Bent but not broken, cracked but not croakin'?
September 13, 2011 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, as I was bending over to plug something in, I sneezed really hard and popped about 4 vertebrae all at once right in the middle of my back. Right in the spot where I carry all my tension. It felt absolutely amazing and a little dangerous. Is it possible to safely and regularly replicate that release of tension on my own, say once a day? How?
posted by carsonb to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure those sudden, bone-snapping-feeling movements are what chiropractors do.
posted by xingcat at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2011

I have a really crackity back. I'm the person who twists in her chair and then has people stare at her in horror because of the rat-tat-tat-tat-tat noises that follow. I am self-back-cracking pro. (I also have a neck problem, and the (legitimate, not-a-chiropractor, specialist) doctor I see for the neck problem just shrugged and said, "hey, whatever works for you," when I asked him if it was OK to crack my back like that. As far as "safety" goes.)

Anyway, here are the various things that I do:

Stretch first and loosen up before you do any of these things if you're not very limber. I am not a backologist. I am not your backologist. Please do not force any of these things and hurt yourself. Proceed with caution.

Lower mid back
Sit down on the floor (or your bed, or some other large, flat surface), indian style. Put your right hand on your left knee and your left hand behind you. Sit up straight. Now rotate towards the back, leading with your shoulders (leave your butt firmly planted), and using your hands for resistance. Switch hands and twist to the other side.

You can also do this while lying down on your side. Keep your shoulders perpendicular to the bed, but rotate your lower half so that your legs are parallel to the bed. Put your hand on your hip and twist.

Upper mid back
For this one you will need a chair with a low, square back. Like the attached desk-chairs you sat in back in school or a card table chair. Sit in the chair and position the top of the back of the chair in the area you want to pop. Reach your hands behind you to cup your palms over the sides of the back of the chair (this should put them about at the back of your ribcage, an inch or so under your armpits). Using the resistance from your hands to brace yourself, pull yourself back into the chair and kind of arch your upper back over the top of the chair. (That doesn't read like it makes a whole lot of sense...I don't know any better way to describe it, though.)

Lower back
Sit on the floor for this one. If your floor isn't carpeted, put a folded t-shirt or towel under you so you don't bruise your tailbone. (Not a mat, though, because it has too much give.) Sit in a V on the floor like you're doing crunches, except instead of having your back be the main contact point with the floor, roll (gently!) up onto your sacrum (ass bone). Kind of rock back and forth for a bit, and it should pop. (This one is pretty elusive, but it's ahhhh so satisfying when you get it to work.)

Hope those help. I realize this is a little insane. I probably spend way too much time popping my back. But oh man does it feel nice.
posted by phunniemee at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2011 [19 favorites]

You can get those by trying one-armed pushups. Even if you can't actually do one, just lowering yourself through one with one arm is what does it for me.
posted by mhoye at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

My wife used to have me do something with a similar effect, where she would fold her arms across her chest, and I would put her in a bear hug (standing behind her) around her folded arms and lift her up. It always popped her back around there. It seemed to make her feel really good.

However, she wasn't doing any stretching or exercise in the morning. You may get a similar feeling of well-being if you're able to exercise and stretch before work (assuming you're not already).

But IANAD and you should maybe ask one what they think.
posted by circular at 12:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, to be clear this happened a few hours after a really intense workout. I was probably as limber as I ever get. I'd like to be able to do something similar every time I work out, or about 3 times a week.

Excellent suggestions so far, thanks! One-armed pushup and the chair method phunniemee describes are at the top of my list of things to try.

It's relieving to hear that this is something I can do (carefully, of course) regularly.
posted by carsonb at 12:55 PM on September 13, 2011

I've been having luck with this Spine-Worx contraption, BUT - use it carefully, heed the caveats, etc. The main caveat is that this won't work for anyone with spine curvature issues.

Warnings having been took a little experimenting to find just the right position, but now that I have, all it takes is about 5-10 minutes using it to relax my back muscles enough that some gentle yoga or actions like the ones mentioned above can make those "amazing" pops happen without straining too hard. I suspect, assuming that one is reasonably healthy and spine-issue-free, that a more proper and diligent yoga practice would probably end up doing the same thing without such quick-fix gadgets.

