These days we are as a society sitting more than we ever have. We drive more often, we are working from home or at desks without proper ergonomics, and we are putting more and more stress and tension on our necks and our spines.
Sitting at a desk all day can lead to a stiff neck, to neck pain, and to this feeling of tension in your neck. When you feel that pain, often you feel that all you need is a good crack or pop to relieve that tension. Often people feel like they cannot get any relief unless they hear the popping sound of their neck cracks.
Does Cracking Your Neck Do Any Good?
Although people can report relief of pain when they hear the cracking sound, depending on what you are doing to produce the sound you may not be doing much more than giving yourself temporary relief.
If you are just gently sitting up straighter, and gently moving your neck through a natural range of motion and things pop without forcibly cracking your neck, you are not likely causing yourself damage as long as you only do it occasionally.
The danger comes from when you move your stiff neck and force your neck to pop or crack. It is very possible that there is a misalignment in one of your neck joints that is causing you discomfort, but when you force your neck to crack, more often than not you are putting more motion in the joints surrounding the misaligned area, and not correcting the actual problem spot. This can, over time, lead to joint instability in those over-mobile areas.
If you are a bit stiff, feeing tension and tightness, or if you are feeling pain daily, cracking your own neck is not the best or safest option for seeking pain relief. In order to address the underlying problem and relieve pain, you should seek medical attention.
Seek Professional Help
Although you can get temporary relief from popping your own back and neck, and although your friends can offer to give you a hand and crack your back, it is far to easy to apply too much pressure and cause more harm than good. In order to prevent permanent damage or injury to your spine, it is always best to leave the neck cracking to the professionals. Only get adjusted by a licensed medical professional such as a physical therapist or a chiropractor.
What Happens When You Crack Your Neck?
The popping noise that happens when you get your neck cracked usually comes from the release of gasses within the joints of the spine. In between every moveable joint in your body is a joint capsule filled with gasses (like carbon dioxide) and synovial fluid to accommodate motion and cushion the joints. When the pressure in that joint is increased, the gasses form gas bubbles which then pop to relieve that pressure. This is known as cavitation. Carefully applied chiropractic care can adjust the joint in a way that can effectively cause appropriate cavitation and relieve pain. The sound itself also has a physiological response in the body that releases endorphins which also provide pain relief.
Sometimes, that endorphin rush can become addicting where people feel like they have to pop their neck in order to feel pain relief. However, the noise itself does not necessarily indicate that the proper movement has been restored. That can only be verified by a trained doctor of chiropractic.
Another reason that the cracking sound can happen can be a result of the tendons and ligaments surrounding a joint rubbing against the bone or over one another. Ligaments and tendons act as rubber bands surrounding the joint providing support and movement. Sometimes, if those ligaments are too tight or too lose, they can rub over the bone or over each other and then snap causing the cracking noise.
So Is Cracking Your Neck Bad For You?
If you constantly crack your neck in order to try and relieve neck pain, you are more likely adding unneeded extra motion within the joints of your spine. This can over time lead to joint instability, and can place undue motion in your muscles in ligaments which can also become permanently stretched, furthering that instability.
Too much motion can also over time increase your overall neck stiffness as your body attempts to tighten the area to prevent neck injury.
In severe cases, popping your own neck can cause pinched nerves around your neck, can cause spinal cord damage over time, and can even damage the blood vessels surrounding your neck which can increase the risk of stroke.
If your neck feels swollen, hot, or painful, you should seek medical attention immediately as it is likely you have a neck injury which needs intervention.
Neck Cracking and Arthritis
Although it is commonly believed that cracking your joints and neck can lead to arthritis, many studies have been performed on this subject and no research shows any direct links between arthritis and cracking your joints.
What Can I Do Instead?
If you do not wish to seek chiropractic care, instead of cracking your neck, you can always add gentle movements and stretching to your daily routine to help relieve tension. Gently lean your head to one side and then another, and hold each stretch for 30 seconds, then release.
However, the best and most effective method of relieving neck pain is chiropractic care.
When Should I Get Help?
If you feel that you have chronic pain and that you have nothing that you can do that brings relief, if you have stiffness and tension and you want to be proactive about your health, seek a chiropractor who will help address the underlying cause of your pain. Get the professional help that your body needs and call today to schedule your initial appointment!