But what if you can’t get in to see a chiropractor because you can’t get out of the house or afford the costs? Can you do it yourself? Can you give yourself a chiropractic adjustment?
A lot of people believe they can watch a Youtube video or get one adjustment from a chiropractor then start cracking their own back – which is an odd idea when you consider that your typical chiropractor goes through over 4,600 hours of education to get their degree. That alone means there’s going to be a huge difference between self-cracking and having a trained chiropractor work on you.
Still, let’s talk about this. So many people are cracking their own backs these days (or letting a friend do it) and we think it’s very important to help people understand the issues that come along with self-cracking.
The Spine Works in Complex Ways
The spine itself is incredibly strong but the spinal cord, which is housed inside of the spine is precious and fragile. The spinal cord is busy with the neurotransmissions that enable feeling, movement and brain-body coordination. The brain sends signals down the spine to all of your vital organs and tissues.The spine gives you strength and balance to support that nervous system to keep your body alive, healthy and thriving..
The spine has 33 bones, each one sitting on top of another. These bones have soft cushioning tissues known as discs between them. These discs help with support. The spinal bones also have articulating joints linking them to other bones via cartilages.
Between the spinal bones and discs passes a network of nerves that link back and forth between the body and the spinal cord to the brain. Back pain often happens when these nerves are interfered with or pinched.
Since the nerves are responsible for signal transmission to and from the brain, damage or disruption can block the vital life energy from the brain, which can lead to tingling, numbness and reduced mobility.
The philosophy in chiropractic care is that many forms of illnesses – including back pain, shoulder pain, headaches, lower immunity and even some emotional issues – are linked to spinal subluxations or compressions. Many people commonly refer to this as a pinched nerve. Chiropractic adjustments and decompression has, in many cases, helped to achieve healing and functioning to allow your body to heal these conditions from within without the use of harmful medications, procedures, and surgeries.
Why It's Not Okay to Crack Your Back (It's Not the Same as a Chiropractor)
“Cracking the back” refers to the popping sounds that happen during a chiropractic adjustment (or sometimes when you stretch).
Cracking your own back is associated with good feelings and immediate gratification but can lead to detrimental effects without the specificity of a chiropractic adjustment. It mimics the spinal manipulation therapy done by trained chiropractors but it’s not the same thing.
When a chiropractor adjusts your back, they are making very specific movements to get your spine realigned and mobilized. Sometimes there are “cracking” sounds that go along with this but the spinal adjustment happens whether you hear the cracking sound or not. They also have many other therapies to call on in addition to spinal adjustments.
The therapies available to an experienced chiropractor are extensive and the thrusting motion typically associated with spinal adjustments is just one of them. Chiropractors may also use soft tissue manipulation, massage, acupuncture, laser therapy, various modern technologies and more. Only from a specific care plan for your needs will you experience long lasting results from chiropractic.
Also (and hopefully obviously), before treating your back, a chiropractor first carries out a detailed examination to establish the cause and source of your problem – then they focus the adjustment and decompression on your specific areas of need. Nothing about this process is random or by chance.
Cracking your back is not the same as chiropractic care and it is often unsafe. Chiropractors spend 4 to five years studying how your spine works and have years of experience working on patients.
If done by these professionals, spinal adjustments can be very healthy and beneficial. But doing it yourself at home is dangerous. You can pull or twist your spinal vertebrae out of place and it’s very likely you won’t even be able to tell which vertebrae need adjustment.
When self-cracking goes wrong, a simple back-cracking routine can lead to severe back problems like herniated discs and nerve compression.
The Risks of Self-Cracking (Cracking Your Own Back) Include:
- Limited mobility and loss of sensation from pinched nerves
- Muscles can tear around the back, which impairs flexibility and range of motion.
- Severe muscle injury that might need surgery to correct
- Chronic overstretched ligaments that cause perpetual instability and heighten your risk of osteoarthritis as you age
- Injury to blood vessels around the neck and back
What Makes the Sound When You Crack Your Back?
The cracking and popping sounds happening during a chiropractic adjustment can be a sign that the therapy is effectively relieving the pressure from your spinal discs. Cracking your back at home could also indicate that your spinal vertebra instability or cartilaginous tissue damage.
