The spine, which is commonly referred to as the backbone, is an important part of the human skeletal system. It comprises twenty four vertebrae that are separated by intervertebral discs. The lumbar spine, which is commonly referred to as the lower back, is the lowest section of the spine. Just below the lumbar spine, lies the weight-bearing joint known as sacroiliac joint. Problems are most likely to arise, if the lumbar vertebrae or the sacroiliac joint are strained beyond tolerable limits. Popping or clicking sounds could sometimes be a sign of excessive strain on the lumbar region.
Clicking noises are often attributed to joint manipulation. It is believed that these arise when the gas that is trapped within the synovial fluid in the joint is released. These are usually harmless, but if these sounds are accompanied by pain, one must consult a doctor. The cracking sound could even be due to the change in the position of a tendon when one moves a joint. The noise is heard when the tendon that has moved slightly out of place returns to its original position. The noise could also be attributed to the tightening of ligaments, which occurs when one moves a joint.
Such sounds may arise due to strain to the joints or supporting structures such as the ligaments, tendons, or cartilage. These supporting structures work in tandem, in order to provide maximum range of motion of a joint. For instance, the cartilage, which is the connective tissue that covers the ends of the bones, prevents friction between bones. Ligaments are connective tissues that connect bones to each other, while the tendons connect muscles to the bones. These structures provide stability to a joint. If any of these structures get affected due to a traumatic injury or repetitive strain, one may hear such sounds more often.
Certain degenerative conditions could also be responsible for causing misalignment of the bony segments of the spine, which in turn may cause clicking noises in the lumbar region. Osteoarthritis is a medical condition that is associated with the degeneration of the cartilage. Clicking sounds may arise if the cartilage gets worn out. As a result, the bones start rubbing against each other.
Herniated disc is another condition wherein the intervertebral discs that are located between the bony segments of the spine, may become weak or herniated. The gelatinous material that is enclosed within the hard outer wall of the disc may leak due to rupturing of the disc. A bulging disc in the lower back could even compress the nerves around the spine, and cause pain. Such sounds could also be caused due to changes in the bone density. Snapping hip syndrome is another condition wherein snapping or clicking sounds may arise from the hip joint.
Crackling sounds that result from the release of trapped gas are not really a cause of concern. In fact, joint manipulation is a common practice wherein people bend their knuckles or joints so as to release the tension. However, one must remember that spinal manipulation can sometimes strain the back. A shift in the position of the muscles, tendons, or any of the supporting structures can cause the bone to move from its normal position. It may be the movement of the affected bone that is causing the snapping sound. Therefore, it is essential that any misalignment in the spinal column or the sacroiliac joint be corrected.
Deep tissue massage or physical therapy may help in this regard. If the clicking noises are accompanied by pain, it would be best to consult a doctor immediately. Besides a physical examination and the analysis of the patient's medical history, doctors sometimes conduct X-rays or other imaging procedures in order to ascertain the underlying cause of such sounds.
Treatment would naturally depend on the underlying cause. Analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed if one is diagnosed with a degenerative joint disease. Drug therapy must also be coupled with self-care measures. Any physical activity that may throw the spine out of alignment, or put stress on the joints in the lumbar region must be avoided.
On a concluding note, seek medical help if clicking noises are accompanied by pain and swelling, and the joint gets locked after it pops. An early diagnosis and treatment would certainly slow down the progression of the disease, and help restore the range of motion of the joint.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.