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Cracking Back
February 2003

Q. I'm an 18-year-old, athletic female rower. About 4 times a day, I "crack" my back. I place my hands posteriorly just below my lower back then I lean backwards. At this time, I usually hear a popping noise, and it almost feels as if things shift a bit around my tail bone area. It feels good. I almost wonder if I'm popping something back in place. It relieves a lot of tension.

I currently do not have any back problems or pain, but I am concerned on whether or not this habit will lead to back problems later in life. Would it be a disc in my spine or liquid or air popping? I'm a very serious athlete and very interested in kinesiology, etc. so I would appreciate any advice or comments you could give me.

A. Crew is a very demanding sport, requiring extreme conditioning of both cardiovascular and muscular systems. The specific tasks of crew also place a great demand on the back.

Nobody knows for sure what is happening in the physiology or anatomy of the spine with back cracking. One theory is that nitrogen bubbles are released from the spinal column. Everyone has heard a crack at some time just in the course of moving or stretching with daily activity so this is a common occurrence. If the crack occurs with gentle movement on your part it is unlikely that any harm will occur. If the cracking requires sudden or vigorous movement, I would have concerns. And having a friend or untrained person manipulate your back is not a good idea either.

Why not have your doctor or an athletic trainer associated with your team do a back exam and see if any recommendations are in order? Here are some good references for you!

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/backpain.html

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=91&topcategory=Spine

http://www.americanspine.com/index.html

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