Cracked back: Is it serious? (Can we get crushed?)

spinal manipulation

Pleasant and satisfying for some, disturbing and distressing for others, back crunches generally do not leave indifferent! But where do they come from? Is that necessarily a bad thing? When should you worry? Answers in this article.

What do you mean by "creaking back"?

When we talk about "crunching back", we generally refer to these "pocks" that occur at the level of the spine during certain movements (particularly twisting). These crackles can occur spontaneously, or be deliberately induced.

They can also be reproduced by a professional such as a physiotherapist, an osteopath or a chiropractor thanks to some techniques manipulation of the spine. This with the aim of improving his mobility, and not of "putting the vertebrae in place "…

Causes: Why does it crack?

The movable joints of the human body consist of a cavity bounded by a tough fibrous membrane called "synovial membrane". This cavity is filled with a viscous liquid called "synovia" ou “synovial fluid”. The latter is used to lubricate the cartilaginous articular surfaces in order to facilitate the various movements and limit friction.

When performing certain movements, a depression is created within the joint cavity. The gases dissolved in the synovial fluid then concentrate and form a bubble. This is called the cavitation (formation of vapor cavities within a liquid during a sudden decrease in the vapor pressure of the liquid). When this gas bubble bursts into multiple micro-bubbles, the famous sound cracking sound occurs!

This is what happens when you crack your fingers, wrists, elbows or knees. The same phenomenon is possible at the level of the of .

The crackles occur precisely at the level of the faceted joints present between each pair of vertebrae. It is these same joints that make the spine flexible and mobile. Without them, one could only perform stiff and straight movements.

It is therefore not the bones (vertebrae) or the intervertebral discs which creak, but the joints facets.

Is that bad ?

It is normal to have cracks in the back during certain movements. They are only the result of phénomène physiological cavitation.

In general, when the cracking occurs in a way spontaneous et without it being accompanied by pain (milieu or lower back), there are no consequences to fear. Some people even experience satisfaction and greater mobility when they crack their back!

But be careful, this must not become a tic. Cracking your back joints is like performing twisting movements. The risk is to create, in the long run, painful muscular tensions and damage the ligaments stretching them repeatedly.

In addition, certain creaks should alert us:

  • Cracking on impact: it can be a vertebral fracture. In subjects with bone fragility (elderly people, osteoporosis, calcium or vitamin D deficiency, etc.), this type of fracture is possible even in the event of minor trauma, or even occurring spontaneously.
  • Painful cracking: there too, it may be a vertebral fracture. But also a ligament lesion or osteoarthritis (cartilage degeneration and cracking during bone-bone contact).
  • Sharp and brutal noise: this can be the witness of a lesion of a fibrous (ligament) or fibrocartilaginous structure (intervertebral disc).

Where does this feeling of satisfaction come from when you crack your back?

When the back cracks, two main physiological phenomena occur. The first is the stimulation of nerve fibers surrounding the affected joint(s). The second is the release of a hormone called "endorphin". The latter is responsible for muscle relaxation, hence greater joint mobility, as well as sensation of pleasure.

This feeling of pleasure and well-being obtained thanks to the release of endorphins sometimes pushes us to reproduce the crunch several times during the day. It sometimes becomes a real addiction, because endorphins are real " drugs " naturally produced by the body!

Cracking your back: risk of osteoarthritis?

"Don't do that, you might get your fingers twisted later!" is what our parents told us when we cracked our fingers. But, is this habit really bad for the joints? This is a frequently asked question in medical consultation. It looks simple, but it's not that much...

In an attempt to provide an answer, an American doctor conducted an unusual study in which he is the “guinea pig”! His protocol was to daily crack the joints of his left hand only, those on the right should only crack spontaneously or occasionally. So he did that for 50 years!

When the 50 years passed, he said he didn't feel no symptoms at his hands. He even carried out x-rays which did not reveal no abnormality or a sign in favor of osteoarthritis or any other articular or bone pathology.

Other more serious studies have been conducted on this subject. None have demonstrated a link between osteoarthritis and cracking joints.

Self-crack your back, or have it cracked by someone?

Cracking yourself is probably not a good idea, as it is possible to injure yourself by applying too much stress to your spine. Getting it cracked by a friend is even worse, because he won't know how to restrict his movements at the right time to avoid an injury.

Best to leave it to spine manipulation professionals, i.e. chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists.

In any case, it is recommended to avoid having your back voluntarily cracked too often.

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References

[1] “My joints are cracking, is it serious doctor? “Articular noises in question”, Swiss Medical Review. https://www.revmed.ch/revue-medicale-suisse/2017/revue-medicale-suisse-569/mes-articulations-craquent-c-est-grave-docteur-les-bruits-articulaires-en-question ( accessed 08 May 2022).

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