Neck stiffness isn’t unusual, and it can occur from merely spending too long bent over your desk, sleeping awkwardly or lifting something that is too heavy. Many crave the feeling of relief that comes from a quick crack of the neck (although some research has shown that this may be a psychological placebo effect).
Well, it depends. If you can crack your neck by merely turning your head, you likely aren’t causing yourself damage to do it occasionally. However, if you are forcing your neck to pop or crack suddenly, you probably aren’t doing yourself a lot of good.
Cracking your neck yourself may not be the best option if you are feeling more than just “a bit stiff,” or if you are experiencing neck stiffness and pain over several days, and if this is the case you will benefit from seeing a chiropractor.
A friend might offer to give you a hand with your stiff neck, but they could easily end up applying too much pressure and causing more damage than good. Only get your back or neck adjusted from a licensed chiropractor or physical therapist.
There are a few explanations for why your neck makes a popping sound. The first is called cavitation. Our joints contain gases (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen) and fluid to cushion and lubricate the joints. The sound is produced by pressure on the fluid that creates gas bubbles that pop. Cavitation can increase flexibility and ease discomfort, and chiropractors are trained in how to do this most effectively to relieve pain.
Another reason for the cracking noise you hear can be the result of ligaments and tendons moving over the joints or one another. Ligaments connect bone to bone, and tendons connect muscle to bone. Sometimes, if the ligaments, muscles or tendons supporting your neck are too tight or too loose, they will make this cracking noise when you force the tendons, muscles or ligaments to rub against your bones.
Popping your joints (neck or otherwise) releases endorphins that help relieve your pain temporarily. This release can be addictive, hence why people will often say, “but I needed to!” if you ask them to stop cracking a specific body part.
This popping or cracking noise does not necessarily indicate there has been any positive readjustment.
Cracking or popping your neck should never hurt, and you should never have to force it. If either of these things is true, then neck cracking is likely doing you harm. Your neck should not be extremely stiff or at all swollen, and if this is the case, you almost certainly have a neck injury that requires medical attention.
Be aware that constant or forcibly cracking your neck can be bad for you. There is an abundance of blood vessels in your neck that can be damaged by continuous cracking. These vessels carry blood to, and away from your brain, so forceful and constant neck cracking can increase your risk of stroke by damaging these vessels.
Another danger of forceful cracking is overextending your ligaments and tendons, which can weaken their ability to support your head throughout your life.
Many people don’t like to hear someone else’s joints popping, and most of us have heard someone tell us that cracking your joints will cause arthritis. But does it? There is no research showing direct links between arthritis and cracking joints.
Hold a stretch for at least 20 seconds, release, and repeat until you feel better.
If you are continuously experiencing a stiff neck or neck pain, it’s essential to see a professional who can ensure you don’t have an underlying problem that needs to be corrected. If you need an expert to help with your current or chronic neck stiffness or pain contact Core Rehab to book an appointment today!