If the slightest twist or bend causes your back to make a loud cracking or popping sound, you may be wondering what’s going on. There’s no consensus on this matter, but there are several possible explanations for why your back cracks so often.
Most likely explanation for frequent back cracking
The cracking sound you hear is most likely due to tiny gas bubbles that form and pop in the fluid between your facet joints.
- Facet joints are where the back of your vertebrae connect with each other. Surrounding each facet joint is a joint capsule filled with synovial fluid that lubricates the facets for smooth movements.
Watch: Facet Joints Video
- When you move, the air pressure within the joints suddenly changes, causing bubbles within the synovial fluid to form and collapse.
- The forming and collapsing of these bubbles may make a cracking or popping noise.
These articular pressure changes associated with bubbles forming and collapsing do not appear to cause harm or damage joints. Sometimes joints simply make noise when they move—and they are made to move.
Other possible causes of recurrent back cracking
Additional theories may explain why your back cracks so often:
- Snapping ligament or tendon around bone. The sound you hear may be the snapping of a tendon or ligament as it moves in your back. Muscle tightness can cause tendons or ligaments to rub against bone, cartilage, or another tendon or ligament. This rubbing can create a snapping noise. Stretch out your muscles and see if that reduces how often you hear the cracking sound.
- Deteriorated cartilage. The protective cartilage that surrounds your joints can wear down over time, due to overuse and/or aging. This deteriorated cartilage may cause the bones of the joint to rub together, producing a grinding or cracking sound. If the same cracking or grinding sound can be repeated each time it’s tried, then deteriorated cartilage is more likely to be the cause.
Other possible causes of back cracking sounds are possible. Sometimes the cause of the sounds cannot be found.
When back cracking may signal a problem
If your back cracking is accompanied by pain or swelling, schedule an appointment with your doctor. One or more of the following problems may need to be addressed:
- A painful joint that consistently cracks, pops, or grinds when moved can be a sign of joint dysfunction.
- A frequently cracking back may indicate that a ligament or cartilage is damaged, a synovial capsule is deteriorated, and/or a bone is grinding due to osteoarthritis or other causes.
- If your back started cracking a lot after you experienced trauma or injury, that may suggest joint dysfunction due to a structural change, such as a fracture or ligament tear.
Getting an accurate diagnosis for your underlying cause of back pain is the first step toward finding an effective treatment and pain relief.