Also avoid jerky movements when trying to make the pops. And above all, be careful and use discretion with all of the advice in this thread.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:05 PM on September 13, 2011

Besides just cracking my own back - I've been able to replicate that "trauma" by skateboarding. Specifically by crashing.

When you crash on a skateboard you learn to tuck and roll. If you're facing forward that means tucking your shoulder into the crash and doing one or more somersaults to (hopefully safely) disperse momentum and energy rather than sliding/scraping on concrete or coming to a full stop against an immovable object.

When you crash backwards you do backwards somersaults and rolls. (Taking care to roll off your shoulders and not your head, obviously.)

More than once I've had a "crash" I've rolled out of where my back has cracked/popped and it feels great.

You could replicate this tumbling with something like, well, tumbling. Or gymnastics. Or taking up Judo or Aikido.
posted by loquacious at 1:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have heard that if you have a (not too heavy) friend walk (barefoot) on your back while you are lying facedown on a carpeted floor, similar results may obtain.
posted by chinston at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not entirely sure what joint this actually cracks, but I think it's the tailbone. Lie on your back in bed or on the floor, and cross your legs at the ankles. Keeping your legs together as much as possible, do a pelvic thrust. If you're lucky, you'll get one big pop. So, so satisfying.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 2:24 PM on September 13, 2011

I have heard that if you have a (not too heavy) friend walk (barefoot) on your back while you are lying facedown on a carpeted floor, similar results may obtain.

There is a safer way to do this. Lie down on your stomach the floor (again, make sure you're relaxed and stretched) with your head turned to the side and your arms flat and relaxed at your sides. Have a friend (it helps if your friend is heavy and/or strong, but careful) straddle you over your butt. Laugh with your friend about what an awkward position it is.

Now, your friend needs to place his hands palms down about a half inch away on either side of your spine (thumbs parallel to spine) in the middle of your back. Make sure it's a comfortable position for you. Then he'll press down with the butt of his hands, firmly but gently (no jerky, quick motions) in a movement that is STRAIGHT down then SLIGHTLY forward. Then, he'll reposition his hands a little higher and do the same thing. Then a little higher and do the same thing. And so on.

After you relax for a moment, turn your head to the other side. Have your friend repeat the back popping motions. Lie in place and relax afterwards, then slowly roll onto your back. Relax for another moment or two and you're good to go. (You don't want to get up and move too quickly afterwards or you'll re-kink everything.) Slow and steady wins the race.
posted by phunniemee at 2:37 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

The bear hug method works, for real. One of my friends does it for me on a semi-regular basis and it's such a thorough release of stress and tension that I usually burst out laughing hysterically.

I also get a chair massage every once in a while with a big burly guy, and cracking my back is always part of the routine. You can certainly ask a massage therapist to do this, even if it's just a 10 minute clothed chair massage.
posted by telegraph at 5:42 PM on September 13, 2011

Bear-hugger here -- my ex would come up and say "crack me" which was pretty much a normal hug, squeezing her moderately tightly midway up but with the bonus of lifting just a little. There'd be a couple of THUD THUD sort of things and she'd get all chipper and smile. No harm ever noticed from it over years and years.

Got a friend?
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:37 PM on September 13, 2011

Response by poster: Sadly, my circle of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances don't include many capable of effecting the bear-hug technique on a burly fellow such as myself. I'll save it as a back-up (heh) in case I do come across somebody with that sort of wingspan and strength.
posted by carsonb at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have recently been doing an exercise for my abdominals that has the additional benefit of cracking my back in the process. I lay on the floor face up and extend my legs straight up (I don't point my toes.) Then I slowly lower my legs until my body is at about a 120 degree angle. Then I hold that position for about 30 seconds. After about 10 seconds, my back starts cracking all up and down, and spontaneous back cracking is not the norm for me. I think that having to clench all my abdominals makes everything kind of line up and pay attention. It's fabulous. Oh, and good for my abs.
posted by eleslie at 8:19 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can't get someone to lift you, hanging from a bar as if I'm about to do pull-ups sometimes cracks my back in that way. Even if it doesn't crack, that or a handstand/headstand/shoulderstand, if you can get into one of those, can really loosen your back and perhaps make it easier to crack (with one of phunniemee's methods)
posted by lilbizou at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2011

I've done the bear-hugger thing from the back with lots of people; some people, it's like snapping a whip crack crack crack crack crack crack crack and then they're all happy and relaxed and smiley, like so many have said upthread.

