The human spine is designed to handle an assortment of movements on a regular basis, including ones involving bending, twisting, and reaching. However, if such movements produce a noticeable “cracking” sound, you may be wondering what’s going on and whether or not you should be concerned. There’s no universally accepted explanation for why this sometimes happens. Still, there are some possible reasons you may be experiencing back cracking on a fairly regular basis.
One common theory about back cracking is that it likely results from the escape of tiny gas bubbles. These bubbles form in fluid located between small joints that keep the spine flexible (facet joints). Located where the back of vertebrae connect, facet joints have joint capsules containing synovial fluid. This fluid is needed to make each spinal joint’s movements smoother. Here’s what happens:
- You make certain movements
- Air pressure in facet joints changes
- Bubbles within joint fluid form and collapse
- This process creates a popping or cracking sound
Normally, this process of gas bubble formation and collapse does nothing more than make a noticeable sound. It doesn’t appear to harm the facet joints.
It’s not unusual for muscle tightness to affect the spine. One way it may impact the backbone and its supporting structures is by causing ligaments or tendons to rub up against spinal bones. This friction results in a snapping noise you might describe as cracking. If this is the source of your back cracking, you may benefit from:
- Gentle back stretches
- Exercises targeting your core spine-supporting muscle groups
- Low-impact aerobic activities like walking to keep your spine-supporting muscles flexible
Protective cartilage around joints naturally wears down over time. When this happens, it creates increased friction, which results in bone-on-bone contact. This friction sometimes produces a grinding, popping, or cracking sound. One way to tell if this may be the source of your back cracking is to make the same joint-related movements. If you’re able to purposely recreate the same sound, cartilage deterioration is the likely source of your back cracking.
When It’s a Problem
These are just some of the common causes of back cracking. It’s possible to experience the same thing from other sources. In fact, the source of your spinal cracking may not be found at all. However, if it’s accompanied by pain, see your doctor or a spine specialist, especially if you start to notice the cracking after a recent spine-related injury or following a procedure such as coflex surgery. Los Angeles patients should be aware that frequent back cracking may be a sign that something needs attention. Spine problems related to back cracking may include:
- Joint dysfunction
- Soft tissue or cartilage damage
- Synovial capsule deterioration
- Issues related to arthritis of the spine (osteoarthritis)
- Facet joint or vertebral fractures
If back cracking isn’t causing noticeable discomfort, you may be able to make it less noticeable by making an effort to keep your spine healthy. Common suggestions include getting regular exercise, watching your posture, being mindful of how much time you spend sitting, and keeping your weight within a normal range so you’re not placing extra stress on spinal joints and bones.
If you notice sudden, severe, or lingering back pain after you hear your back cracking or you hear cracking or popping sounds in your back after a fall, car accident, or another type of injury, see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon right away. Reach out to the pioneering spine specialists at The Spine Institute. Our physicians are industry-leading experts in every aspect of spinal health. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.