Spondy’s And That Deep Back Cracking

A somewhat common occurrence for those with spondy’s and other back conditions is that odd, deep cracking or shifting feeling that occurs during certain movements or more specifically, exercises and stretches.

I have had these feelings and sounds before and I know others have as well due to the amount of questions we get on them.

Recently we had a reader ask this question and we thought it would be helpful for others to read our answer to this specific question.

Note: The following question (and answer) is only a portion of a recent email we received and certain sections have been edited or removed for privacy reasons

Reader Question: 

I have the dreaded deep “cracking” that occurs when I move. I have bone on bone crunching as well.  How serious is the cracking?

Our Answer:

The “cracking” you mention when you move your legs independently is most likely a sign of instability. Physical therapist Charlie Weingroff likes to say stability is control of a segment in the presence of something else changing. So instability is simply an absence of control — I wanted to present this definition, because the lack of control may have absolutely nothing to do with your spondy.

It is more likely that the cracking you feel is due to an over-reliance of certain muscles.

If this is the case, then your body may have kicked in a compensation pattern, where these muscles are being used to provide stability. There is no telling if a compensation like this is present prior to your development of spondylolisthesis, or if it developed in response to the spondy.

For example take the hip flexor muscle.

Basically, the hip flexor muscle (iliacus) is a “mover” muscle when you are moving one leg at a time. Like in the leg lift if you are on your back, it is lifting your leg in the air (the muscle is actively shortening) AND lowering it on its way down (the muscle is actively lengthening). The problem arises when the nervous system is trying to use the muscle as a stabilizer — it can’t both stabilize (essentially stay the same length) and mobilize (shorten or lengthen to move the leg) at the same time.

A typical result is that either the hip joint, sacrum, or lower spine “cracks” due to this mess. The crack is not a sign that something will go terribly wrong. Many times it is not even painful, just weird to experience. But it is a sign that you may have a compensatory pattern at work, and usually it is in your best interest to correct it.

Hopefully this answer will help you to better understand one of the possible causes of that deep, cracking sound that you might encounter daily or every once in a while. Whatever the case finding a rehab professional and having a full body movement screen is a great start to finding possible culprits.

Do you have these back cracking sounds?

If so tell us about your experiences below in the comment box, we would love to hear them.

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Leave A Reply (26 comments so far)


  1. Kimberly
    3 years ago

    I, too, have this. For me, it is very disconcerting, and it actually makes me really down about this spondy thing. I am afraid to do exercises in fear that I will exacerbate my condition. I feel stymied and do nothing because I don’t want to make anything more unstable. I feel this cracking/grinding feeling when I turn side to side in bed or when I lean over to pick up something off of the floor. I squat most of the time in order to avoid this unpleasant feeling. It truly unnerves me.

    I am in some firm of back pain everyday, and it radiates down my legs. I am really at a loss of how to fix this problem if there is any fix. I was diagnosed with grade 1 spondy a little over a year ago.

    Can you steer me in a right direction?


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Kimberly. I understand your pain and concern. Having a spondy can be a very frightening experience. To steer yourself in the right direction you need to understand two things. Your body and it’s strengths/weaknesses in regards to movement and your exact condition. When I say exact condition I am referring to the many characteristics that make each spondy unique. There are two articles that I wrote that will help you understand this more:
      http://spondyinfo.com/10-things-that-make-your-spondy-unique/
      http://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/
      I encourage you to read these articles and to also download our free Ebook here: http://spondyinfo.com/3-things-ebook/
      Once you finish, feel free to email me with any further questions you may have. Educating yourself is very important when it comes to feeling better from this condition. I hope the above links get you started in the right direction.


  2. Sascha
    3 years ago

    When I have flare ups or am recovering from a recent flare up, I definitely notice these very loud, deep popping sounds and sensations in my lower back and in my pelvis and hips (my spondy is in-between L5-S1 vertebrae). I wondered if it had anything to do with my spondy issues and have tried researching it before, but had no luck finding any correlation. I was so surprised to stumble across this blog! I do not, however, notice any deep popping or cracking when I stay a step ahead of flare ups through exercise and keeping my body strong as well as staying on top of any uneven postural and or overcompensation issues.

