Our Guide to the Side Effects & Risk Factors of Back Cracking – What to Know
Many people love to crack their backs. The satisfying pops running down the spine or neck is part of a routine for at least 45% of people, making it a common source of pain relief. However, there are negative rumors that claim the habit can be detrimental to your joints as it ultimately leads to arthritis. Now, fans of back cracking beg the question: is twisting your body bad for your physical health?
What is Back Cracking?
Also called crepitus, back cracking is a non-clinical term that describes occurs the twisting of the lower back or neck. Digging deeper, it grinds the two facet joints on the spine. These consist of a bony protrusion that is linked together by a network of ligaments, including the upper and lower vertebrae.
The audible pop and sensation provide a sense of relief to many people, though there is no proven consensus regarding the long-term effects of frequent back cracking. Nonetheless, people continue to crack, pop, or grind their back due to the following theories:
- Cavitation – This refers to the synovial fluid of the spine, a capsule of liquid that lubricates the joints to create effortless motion. A popping sound is produced within the synovial fluid due to the breakage of an air activity due to air pressure in between the joints.
- Ligament or Tendon Snapping – Another reason for the snapping or popping sound from joint cracking is you pull a tense ligament across the surface of a bone, cartilage, or tendon.
- Bone Grinding – Age can also cause cracking of spinal joints as the cartilage can wear-and-tear over time due to overuse.
Does Cracking Your Back Lead to Arthritis?
For years, there is an old wives’ tale that cracking your joints can lead to arthritis. However, the negative myth following the medical phenomena is unfounded as an impressionable amount of research proves otherwise.
A five-decade-long experiment run by Dr. Donald Unger explores the relationship between cracking joints and the development of arthritis. He found no correlation. Additionally, research done by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences studied 250 people, 20% of whom constantly pop their joints.
The results state that 18.1% had arthritis for knuckle poppers, while 21.5% developed arthritis for non-crackers. That means the likelihood of developing the chronic condition are virtually the same, whether you crack your joints or not.
When back Cracking Needs Medical Attention
Back cracking is generally harmless, but if it follows up with troubling symptoms, it may reveal a degenerative problem with the joint. With that in mind, the following after-effects should warrant immediate medical attention:
- Stinging, throbbing pain after cracking your joints. This may point to an unseen problem that irritates the nerve root in your joints.
- Consistent cracking is a sign of joint dysfunction due to marred ligament, cartilage, or deteriorated synovial capsule.
- If the joints lock together after popping, it may reveal some deterioration in your joint structures.
Researches surrounding back cracking and its effects are growing, but the consensus regarding the long-term implications of the habit remains lacking. While there is no correlation between back cracking and arthritis, keep a lookout for any pain or other troubling symptoms that may occur after popping your joints.
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