How to Crack or Pop Your Back Like an Expert: The Complete Guide

Knowing how to crack or pop your back like an expert can help to relieve back tension, soothe joint inflammation, and ease back pain. Cracking or popping your back is known as spinal manipulation and is usually carried out by a chiropractor or physical therapist. However, there are some gentle exercises to pop or crack your back at home that you can do by yourself.

The need to pop or crack your back like a chiropractor could be necessary if you stand or sit for long periods of time. Stretching your spine and making it pop can be done at your convenience at your desk, at home, or whenever you need to release back tension.

If you suffer from low back pain, you should, first of all, find out the cause of pain before you attempt to adjust your back. Your doctor or chiropractor may even give you specific exercises to help strengthen your lower back. This will prevent you from cracking areas of your back that may already be under strain. In most cases, gentle stretching exercises to crack your back can help to mobilize your spine and lessen back pain.

In this article, you will find 6 gentle exercises with illustrations to crack or pop your back like an expert. You will also find important precautions and answers to questions like: Is it good or bad to crack or pop your own back? And what happens if you try to pop your back too often?

Why Crack or Pop Your Own Back?

There are many reasons why it’s good to know how to crack or pop your own back. If you suffer from occasional low back pain or sometimes feel that you have knots in your shoulders or middle back, cracking your back can release tension and ease the pain.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, spinal manipulation can help to treat low back pain. Usually, controlled force is applied to a joint of the spine to ‘pop’ or ‘crack’ it. Doctors say that spinal manipulation can be used with exercise, physical therapy, and massage to get rid of back pain and muscle tension naturally.1

When done properly, popping or cracking your back is relatively safe. However, if you want to crack your own back, you should always use gentle pressure on your spinal joints.

Researchers in the Spine Journal reported that spinal manipulation and therapy also benefits the functions of the nervous system. Researchers have found that manipulating the spine affects certain sensory nerve fibers. This can have a muscle-relaxing effect.2

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that cracking your back can help improve pain in the lower back. Many patients who receive spinal manipulation therapy reported improvements in acute low back pain.3

Here are six gentle exercises for popping your back at home. They should not cause any pain but if you experience pain while cracking your back, stop immediately. While doing these exercise you may or may not hear a cracking sound. As a general note, you should not focus on trying to achieve popping sound and you should not be aggressive while doing them.

Popping Your Back Using a Chair

The first way to crack your back is by using a chair to exert pressure on spinal joints. You can use the back of the chair for leverage to extend the range of motion on your spine and crack joints in your mid-back. When cracking your back using a chair, you should always try to keep your shoulder and back as relaxed as possible.

  • Sit on a chair with a medium to low back and place a towel on the backrest for extra padding.
  • Put your hands behind your head to support your neck.
  • Lean back over the backrest, take a deep breath and gently push your head back while exhaling.
  • You may hear a popping noise in the joints in your neck and upper spine.
  • If you need to crack a different part of your middle back, adjust how you sit on the chair so that the backrest is lower or further up your spine.

cracking back using a chair

How to Crack Your Upper or Lower Back

The next exercise to pop your back involves sitting on a chair with the backrest at your side. You need to grip your hands behind your back and put pressure on the part of the spine that needs to be popped. With this spinal manipulation exercise, you can crack any part of your spine from your lower back to as far as you can reach up your spine.

  • Sit on a chair or stool so that you can easily put your hands behind your back.
  • Make one hand into a fist and hold it with your other hand.
  • Find the part of the spine that you need to crack and place your fist on the spine.
  • Push up and into the spot on your spine.
  • Remember to breathe in deeply before cracking your spine and breathe out as you put pressure on your spine.

How to pop Your Upper Back

Use a Foam Roller to Crack Your Upper Back

Another way to pop your upper back like an expert is to use a foam roller under your upper spine. Foam roller exercises for back pain are a great and easy way to relieve back discomfort at home. It’s important to remember while using the foam roller to pop your back, that you should keep your knees bent to prevent putting extra pressure on your spine.

It is important to note that according to both Monica Vazquez, certified personal trainer and coach, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you should not use the foam roller on your lower back, and you can find the reasons for that, as well as other common mistakes when using foam roller, in my article about foam roller exercises for back pain.

  • Sit on the ground with your knees bent.
  • Place the foam roller behind you in the approximate position where you need to crack your upper back.
  • Lay back on the foam roller and adjust the foam roller to the right spot under your upper spine.
  • Put your hands behind your head to support your neck.
  • Relax and let your head go back to crack your upper back. (Your head shouldn’t go as far as to touch the ground).

Alternatively, you can lay back on the foam roller and while holding your head, roll back and forward to help relieve tension from your upper spine.

Foam Roller to pop Your Own Back

Pop Your Own Back While Sitting on the Floor

One way to help relieve low back pain by cracking your back is to sit on the ground and gently rotate your spine. The advantage of this to exercise to help relieve lower back pain is that you can use your arms to provide stability and extend your range of motion.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you.
  • Bend your right knee and take your right foot outside of the left hip as in the illustration.
  • Bend your left arm and press your left elbow to the outside of the right knee.
  • Your spine is now twisted while you are looking at the wall behind you as far as you can.
  • Hold for a few deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side and try to extend the movement of your shoulder as far as you can.

When doing this, you may or may not hear an audible pop in your spine. Don’t worry if you don’t hear a popping sound as the exercise still helps to make your spine more flexible.

