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Trainer Q&A: Should I Crack My Back?

Our expert explains whether or not it's healthy for your spine.
Injury prevention and back pain relief

David Chandler, M.D. is an orthopaedic spine surgeon at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Find out what he says about the back-cracking habit.

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Men's Fitness: Why does the back crack when put into certain positions, and should I have it cracked?
Dr. Chandler: Research doesn’t lead us to a conclusion on why the back cracks. There is discussion about whether it is soft tissue slipping over bumps on the bone making that popping sound, or soft tissue slipping over soft tissue. It could be all of those things depending on the particular pop. I’m not necessarily a fan of cracking your back or spinal manipulation for spine health. I don’t know that there is good support for that.

At what point should I see a professional about back pain?
You may feel there is something you’re not recovering from that needs assistance with and that it's appropriate to be evaluated. I advise people to utilize the chiropractor or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.). Then, evaluate on your own whether the manipulation is producing a palpable result that is worth the money you are spending for it.

Who should I see for back injuries?
Many back injuries are self-limited. We know that 95% of the time the ailment is going to resolve. However, there's a subset of individuals that have recurrent back issues; they do simple things and their back goes out of place. If you go to the orthopaedist, generally within a couple of weeks there is not much we're going to recommend that's going to make a significant improvement over natural healing. Some individuals find working with a chiropractor or getting a massage works best for them. We have studies that show people respond to what they think will work for them. If you think the chiropractor is the thing, and I try to treat you without it, it is going to be a more difficult course. If you don’t like the chiropractor, me sending you to one is probably not going to help you.

What are some things to do before resistance training to ensure the back is ready for lifting weights?
Do some cardio and simple stretches to get warmed up. One of the most important things in weightlifting is form that maintains a spine neutral position not forcing the back into extension, controlling the hips and back. You’ll find injuries where people are moving their pelvis and back out of the neutral position and they don’t have such good control. They don’t have good balance and they may place their spine in a position that predisposes it to injury.

What are your suggestions for strengthening the back?
There are a variety of exercises available at knowyourback.org to strengthen the back; generally they are based off lumbar stabilization exercises working on hips and lumbar muscles. They involve very minimal equipment like a Swiss balls, medicine balls, and Thera bands. Here’s one of those exercises from knowyourback.org:

Sagittal Core Strengthening
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, about 18 inches in front of a wall (with your back to the wall). Tighten your abdominal muscles, then reach through your legs to touch the wall, keeping hips and knees bent. Use your hips to push your body back to a standing position, then extend your arms and reach over your head and slightly backward. Repeat 10 times.

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