Hearing a popping sound from your back could result from gas being released from between the facet joints that have been trapped for a while now or a muscle being pulled. This is normal and nothing to panic over. Hearing popping sounds regularly in specific areas like the lumbar and cervical spine accompanied by dull or severe pain, swelling, stiff back, muscle spasms could indicate osteoarthritis. With a proper diagnosis such as an X-ray, you can receive non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, steroid injection, and regenerative medicine. Remember to sit straight as much as possible to avoid any issues with your spine.
It’s been a long day at the office, and at the end of the day, when you stretch in your chair, it feels amazing with all the cracking sound here and there.
Especially when you bend over and hear the most satisfying popping sound from your back, it makes you feel so relaxed. Hearing popping sounds from your back once in a while is completely fine, and it’s just your spinal cord readjusting.
The issue arises when your back popping is frequently accompanied by pain and other symptoms. You might have other health issues if this sounds familiar to you.
Back cracking can be satisfactory but also an indication of an impending health issue. Let’s look at both and understand the difference and what you can do in both these situations.
Reasons for back popping when bending over
Our spine is the most essential structure of our body, which keeps everything in place and allows us to move freely and do anything we want. We do so many activities in a day that it’s normal for our bones to pop here and there, and it’s not a reason to worry about.
The most common reason behind hearing popping sounds is because gas between the joints is being released. Which happens when there’s a build-up of gases like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen build up between your joints.
This kind of popping, cracking, grating, grinding, crunching noise you hear every day is called crepitus.
When you’re younger, it’s not that common and only occurs when you stretch or purposely try to crack your knuckles. It becomes more common as you age, and that’s when you hear more sounds coming from your back and knees.
There’s a flexible connective tissue between two bones (facet joints), known as cartilage, which helps keep them intact and stops them from grinding and wearing out.
The facet joint is surrounded by a capsule filled with a small amount of synovial fluid. When this cartilage starts degenerating, your joint is no longer protected from grinding, creating friction and impacting your spine.
This might be a cause for worry, but hearing such sound doesn’t imply your cartilage is wearing away, but that there might be a possibility if it occurs frequently and there’s a pain in your spine.
Crepitus by cavitation
It’s when you hear the popping sound from your back when you move or stretch or occurs when the spine is moved near its end range of motion. It can also happen from exercising or getting a chiropractor to help with your body. It’s normal and painless.
The causes are mainly due to air bubbles popping inside the joint, which is not painful. It could also be caused by tendons and ligaments snapping over, which can sometimes cause pain.
The good thing is that if this is the reason behind occasionally hearing a popping sound, then there’s not a thing to worry about as this is considered normal.
It gets serious when you start hearing the popping sound or the cracking more often.
When it’s accompanied by pain, that’s when you know you need to go to a doctor. In this case, typically, your joints are wearing down. A medical term for this condition is known as osteoarthritis.
One common cause possible behind this condition is having a bad posture. If you usually don’t sit straight and slouches most of the day, which is typical for office workers.
Lousy posture can curve your spine, putting more stress on facet joints and encouraging the development of osteoarthritis.
If crepitus is regular and accompanied by pain, swelling, and other symptoms, it indicates arthritis crepitus. But if you know the signs early, there’s a better chance of treating them right away.
Symptoms in arthritic crepitus
If your spine is affected in this way, then you’ll probably get pain in your neck area (cervical spine) or your back area (lumbar spine).
The amount of pain also depends on how much wearing of joints has already taken place.
Your pain can be dull or even intense at times. If you do certain activities, your pain might elevate, so avoid high-intensity activities, including lifting weights especially more than your body weight, running, etc.
- If you have arthritis in the lumbar spine, you’ll experience pain in your lower back area, including groin, hip joint, and thighs. It can even travel down to your foot.
- If you have arthritis in the cervical spine, you’ll experience neck pain, shoulders, upper back, or middle back. It can even go down to your hands and fingers.
Other symptoms include:
- Due to the bone friction and swelling, your spine will become stiffer and less flexible. If you sit down for a long time, then you’ll notice it.
- You’ll start having more muscle spasms, the growth of bone spurs, or other degenerative changes that cause the spinal cord or its nerve roots to become compressed. You might experience tingling, numbness, and weakness.
- Swelling is a prominent symptom that occurs when the joint starts wearing away. It will start from minimal swelling to increase in intensity.
If you suspect having osteoarthritis, then getting an X-ray done is the step you should be taking towards. Your doctor (spine specialist) will probably take into consideration your medical history and perform physical examinations.
If your symptoms are pretty severe and convey your condition like nerve weakness, reflex changes, and even loss of sensation, an MRI might be necessary.
How to treat osteoarthritis?
If you suspect the development of osteoarthritis, you should get an early diagnosis done, and your doctor can provide you with a better treatment plan.
After a physical exam, it’s recognized at early-stage, and non-surgical treatments will be enough to manage your symptoms and function well.
- Physical therapy is a great way to slowly help you regain your strength and control and get help in maintaining a good posture. It works well if you’ve got a dull ache in your spine.
- Your therapist will help you with many physical movements and exercises that will slowly heal your pain and bring back your normal movement. As you regain strength in your muscles, you’ll have more stability for the joint, reducing stress on them.
- You’ll be advised what activities you can do and how to sit correctly, accompanied by getting plenty of rest. Bad posture can ruin your spine.
- If you’re suffering from moderate to high acute pain in your spine or the surrounding area, then steroid injections are what you should get done.
- When combined with physical therapy, Steroid injections provide a better opportunity to get the treatment done while the pain is controlled.
- It’s a better opportunity to work on muscles around the spine and strengthen them as much as possible to bear the stress of everyday activities. A combination of both will help you reduce inflammation and pain.
- Osteoarthritis means your cartilage is gradually wearing off, which will increase the friction between the joints.
- Particular regenerative medicine can help regenerate your cartilage and lead to recovery.
- Mesenchymal stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy are excellent treatment options to help regenerate your cartilage.
When I bend over, why does my upper back pop?
If you’re hearing popping sounds from your upper back (cervical spine), it could be due to your tendon snapping, gas being released from between the joints.
Excessive snapping could mean there’s a problem in your joints, and you might need to get checked for osteoarthritis.
Check for signs like pain in the upper area like neck pain and shoulders. There’s less stability between the joints and nerves, and if not checked on time, it can result in more severe issues.
What does it mean when you hear a pop in your lower back?
Most often, people also end up pulling a muscle in the lower back (lumbar spine), due to which a popping sound can be heard. If you have a pulled muscle, you might lose function and have movement restrictions, difficulty bending, walking, or standing straight.
What do you do when you feel a pop in your lower back?
Hearing a popping sound in your lower back could mean you pulled a muscle, or it could be nothing. See if there are other visible symptoms, such as swelling and pain in the hip joint area.
If you see some symptoms of a pulled muscle, you can ice the affected area for 10 minutes 3-4 times a day to reduce swelling and pain.
Is cracking your back every day bad for you?
You should avoid cracking your back every day as it affects your nerves and blood vessels. It can stretch your back ligaments and lead to causing osteoarthritis.
You probably can’t tell the difference right now as you’re young, but your back will start having more issues as you age.
Hearing a popping sound from your back could just be a simple sound or your joints releasing impending gas trapped within.
Rarely it results in something more severe. You can notice symptoms that might indicate there’s a severe problem with your back.
An early diagnosis and treatment plan can result in healing your back early. But you have to look out for a regular exercise regime and sit straight as much as possible. A problem with your spine could also occur from poor posture, eventually resulting in a curved spine.