    @Kimberly–I was really down and out when I learned about my spondy, but have no fear!! You can and will get through this. This is a wonderful website with tons of information. The hard part is figuring out what helps you specifically as everybody responds differently. Don’t let that pain get to you!


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Sascha. Thanks for finding the site and providing a helpful comment! I could not agree with you more on your back cracking/popping comment. Staying ahead of your spondy is key. I too experience no cracking or popping when I am consistently working on my weaknesses and staying ahead of my spondy. For me, that is the key. Thanks again for the great comment!


  3. Melissa
    2 years ago

    Hey there I too have this popping. What do you mean by “staying ahead of the spondy” also is physical therapy the best medicine for restabalizing this?


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Melissa. By staying ahead of the spondy I basically mean that you are getting the proper screening and taking the measures to assure you have proper movement to avoid these compensations and stressors that can lead to pain. Physical therapy is a great start, but the key is proper therapy. One that addresses your entire body. I discuss this in more detail here: http://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/


  4. Dianne
    2 years ago

    I had a two level fusion at S1 to L 4 in January 2013. Before this I found sleeping on about a metre of satin material that I hemmed and then folded in half with the slippery side inwards helped me turn over in bed. I still sleep on this and it has helped the drag on my back muscles. Just watch you don’t fall out of bed! I even took my satin half sheet into hospital with me when I had my fusion! I have done an hour of different simple exercises in my spa each day and I finally feel my back getting stronger. I can now carry two dinner plates to the table at meal times. Such a long journey in this but hey ho, we are still alive so when there is life there is hope!


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      I am glad to hear about your improvement Dianne! Thanks for sharing your tip and keep up the improvement!


  5. Darren Lawrance
    2 years ago

    I am 8 weeks into my 6th episode of my back problem, which has occurred on and off over the last 26 years, with between 2 to 6 years of no symptoms in between episodes. Symptoms are pain very low (lumbar) on the left hand side (and sometimes left groin), which can be aching, ‘pressure,’ sharp or burning, and is made worse by sitting, these deep ‘popping’ sounds with movement (e.g. standing after sitting) and a feeling of instability. Standing still is the least painful position. Physiotherapy/core stability & strengthening have been helpful in the past, however my current physio treatment & exercises seem to be aggravating my condition. All I feel like doing is lying down, but I know this is not good. Pain is bad enough to prevent me working as a teacher. Have had scans (e.g. MRI) 6 years ago which didn’t show much wrong. Is it time to see a specialist again e.g. orthopaedic surgeon?


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Darren. Whenever pain is taking over your life it is always a good idea to seek a medical opinion. One piece of advice would be to visit both an orthopedic surgeon and perhaps another ortho as well for multiple opinions. It would also be a good idea to mention to your Physio the painful nature of these exercises. No exercises should be causing you with more long-term pain. Perhaps your body is compensating and causing even more pain. Hope this helps!


  6. Fran
    2 years ago

    I get cracking in my lower back when I do push ups or plank position – what is the cause of that it really scares me – don’t know if I am damaging my back worse or its just the process of strengthening process. Some have said don’t worry but not sure they understand that I have problems with lower back.

    Also when in Spin class when they go up and down on the bike as 4 count standing 4 count sitting does that cause issues or is it ok to do that position –

    Please advice – your comments are important to me!

    Thank you


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Fran.

      As stated in the answer we provided above in the blog post, this cracking or popping feeling is often a sign of instability (not 100% the case with everyone, but it happens more often than not). It really is impossible to tell if the popping is a result of your spondy or was present before the spondy happened. What is likely is that you have some kind of compensation pattern present that is forcing certain muscles to play roles they are not meant to play. Thus forcing your body to find a way to provide stability when you have instability.

      This creates a chain of reactions and long story short you often get a popping or grinding feeling. I get this too sometimes and to be honest once I feel it/hear it I stop because I know something is not working the way it should. More often than not I slow down and check my technique to make sure everything is right. Once I make these corrections the popping subsides.

      My suggestion would be to use the popping sound as a guide or warning system. If you hear it or feel it most likely you are compensating or cheating to perform a repetition or movement. I cannot accurately answer if it is making your spondy worse because there are so many variables. Personally, I prefer to avoid it.

