Neck cracking
March 17, 2005 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea for me to be popping/cracking my neck?

I used to go to a chiropractor who said I shouldn't do it (for reasons I can't exactly remember). But I've since moved and no longer see a chiropractor. At least once a day (if not more), my neck feels stiff, so I crack it to relieve the pressure. And I can seriously feel a difference. I can't imagine stopping completely and just dealing with a stiff neck. It's not a habitual thing, but something I do just when I need the relief.

I crack it either by placing a hand on my chin and pushing my head around sideways or (for more difficult ones) by placing a hand over my temple and pressing my head down to the side.

My question is:
1) Is it bad for me, in that everytime I do it, it worses the condition of my spine and eventually I'll be a hunchback or something? I think this is what my chiropractor was suggesting.
2) Is it risky, in that one of these times I'm going to break something?
posted by BradNelson to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that it is okay that your neck pops when you do adjustments, but that you need to exercise it. There are various yoga postures that I use for similiar problems (i pop my neck quite a bit) to strength and stretch my neck and shoulders.
posted by mic stand at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2005

good info here
posted by matteo at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2005

I used to crack my neck regularly. I subsequently fixed my posture (standing up straight, sitting without slouching, etc.) - not by choice, lower back injury sort of forced it on me. However, I have noticed that since I fixed my posture I cannot crack my neck. Physically can't do it. Back, yes. That cracks all the time. My neck though... It's like it doesn't need it any more.

So if you're worried about this, um... how's your posture?

And to add a bit more here... took a tour of a chiropractic school once (1992, near Chicago). The good people there informed us that cracking the joints is essentially degassing the cartilage - the "pop" you hear is the sound of gasses expanding from the cartilage into the newly enlarged joint cavity. It doesn't apparently harm the joints at all, and may help lubricate them. I'm guessing that a chiropracter telling you that you shouldn't crack your own neck is either concerned about liability (he says it's ok, you hurt yourself and then sue him) or is hoping for more repeat visits whenever you feel stiff. Loss of flexibility due to immobility is a much bigger danger to you in terms of ending up a hunchback. There are very few things you can do that will help you more than checking your posture and maintaining flexibility. A simple once-daily stretch to full height is supposed to do wonders in terms of preventing the hunchback effect (assuming you don't end up with osteoporosis, at any rate).
posted by caution live frogs at 11:35 AM on March 17, 2005

You're snapping tendons across a bony prominence. Tendons are like rubber bands in that when you stretch them really hard, they never QUITE go back to the previous length. It's not something worry about when it happens as you straighten your posture, but it's not a great habit to have; that posture may suffer when you're old.
posted by reflecked at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2005

My wife used to crack her neck regularly using the same techniques you describe. Then, one day last year, she gave it a good crack and felt a shooting pain. She had an awfully stiff, sore neck for the next couple of weeks. To this day, over a year later, her neck is still kind of "funny": it's gets stiff and sore easily, especially if she sleeps in a strange position.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:10 PM on March 17, 2005

No one knows what causes the popping. People have speculated about the "gas" theory, but afaik, nothing's ever been proven. Get to work, NIH.

reflecked: I'm skeptical; there are a number of joints that pop without tendons over bony prominences.
posted by gramcracker at 1:39 PM on March 17, 2005

Response by poster: My posture isn't great. I'm always slouching in chairs. I try not to when I think about it. I sit at a computer all day at work, so I'm constantly readjusting my posture to stay comfortable.

Like I said, I don't crack it often (as far as I'm consciously aware), maybe 2-3 times a day. And only when I feel it needs to be cracked, not just out of habit.

At the same time, I've also gotten to the point where I have to crack my knuckles in the morning, else it feels like I have no fine motor skills. I even crack my toe knuckles every morning.
posted by BradNelson at 4:52 PM on March 17, 2005

I had to (decided to) stop cracking my neck because I would have lingering soreness for two or three days after doing it. I have plenty of other joints that I can and do crack with impunity, but I decided I would err on the side of caution when it came to my spine. I've appreciated being a chordate, and would like to continuing doing so.
posted by NortonDC at 9:28 PM on March 17, 2005

gramcracker, i'll stand by what i said: when you "pop" your neck, you're moving tendons over bony bumps. tendons attach muscle to bone. tell me of a joint that doesn't qualify? since you're in med school, talk to one of the orthopods; i'd love to hear more about any new theories.

if you have a "gas bubble" in a sealed bottle of liquid (like the spaces between joints, etc) and try to break it.. it doesn't "pop", it becomes 2 or more smaller bubbles.
posted by reflecked at 6:51 PM on March 19, 2005

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