Seeing someone crack a joint, like their neck or their knuckles, is a common sight, and you may not think anything of it. It may even be a habit of yours when you’re stressed or feel a tightness because it brings you relief. But some people claim it’s not safe, while others say it’s harmless. The truth is that most neck cracking isn’t dangerous, but it can be a sign of an underlying condition that requires professional neck pain treatment to address. If you are concerned about how often you crack your neck, there are alternatives that can bring you the same relief without the concerns.
Is Cracking Your Neck Bad?
In most cases, cracking your neck does bring about actual relief from pain and pressure. This is due to something called cavitation – when you stretch a joint, the capsules stretch and release built-up gas, which is what causes the audible “pop” associated with this habit. There is nothing harmful about cavitation, and it does relieve pressure for some time. There may also be an associated release of endorphins that makes it feel good, and that is why some people crack their necks in response to stress as well as physical cues.
When cracking your neck becomes a problem is when you do so too frequently or too aggressively. Over time, frequent cracking of the neck can cause your ligaments to become permanently stretched, leading to something called perpetual instability. In addition to causing more pain and stiffness, perpetual instability can also lead to the development of osteoarthritis in the neck.
If you crack your neck too aggressively, it is likely to cause pinched nerves and other physical issues, which may lead to more pain and pressure than you were originally experiencing. The neck also contains important blood vessels, and an ill-performed crack can lead to a puncture or a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain.
The primary concern with cracking necks is that it is a habit used to temporarily cover up symptoms of other, more serious conditions and misalignments in the spine that require treatment. There is evidence that suggests neck cracking is in part effective due to a placebo effect brought about by the sound itself, which is why the same symptoms can return so quickly.
It is also true that cracking your neck releases endorphins, which temporarily covers up the pain, but not by addressing the structural issues.
Alternatives to Neck Cracking
If you want to stop cracking your neck so often, there are a number of things you can do when you feel the urge to crack your neck. One common exercise is a chin tuck, in which you look straight ahead and tuck your chin down, then lean your head back, holding each position for 5 seconds and repeating.
Other things that may help include:
- Applying heat (such as a heating pad) or taking a warm bath to soothe the muscles in the neck.
- Applying an ice pack to a swollen or sore neck.
- Improving posture throughout the day to relieve tension.
When these methods don’t alleviate pain, you can also use massage or even acupuncture as natural approaches to healing neck pain. If the problem persists, it may be time to visit a medical professional like a chiropractor.
Do Chiropractors Crack Your Neck?
If you’ve ever had a chiropractic adjustment, you may think it is the same thing as cracking your neck- the chiropractor applies particular pressure to the neck, and it ultimately makes the same “popping” sounds. However, an adjustment is much more complex and involves techniques that are not safe for anyone but a chiropractor to perform.
Rather than simply stretching and cracking the neck, a chiropractor looks to mobilize it, encouraging the joint to move to an end range without high-velocity movements. The chiropractor begins this process by feeling how the joint moves, carefully taking it through its range of motion and identifying any tension or restriction. If there is such a point, a chiropractor may use something called the drop technique.
The drop technique is often the chiropractic answer to cracking your neck. It utilizes a special table with a segment that drops up and down, one notch at a time. This movement allows for adjustment to occur without a harsh twisting or cracking.
Patients usually notice an immediate relief when the drop technique is used, though not all stiffness and restriction are gone immediately. It may take a few days of rest and hydration for the lingering symptoms to go away. Ultimately, regular adjustments can return the spine to alignment so that the neck is no longer in pain and cracking it becomes unnecessary.
There are some cases where a chiropractor will crack the neck as a necessary part of treatment, but the preference is to use a more gentle method like the drop technique. Even when you hear the sounds of cavitation, it does not mean a chiropractor is cracking your neck in the same way you might on your own. Chiropractic adjustments involve intricate techniques that should never be replicated by others- the danger of performing these techniques without proper training far exceeds the dangers of simply cracking your own neck.
Chiropractic Care for Neck Pain
The majority of injuries and conditions that create the urge to crack your neck relate back to misalignments in the spine that can be effectively addressed by chiropractic care. At AICA Marietta, our chiropractors are experts in these problems and can diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms. With this information, they will work with the rest of our staff to form a comprehensive and personalized plan of care.
Whether you have suffered from whiplash, have a degenerative disc condition, or simply need help improving your posture, the staff at AICA Marietta is ready to help you. Through careful chiropractic adjustments, we will ensure your spine is properly aligned and eliminate your urge to crack your own neck. Contact our office today to schedule your first consultation.