      I would also suggest seeking out a certified professional to take a look at your overall movement quality. Explain this popping to them and upon demonstration I am sure they could offer more explanation due to the fact they can physically see you. Our preferred testing protocol is the SFMA. Google SFMA to learn more or search through our website to learn more. We offer more info in our Spondy Toolbox page (you can click on the Spondy Toolbox tab at the top of the page for more info.)

      I hope this helps!


  7. Fran
    2 years ago

    A few days ago I wrote regarding cracking sounds in my lower back. Not sure of the procedure how the get back to me but would appreciate an answere- when I do planks I hear a lot of car killing and am afraid if this will cause damage – exercise has helped me tremendously but am not sure if it is proper way to go- I constantly get a severe pain on my right side – the Mir showed bulging disk – I have been trying to sit up straight – any info you can send is very much appreciated – your website is helpful but not sure how to look up further details from your website!

    Thank you
    Fran Martiniello


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Fran. I responded to your previous question and I hope the info was of help. It usually takes me a day or so to get back to you due to the number of responses I get. I encourage you to sign up for email notifications of when I respond to your question. That way you get my response right to your email inbox. To do this select this option right below the “Leave a Reply” area above the comments.

      The best way to navigate around the site is to read through our blog posts. Click on the “blog” tab at the top of the page.

      Once there, you will have access to all of our posts. You will see a “popular posts” tab on the right hand side towards the bottom. Or you can read posts that are classified into one of four categories. To do this simply scroll over the “spondy education” tab at the top of any page and you will get four options to chose from. I hope this helps!


  8. Pixie Showman
    2 years ago

    Yes! I have lots of cracking and not in a good way. I’m so glad to get this explanation. A couple of years ago, my spine started out with 1 crack here and there. Then the 1 crack was all the time. Now after 2 years, my back cracks every time I stand up, walk up stairs, etc. at least a half a dozen times. I’ve been very worried that I do things that will harm it more, but I feel a bit relieved now. Thank you for the explanation!


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      No problem Pixie! I am glad you found the info useful.


  9. Tanesia
    1 year ago

    I have dealt with my spondylolisthesis for about 8 years and it has progressively gotten worse over the last year or so. I have had the popping and clicking for years but just recently I get woken up from my sleep because of this cracking and it has cause pain.


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      HI Tanesia. Sorry to hear about your recent pain and popping. I good place to start would be to consider all of the recent activities and active changes you have had in your daily habits that may be affecting your spondy. I explain this more here: http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-therapy-tip-keep-a-journa/

      This is a great way to get started in improving how you move and feel!


  10. Brenda Parish
    1 year ago

    I have a very muddy picture with a series of back problems for many years. I recently retired from general nursing after a long career.
    I didn’t know that I had Spondy until two years ago. I had been misdiagnosed for many years. I also have stenosis of 3 4 and 5th vertebra. Osteoarthritis of my Spine.

    I have been so confused with the level of pain I have, the bone on bone grinding. Very heavy legs so that it is a real effort mentally and physically to walk. The spasm and acute pain when standing in queues. I have also had both hips replaced in the past five years. Also knee surgery pending.

    I should say that I am a very positive lady, enjoying my live regardless of all these problems.
    Reading your blog has clarified a lot of things for me, which has been so helpful.

    Now I am wondering with all this information you have given me, do I really need to have an epidural anaesthetic or injections into my facet joints planned for October.
    I have learned so much, that I am beginning to manage the symptoms.

    I live in the UK and not had a great deal of support, so thank you


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Hi Brenda. Thanks for sharing your story and thank you for the kind comments. Like many others that I speak to on this site it sounds like you have much more going on in your spine than just a spondy. This makes it difficult to determine what may or may not be leading to various pains and symptoms you are experiencing. With that being said it really is hard to say if the epidural or injections will be of benefit. Unfortunately that is a question that is best suited for your doctor (as they can physically see you, review your x-rays, etc. and they are qualified to diagnosis your issues). My only piece of advice that may be helpful at this time is to get a few opinions on topics that you are unsure about or question. I am not for sure of how it works in the UK, but here in the US you have the option and right to get multiple opinions from multiple doctors. I ALWAYS recommend this to readers facing big or uncomfortable decisions. At a minimum you get more information and education about your body and condition and often times you will get conflicting guidance that may sway your personal decision and make it easier. Keep your head up and keep progressing! I hope the site helps you even more along the way!