Experts believe that when you stretch your back, the popping sounds happen because of the release of gases accumulated in the fluid that surrounds your joints.
There are capsules around the vertebrae on your neck and back. These capsules contain a fluid that helps to keep the joints working optimally and comfortably for you, similar to the oil in your car’s engine. When you stretch, the pressure inside these capsules changes, resulting in the escape of air and the popping sound. This process is known as cavitation.
Deteriorated cartilage around the spinal joints could also cause the cracking sound. In this case, the pop is not from gas or release of pressure. Instead, it is as a result of bones rubbing together. This could be accompanied by pain and a grinding sensation.
Another explanation for the popping sound as postulated by experts is gas build-up from misaligned joints. Experts believe that over time, gases like nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide can build up in dislocated joints caused by poor posture or lifting movements. Stretching releases the gas, hence the cracking sound.
Can I Have My Friend Crack My Back?
A lot of people take this approach but please don’t. It’s not safe.
A friend who doesn’t have chiropractic skills or medical knowledge may push or twist your back too hard, leading to those injuries covered above.
It’s common for people to ask their friends to walk on their back to ‘crack it into place.’ That’s too dangerous. It puts too much pressure on one place of your back and can cause spinal injuries and potential rib cage damage. Even if they’re lightweight, you could still sustain serious muscle, joint and bone injuries.
It takes an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of your back and other organs to manipulate your spine successfully. But even with that knowledge, there are risks of injuries when you do it yourself.
I Popped My Back and Now It Hurts! What Happened?
Sometimes it feels good and relaxing to pop your back and so you may fall into the temptation of doing it repetitiously. And that (or doing it improperly) can result in pain.
You may do it faster than is safe, or twist, pull and push too hard for a healthy and comfortable structural alignment. The pain is a warning that you are overdoing it, or are doing it wrong and that you need to stop. If you ignore the pain, the next thing could be loss of mobility, numbness or serious damage.
Three Causes of Pain When You Pop Your Upper Back
- Joint strain and nerve injury
- Ligament laxity
- Muscle tears
What is the Difference Between Chiropractic Adjustment vs. Cracking My Back?
The only way for you to have the impression that your self-cracking was successful is the cracking sound or relaxation that accompanies it. But that’s not necessarily an accurate measure.
First off, you likely will never know what caused the compression or pain in your back. You will never know when and how to give your spine decompression or alignment manipulation. You may also never fully understand the risks involved in back cracking. A Chiropractor understands all of that since it’s what they do for a living.
At the chiropractor’s, the treatment starts with an exam to establish your problem and cause. This may include x-rays, posture screenings and gathering a medical history.
The chiropractor will then choose from a variety of treatment techniques to accelerate your healing journey. Or they may give you a certain type of self-care exercise that you need to help your back.
The solution to your back or neck pain could also be as simple as a gentle massage that relieves tension in the muscles around your spine. Or maybe you might need a specific chiropractic adjustment to restore the healing function of your nervous system.
At the chiropractor’s office, the choice, frequency and execution-style for these techniques is done with a keen consideration of safety and the patient’s medical history.
What if I Can't Find or Afford a Chiropractor?
Yoga, stretching and maintaining the right posture are helpful for maintaining a healthy back and neck. If you cannot afford or see a chiropractor at this time, here are some options to help keep your spine healthy:
- Watch yourself when you sit, stand or lift-maintain a straight back, stop slouching
- Substitute your office chair with a stability ball every once in a while
- Exercise daily focusing on building strength AND flexibility
- Add yoga to your workout routines to improve posture and alignment
Those aren’t a replacement for chiropractic care but they may help – even for people already seeing a chiropractor.
The Bottom Line
Self-cracking is all too common these days. But it is dangerous and carries many unnecessary risks.
If you have any doubt about the difference between cracking your own back and a chiropractor adjustment, do yourself the favor of visiting a reputable chiropractor at least once for an evaluation and adjustment so you can experience it for yourself.
Best of luck on maintaining a happy and healthy spine!