving and creating these aforementioned vacuums. The problem is when you start seeking this sensation on a daily basis. You start arching yourself over bed posts, or twisting your leg one way and your torso the other until you feel those luscious ‘cracks’, “Hmmmm…cracks…”

Stop trying to ‘crack your own back’! Just let it happen naturally. If you happen to move a certain way, or crave a certain stretch and your back pops, allow it to. Deep down, you will always know whether you were specifically trying to make your back pop, or whether it just happened coincidentally.

If you keep trying to ‘crack your own back’ you will continue to promote hypermobility in one segment, whilst simultaneously perpetuating hypomobility (stiffness) in another. This is a key point. If you’re having an increasing urge to ‘crack your own back’ something is obviously irritating you, and you should have it checked out. Given how much compressive stress we are subjected to on a daily basis, the majority of us will have restricted segments in our spine and other areas. Usually, people will have the urge to ‘crack their back’ when this compressive stress builds to a point that becomes overwhelming. The quest for relief gets the better of them, and they resort to ‘cracking’.

The problem with this is, you won’t have the mechanical leverage to get at the joint which needs manipulating. Instead, you abuse yourself in the wrong areas creating more of an imbalance within your musculoskeletal system. Inevitably, you develop chronic irritation and get on board the ‘crack yourself over and over’ train.

There are many ways to crack your own back, and you can watch some of the more popular ones in the video below. Let it be said though, “you’ve been warned, don’t do this”. Get some advice from a professional, book online with one of us at The Physicaltherapy Centre today.

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