Why do Osteopaths crack backs?

Compare this situation to unsticking a rusty door hinge or a stuck door handle – a short quick thrust on the handle or hinge will free it up and it will start moving again.

When muscles become very tight, they can restrict the movement of the spinal joints they are attached to. The spinal joints then become a bit stiff, and their mobility and movement begins to reduce (and you feel your back stiffening up).

One way the reverse this and restore good movement to the joints is to put a short jerk movement through the back that literally just stretches the spinal joints away from each other. When we do this movement, a quiet ‘pop’ is heard, that is often referred to in layman’s terms as ‘cracking’ the back.

This is why we ‘Crack’ the back – to restore movement to the joints of the spine.

As Osteopaths, we prefer to refer to this technique as ‘releasing the joints’.

What is the ‘Crack’ or ‘Pop’ for?

The bones of your spine are called vertebrae. They are lined up one on top of each other to form your spine. In order to allow you to bend forwards and backwards etc, the bones are not attached directly to each other, they are attached by membranes that form sacks that contain fluid. The fluid allows freedom of movement of the joints, without the bones grinding against each other.

The fluid contains carbon dioxide bubbles. When an Osteopath performs a ‘spinal manipulation’, we put a slight traction between the joints, just very quickly and gently gapping the joints to free them up and get them moving again. When we do this, the carbon dioxide bubbles literally pop, dispersing back into the fluid, giving the resultant ‘pop’ sound that you will have heard of. This relieves a lot of pressure in the joint and restores movement to the joint.

What will the ‘Crack’ feel like?

Strangely enough, you will feel very little. It doesn’t hurt, it just sounds a bit scary at first. Afterwards you will feel a lot more mobility and freedom of movement, as the joints are freer and ‘unstuck’.

What will it feel like afterwards?

The way you feel afterwards is extremely variable. Some people can feel fantastic and feel their movement is instantly returned and the pain is much reduced, whilst others may feel quite sore for a few days while the body corrects, unwinds, and responds to the treatment. The main reason for this is toxin release. When muscles and joints become tight and stiff, the blood cannot flow freely through the areas. Therefore, toxins are deposited in the muscles and joints. When you free up the tissues and get everything moving again, the toxins are released by the muscles, and can leave you feeling a little sore, sometimes a bit headachy, fluey, or light headed. This is what we call a ‘treatment reaction’ and is a sign that your body is responding to treatment, and that you are on the way to feeling a lot lot better.

It’s a good thing!

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