Pop Your Own Back While Sitting on the Floor

How to Crack Your Middle and Lower Back

You can pop your middle and lower back by gently stretching your spine as you lie forward on your knees. This exercise to crack your back is similar to child’s pose in yoga exercises. The beauty of this exercise is that it helps to relax and stretch your spine and also your hips and quads.

  • Kneel on the floor with your knees shoulder-width apart and your feet under your buttocks.
  • Bend forward from your waist until your arms are stretched out in front of you.
  • Try to touch your nose to the floor, remembering to breathe in and out deeply.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3-5 times a day to help relax your spine and get rid of low back pain.

How to Crack Your Middle and Lower Back

Gentle Back Popping Exercise

A gentle exercise to crack your back safely at home is to lay on your back and stretch your spine and back muscles. This can help to release tension in your back and help you pop your back by yourself. For this exercise, you will need soft padding on the floor like a yoga mat or carpet.

  • Lay on your back, bring both knees up to your chest and hold your knees tight to your belly.
  • Gently pull your knees to your belly and hold for 30 seconds to help gently stretch your spine and back muscles.
  • Release and repeat 3-5 times a day to relieve back tension.
  • To improve the effectiveness of this back exercise, you can gently rock to and fro while holding the stretch position.

Gentle Back Popping Exercise

Precautions When Popping Your Back

When doing exercises to crack your back, you should take note of certain precautions to prevent injury to your spine.

For example, the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reported on a case where a person suffered back trauma. An untrained person performed a “bear-hug back crack” which resulted in lung collapse and sharp pains in the chest. Doctors recommended that patients be educated regarding home remedies of all kinds.4

It is also important not to habitually crack or pop your back. Your spinal joints are composed of soft tissue, ligaments, and tendons. If you continually put too much pressure on these joints, you can wear them out quicker.

Dr. Steven Yeomans, a chiropractor from Yeomans Chiropractic Center in Wisconsin, says that for some people, a gentle approach called spine mobilization should be used. This takes into account a person’s health, size, and underlying medical conditions.5

When You Shouldn’t Pop Your Back

You shouldn’t try to crack your own back if you have chronic pain that hasn’t been evaluated by a medical professional. Sometimes, trying to crack or pop joints that are already inflamed can cause greater pain and possibly other complications.

FAQ – How to Crack Your Own Back

Let’s answer some of the most common questions about how to pop your own back.

Is it good or bad to crack your own back?

Depending on the type of back pain you have, it could be good to crack or pop your back by yourself. For example, occasionally cracking your back can help to relieve tension in your lower and middle back. This can also give some relief from mild low back pain.

As the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed out, spinal manipulation has some short-term benefit in helping relieve back pain.3

However, if you have chronic back pain, you should always have a doctor evaluate the source of your pain before you use self-manipulation techniques on your spine.

What’s the popping sound when my back cracks?

Many people are alarmed to hear popping and cracking when their spine is manipulated. However, the popping is just gas that is released from between the joints. This could be likened to the popping sound when you open a bottle of champagne.

The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association reports that the crack is not always an indication of a successful spine manipulation. Sometimes, the popping sound can help to improve the chiropractic adjustment. However, in many cases, the benefits are more psychological, not physiological.6 So even if you don’t hear a popping sound, you are still stretching your spine.

Why does it feel so good to pop your back?

The reason that cracking your back usually feels so good is that it helps to release tension from joints. Dr. Steven Yeomans, quoted earlier, says that the popping sound helps to release joint pressure. Dr. Yeomans says that if the back or spine is tense or the patient has muscle spasm, the audible pop may not be heard.7

What happens when you crack your back all the time?

According to researchers from Harvard Medical, your joints contain synovial fluid. The crack that you hear when you pop your back or knuckles is tiny bubbles bursting in the fluid. It seems that cracking joints all the time can be bad for you. Chronic joint cracking can lead to swelling and reduced strength in the joints.8

The journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research reported that cracking joints all the time can also lead to reduced range of motion (ROM).9

What to do if the lower back feels like it needs to crack but won’t?

If you feel that tension in your lower back doesn’t allow you to crack your back yourself, you should visit a chiropractor or a physiotherapist. A qualified medical professional will examine your back and recommend a course of treatment and therapy to help ease the pain in your back.

When to See a Doctor

Back pain usually gets better in a few weeks. Learning how to crack or pop your back may help to relieve pain in your back. However, in some cases, you need to see a doctor for severe or chronic back pain.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor if back pain continues and you have one or more of the following symptoms:10

  • The pain is constant and intense and gets worse at night.
  • You have pain that spreads from your lower back down one or both legs.
  • You have a tingling sensation in one or both legs.
  • You have swelling or redness on your lower back.
  • The back pain is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
  • The severe pain in your back is accompanied by bladder control problems.

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. NCCIH. Spinal manipulation for low back pain.
  2. Spine J.2002 Sep-Oct;2(5):357-71.
  3. JAMA. 2017 Apr 11;317(14):1451-1460.
  4. J Am Osteo Assc. 2007 Sept;107:411-413.
  5. Spine-health. Understanding spinal manipulation.
  6. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2004 Sep; 48(3): 237–239.
  7. Spine-health. Chiropractic adjustment.
  8. HealthHarvard. Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis?
  9. Clin Orthop Relat Res.2017 Apr;475(4):1265-1271.
  10. MayoClinic. Back pain.

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