  11. Lynda
    12 months ago

    I am 66. I was a ranked runner in Europe and now I teach spin but I have cut down on my classes considerably. I have had pain for about 10 years but was told it was normal. I finally went to a spine doc who did an MRI and diagnosed mild to grade 1 spondylolithesis with slight osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Spine doc said it shouldn’t hurt! t was training with a former Mr. Olympia but have had to stop that. I am now training with someone who is correcting my movement patterns and also doing physical therapy. But I am feeling really down. I might have a day when it feels “okay” but then the next day it doesn’t. I am trying to run again…I run/walk 3 times a week for 4 miles. If my speed gets too high my back seems to aggravate the glutes…I feel a burning through the glutes and pain and crackling in my back. I stretch everyday. I swim and that helps a lot. Doc is gonna wait another 8 weeks and then, if it still hurts, do steroid injections. I am lying in bed now and the pain is dissipating, but as soon as I start moving around it flares up. I do not want to be sedentary. Thanks for letting me vent. What do you think of steroid injections?


    • SpondyInfo
      12 months ago

      Hi Lynda. Thanks for sharing your story. I understand your pain, frustration and fear. It can be very challenging when first diagnosed as the mind automatically goes to negative places. I encourage you to start keeping a journal of your pain and discomfort to help you locate what could be leading to some of your flare ups. I talk more about this here:http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-therapy-tip-keep-a-journa/

      Keeping a journal is a fantastic way of finding out what helps, what hurts, and what may be leading to issues.

      As far as steroid injections go, I was once told by a doctor I really trust that the injections are very hit and miss. For some they may help for a brief amount of time and for others they do nothing. The thing is they may help with the inflammation, but they only mask the pain and discomfort. The do not address the underlaying causes of what is leading to the pain and discomfort.

      I hope this info helps. Stay in contact and don’t hesitate to discuss your journey on the site. That is what it is here for!


  12. Lynda
    10 months ago

    Hello again. Here is an update. I had cortisone shots into my hips. After 5 days I felt great. At day 8 the pain was back. The cracking is still there. I went back to physical therapy and had a different person. She diagnosed SI joint instability. She kind of pressed on the hip and then pulled my leg sharply. It immediately felt better. Then she did some dry needling into the piriformis muscles and hip. Then, to make it hurt more, she attached it to electrodes! I was sore the next day but it did feel better. (Slightly better). I shall continue to try different stuff and be my own health advocate. But I think I may be onto something with this PT. Anyway, just want to thank you for this site and for your very kind and helpful replies to all our questions.


    • SpondyInfo
      10 months ago

      Thanks for sharing Lynda!

      I have seen several cases where spondy patients have discovered other issues that have been culprits of pain and lead to improvement. I hope your case falls into this category. Keep striving to improve!


  13. Jill
    8 months ago

    Hi I get a very loud crack at the base of my spine where my spondy is when I stand up from seated position or move positions when lying down with my hips. it doesn’t hurt but is getting more frequent and loud it’s embarrassing if I’m in public as other people hear it
    My ankle does the same thing so I figured it was nothing serious as that also does it every time I bend it or walk. My upper neck also crunches when I move the neck from side to side so I did worry about the possibility of arthritis as in my lumbar where my spondy is the X-ray said OA changes so I don’t know if that’s just a normal every day find for some of my age 36.


    • SpondyInfo
      8 months ago

      Hi Jill. I also get cracking often in certain areas, like my ankle. For the most part-for me- these are nothing to be concerned about. However, like the blog post mentions, sometimes cracking in the spine and hips/pelvic complex could be a sign of instability. This is nothing to worry about for the most part, but it is more a less a sign that you may need some help to improve upon this instability. As always, this should be discussed with your doctor for a more exact diagnosis for you and your specific situation. To discover if you have instability present, I would recommend meeting with a professional to address your specific movement and weaknesses. This blog post can point you in the right direction:

      http://spondyinfo.com/locate-rehab-professional-spondy/

      I hope that info helps!

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