I've had only a few people do it for me (I'm a galoot; they have to be, also) and it's good, it's good. But it only gets me in between my shoulder blades, and maybe a bit lower.

I'm super, super envious of all of you who can do this; it feels so, so good, the few odd times here/there when mine has popped this way or that.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:36 PM on September 13, 2011

I would recommend using trigger point therapy to treat the deep spinal and other back muscles so that once tensions are relaxed and relevant muscles no longer weakened, the bones can come into alignment naturally.

Popping bones into place is a method of the old school osteopath. It may feel good, but why does your back go back to the way it was? IMO it's because the muscles still have trigger points pulling them out of kilter. Popping may put stress on muscle attachments while they're still tight or have other effects.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:01 PM on September 13, 2011

A convenient method for doing all by yourself, is to tape together a couple of tennis balls into a bi-lobar structure (like a cross section through a red blood cell).
Then stick those under the section of back you are after and lie down over them.
It can also be done sitting or slumping on a chair.

I am a student osteopath (in the UK) so cannot advise you on care etc. etc. but it is worth pointing out that the more you click things, the more mobile they get. If this is an area that is usually solid and clicking it loosens it, that should be fine, but people clicking their own backs often do the bits that pop easily, and this doesn't address the more solid bits elsewhere. So you end up with really solid bits and relatively more mobile bits, and the more mobile bits are more prone to injury.

If you don't like any of that, feel free to just stick with the tennis balls.
posted by fizban at 12:44 AM on September 14, 2011

I too have sneezed and subluxed my spine. I also once sneezed while getting into my car (sneeze + spine twist + pelvic twist) and injured my back severely enough that had to stay home from work for a few days. I now make it a point to always be aware of my posture before I sneeze.

Here's my method for a self-spine subluxation.

Lay with your spine flat to the floor.
Draw one leg up, bent at the knee, then cross that raised thigh over your other thigh.
Using the arm opposite the leg you raised, place a hand on the knee of that crossed leg to keep it in place. With your opposing arm, reach out to your side and touch the floor.
Repeat for your other side to even things out and get all the vertebrae to pop that need it.

As you have constrained your pelvis by holding your knee across you with your hand, when you do that final reach you are creating an isolated twist to your spine with your shoulders.

This works great for me and I do it every day. As is said above, you get the most out of it by being as relaxed, massaged, etc. as possible before you execute the move. I find that five minutes or so of laying on my stomach with my torso propped up on my elbows ahead of time can help.
posted by No Shmoobles at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2011

Orthopedic subluxation is a painful partial dislocation of the spine, if you did sublux your spine, you'd suffer badly. Chiropractic subluxation has never been shown to exist. The cracking you hear is caused by the movement of ligaments over the bones of the spine, is generally harmless and can be very beneficial. (Cavitation is believed to be the cause of cracking in the fingers.)
posted by nickji at 2:09 AM on September 15, 2011

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
So it's taken me a few years of stretching and trying everything mentioned here to varied degrees of success, but now I can very nearly replicate the experience I had sneezing. I've finally found the thing that reliably cracks my back all the way down from the neck to the tailbone. I do this as my very last exercise after a full HIIT workout and short, mild yoga session (so when I'm really warm and limber):

Sit on the ground (mat) and grab my toes. Rock back, holding my toes, until my feet are over my head and nearly touching the ground. I'm balancing on my shoulders and neck. Once I'm steady I do a crunch, basically tightening my core and straining my neck towards my hips. *POP* I slowly and carefully roll one vertebra back towards sitting position, and repeat the crunch. *POP* Slowly, carefully, I roll all the way back until my ass is touching the floor, doing a crunch on each vertebra. *POP*s all the way down. It's not as sudden as the bent-over-surprise-sneeze technique, but it's much easier to replicate.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:32 PM on April 23, 2014

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