Is Cracking Your Own Neck Helping or Hurting You?

Nowadays, most of us are constantly craning our neck to get a better view of the computer, tablet or television screen for work, school or pleasure. Over time, this can cause stiffness and pain in the neck, which can lead to headaches and injury of the cervical spine. For a quick relief, we often “crack” our neck, but are we causing more harm than good?

When you crack your neck, the action releases gas or fluid from the joints surrounding the neck. The cracking, or cavitation, usually makes you feel better temporarily. However, it doesn’t alleviate the underlying problem.

Those who specialize in sports medicine and chiropractic medicine see neck stiffness frequently in athletes and non-athletes alike. If you constantly feel the need to crack your neck, it’s likely because you have hypermobility, or a larger than normal range of motion, in your neck joints. Self-cracking only affects the least resistant joints. However, the joints that are really stuck remain so.

“This is my general rule – everything in moderation,” said Dr. Shaun Janse van Rensburg, licensed chiropractic physician at Southeast Orthopedic Specialists. “If you turn your head and hear a pop, it’s not a big deal. Should you ‘pop’ your neck multiple times a day, every day? Probably not. You would more than likely create some sort of hypermobility in a joint, which you don’t want.”

What Kind of Damage Does Repeated Self-Cracking Do?

If you are constantly cracking your neck, pressure will build up in the joints. This causes the surrounding ligaments to stretch to unstable levels and the cartilage in your vertebrae to wear down. This can cause osteoarthritis, which is serious, irreversible and painful. It also causes even greater stiffness.

Some studies have found something even more frightening. People under 60 who repeatedly crack their necks have been shown to be more likely to have a stroke than those who don’t. That’s because the cracking can cause a blood clot that deprives the brain of oxygen.

Why Should You See a Professional?

When you crack your neck, you are only getting to the most mobile joints, but not to the other ones that are truly stuck. That’s why you still feel the repeated need to do it.

Before treating your neck problem, it is essential for an orthopedic specialist, to conduct a thorough examination and possibly take x-rays to determine the underlying cause of your chronic pain or stiffness. While it’s usually nothing serious, they need to rule out the possibility of a fracture, tumor or other underlying cause. It’s important to share all your symptoms, such as headaches, with your doctor to better help he or she diagnose the problem.

As a surgical alternative, often, skilled joint manipulation by a certified chiropractor or experienced physical therapist will help work out the soft tissue lesions that are causing the pain and stiffness. This should take care of the underlying issue and reduce the need to crack your neck.

“I advise my patients to reduce the number of times they crack their neck; it shouldn’t become a nervous tic or habit,” Dr. Janse van Rensburg said. “If you wake up with stiffness or soreness, you can lean your head to the left or right side to stretch your neck – that’s not a bad thing – it’s mobility. The key with stretching is slow and controlled movements.”

Our Jacksonville orthopedic surgeons, chiropractor and physical therapists at Southeast Orthopedic Specialists work together closely to provide patients with the optimal care and treatment for their neck and other musculoskeletal issues. We also advise them on changes they can make in their daily lives to prevent the problems from reoccurring or worsening. To schedule an appointment with one of our doctors, call or contact us online. We have five clinics throughout North Florida for your convenience.

Return to Blog