Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Are you guilty of popping or cracking your back? It’s harder to find people who don’t crack their joints than people who do. But what most people don’t know is that popping and cracking can cause instability in the joints.
When you crack your back, you are forcing your joints into a new range of motion that your muscles have not been trained to function. Think of weightlifting: if you’ve only been able to lift 100 pounds, your muscles aren’t prepared to go straight into lifting 300 pounds. You have to train your muscles and work your way up to it.
Since most of us do not stretch or practice movements in these end ranges regularly, we crack and pop our backs. We do this because our muscles can’t do it for us, so we have to use the momentum from a quick motion to achieve the new range. When we get this new range of motion post-pop/crack, we feel free, but we aren’t able to activate our muscles properly, which causes joint instability. Your new range will go back to the pre-pop/crack range or even decrease your range if your muscles are not re-educated. Educating your muscles allows them to stabilize your joints properly.
You may have lower back and/or pelvic instability if:
You wake up or lie down after a long day and feel stiffness in your lower back or sensitivity above your buttocks
You are constantly shifting your weight or fidgeting around
You are unable to find a fixed position while sitting or standing for a prolonged period
You constantly feel the need to bend forward or stretch
You have a sharp pain on one or both sides of your lower back
You hear popping or clicking noises at your hips/groin/lower back
You have difficulty carrying heavy objects, feeling discomfort in your lower back
So many of us feel these symptoms and think that adjusting with a quick pop or crack will remedy the problem.
From my experience treating at Rehab and Revive, I believe those with really tight or stressed nerves will often feel the need to “release” tension by cracking their backs or other body parts. This self-adjustment may help the nerves feel a momentary relief because endorphins are released when you pop and crack. If you feel as though you have to pop or crack something, there are ways to do it that are less aggressive than others. You can watch our Instagram video on the better way to crack your joints.
Next time you want to adjust yourself, think about this: How do you know you are “cracking” it into the right place and not the wrong place? You don’t!
Every time you pop yourself, you may actually be grinding your joints against each other or lengthening your ligaments. These structures keep your joints secure. After popping regularly, you’ll find that your joints will soon shift out of alignment effortlessly. You’ll find yourself popping with everyday movement, even when you’re not trying to crack.
To correct this instability, you’ll need to stabilize your joint with the surrounding muscles and tendons while you are in the correct alignment. Stabilization teaches your body to remember and function in proper alignment automatically.
How am I going to fix this instability from over-popping?
Research has shown that the combination of both manual therapy/adjustments and core stabilization exercises have been effective in decreasing pain and increasing functional outcomes.
I recommend seeing a specialist; perhaps a manual therapist or a skilled Chiropractor/Osteopathic Doctor to adjust, align, or “pop” you into the RIGHT place. (I recommend getting an adjustment first so that your joints are in the right place from the start, decreasing your initial pain so that you can perform the corrective exercises with less pain.)
GOOD practitioners will follow up with stabilization exercises to keep your joints in place. You’ll know your joints are becoming more stable when pain reduces, you decrease your self-adjustments, and you can statically hold different positions.
If you wish to avoid adjustments or manipulations, the slower method is to perform corrective exercises and stretches along with core stabilization exercises. Exercises such as drawing in your transverse abdominis is an excellent start to engaging your core. You will also want to stretch your hip flexors and perform a combination of deep hip-strengthening exercises; these will give you longer-lasting relief.
Once again, please see a medical professional ensuring this is an accurate diagnosis for you. Many other pathologies could also account for the symptoms listed above!
Let us know if you have any questions and remember, we heal smarter, not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin