January 20, 2006 7:12 PM   Subscribe

My neck cracking habit is killing me.

I crack my neck all the time. Some days it happens more than other days but I do it every single day at least 4 times.

On days where it's really bad I will crack my neck everytime I get a chance and my head neck and shoulders will feel sore all day long. Most of the time I use my hands to press my chin up to the side. Sometimes the tips of my fingers feel numb right after I crack it.

This is a disgusting, repulsive, terrible habit. I remember being totally grossed out by neck cracking before I started myself.

My mother who has the same unfortunate habit went to a chiropractor who told her that there were many cases of people who had quite literally *killed themselves* with overenthusiastic neck cracking. I have absolutely no doubt that if this is indeed possible it will happen to me if I do not stop soon.

I've tried before to stop. But then that tense/stiff feeling just builds up until I can't stand it until *snap crackle pop* ((bliss))

I want to be like how I was before I started this terrible habit when my neck just felt normal all the time. This is making me miserable. I can't afford to see a chiropractor on a regular basis.

Please, for the love of mankind, help me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
My initial reaction is to suggest seeing a therapist for 'behavior modification.' But, such may beyond your means, as you state you can't afford a chiropractor. You should consider visiting to a doctor who might prescribe anti-anxiety and/or SSRI/antidepressant medication(s) which may help to alleviate the tension and 'compulsive' behavior of wanting/needing to crack your neck.
posted by ericb at 7:24 PM on January 20, 2006

Why is this anonymous?

If your fingertips feel numb afterwards that is a bad sign. You are affecting the nerve. Don't do that.

As with any bad habit it is probably best to just go cold turkey. You might try some over the counter back pain pills or some muscle relaxants, as well as perhaps massage and some hot packs or linament to ease you through the transition.
posted by caddis at 7:30 PM on January 20, 2006

I used to cut myself... terrible & boring long story... but apparently people who self mutilate are the same as bulimics and anorexics. You know what you are doing is endangering yourself. What is it you are trying to control when you are cracking your neck? You know you are flirting with death... you post this anonymously... you emphasis you are endangering yourself. What are you trying to fix? Is this something you need to talk about more? There are free hotlines and groups that will talk with you. Will update with such links...
posted by meta x zen at 7:42 PM on January 20, 2006

Quote from www.pamf.org


Help and information are also available on the S.A.F.E. Web site (http://www.selfinjury.com/) or by calling 1-800-DONT-CUT (note: this is not a crisis hotline). There is currently no crisis hotline for self-injurers, but if you think you may harm yourself, call the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 1-800-SUICIDE.


http://www.selfinjury.com/ a good resource as well....
posted by meta x zen at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2006

I googled death by neck cracking just to see if it was possible, and learned that chiropractors have actually killed patients themselves by twisting their upper neck much in the same way you do to "crack" it. Do a google search for Laurie Jean Mathiason and Lana Dale Lewis for tons of articles and reports of the deaths and subsequent trials. Both suffered strokes, Laurie immediately and Lana 6 days later.

Stop. Like Caddis said, if your fingers are going numb, you are pinching nerves. A little harder and you might stroke out next time.

Muscle relaxants, advil- shit, wear a neckbrace for a weekend so you CAN'T do it if you have to. The first three days of breaking any habit are the hardest, it gets easier from there.
posted by Meredith at 7:50 PM on January 20, 2006

This is just a total imaginative thought — I have no real knowledge to verify this.

But I wonder if what you're doing with your neck somehow creates a pleasure sensation along your nerve paths ... and perhaps you've grown addicted to the pleasure?
posted by WCityMike at 8:08 PM on January 20, 2006

Cracking your back/neck could be a relief mechanism for scoliosis. So, first off (before the suicide hotline) consult a reputable physician (not a chiropractor).

If that is not the problem (and hopefully it isn't), try to get a hold of a physiotherapist. Through stretching and exercise it's possible that you can replace the neck-cracking habit with something that is not only much safer, it might help in getting over the compulsion and you'll get some exercise at the same time. It's a common treatment for these types of problems (a family member of mine is a physiotherapist and has dealt with patients that have similar problems).
posted by purephase at 8:25 PM on January 20, 2006

I feel like all I do on this site is recommend yoga, but...

If you live in a big enough city that you can find a well-trained, certified yoga teacher who has worked with patients with spine problems (that is, actually knows anatomy and alignment), he or she might be able to help. I noticed that the various popping I used to do in my shoulder and ankles, which felt "necessary" because of the pressure building up, just stopped once I started practicing with good teachers. (And I wasn't even targeting that specifically.)

If you're in San Francisco or Boston I have recommendations (or if you're elsewhere and want help tracking down teachers); feel free to email me.
posted by occhiblu at 8:36 PM on January 20, 2006

(Incidentally, yoga might also help with the "desperation, fear, madness, and despair.")
posted by occhiblu at 8:42 PM on January 20, 2006

I know how you feel about not wanting to stop. I crack my neck as well, and sometimes (like in the morning after I just wake up) my neck is literally unstretchable until I crack it the first time. I used to use my hands to twist my chin up, but I've tried to stop doing this for a couple of reasons. First, because if I hold off long enough, my neck will get so stiff that I can just crack it by tilting my head sideways; second, because I have strained my neck muscles doing that chin-push routine and it took a week of no-cracking and Ibuprofin to start feeling better again.

Anyway, I think some people here are being a bit ridiculous ("self-mutilation" and "joint cracker" are not synonyms), but as everyone else here has said, it's really not good for you do strain your body--and more importantly, your neck--this way. On the other hand, if it happens naturally I think you can relax.

Thanks for the scoliosis tip, purephase.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:42 PM on January 20, 2006

Eventually, your tendons and ligaments will stretch, strain and suffer microtears to the point where neck-cracking is nearly impossible. You'll have much bigger problems then, trust me.

I recall a newspaper I once worked for had an article where a man killed himself cracking his neck while sitting in a church service. Cracked his neck, turned to his brother and said, "I feel funny," and then keeled over and died. Google-fu fails me on the lookup, but I copy-edited the story myself, so it's not an urban myth.
posted by frogan at 9:23 PM on January 20, 2006

I'd like to second the Yoga suggestion. I definitely work hunched over a desk all day. After stretching for 5 or 10 minute bursts thruout the day, I find that not only am i alleviating desires to crack and pop my skeleton back into 'place' ( I mean how close, really, can you adjust your body to where it belongs?), but I find myself feeling genuinely better, instead of just satiating a habit. Any set of simple stretches incorporating the whole body should go a long way to alleviate pent-up stress (both physical and mental). But Yoga is all about the spine. So where better to start? Now fingers, thats another matter entirely. Anyone know any good finger asanas?
posted by iurodivii at 9:34 PM on January 20, 2006

My name is Peewee, and I'm a recovering neck-cracker.

I had the same experiences that you describe, and it went on and on for about 15 years. Then, over the last year or so, it just wouldn't crack anymore. It still feels good to stretch it in a similar fashion, but the cracking and tingling in my fingers is gone.

I began doing yoga and pilates 2 years ago......maybe that "fixed" it? Email me if you want to talk about it.
posted by peewee at 9:43 PM on January 20, 2006

I do what you describe all the time as well, and I also compulsively crack between three and eight vertebra in my back by bending forward and grasping my toes and pulling forward for all its worth. I get the feeling of satisfaction temporarily from it that you describe, but inevitably I need to do it again a few hours later.

Next time you feel the urge, FORCE YOURSELF TO STOP AND TAKE A DEEP, DEEP BREATH, then take ONE MORE then crack some other part of your body. Crack your knuckles, one by one until they won't crack no more, crack your knee, crack your jaw, take another deep breath, then stretch some part of your body. If you're sitting in a cubicle at work stretch your forearms, if you're home plop down on the ground and stretch your hamstrings if you're standing at a bus stop grab the pole and stretch your lattisimus dorsi. Anything to give your body five minutes of blissful respite and forget about the crick in yer neck.
posted by vito90 at 9:47 PM on January 20, 2006

I would think that a good physical therapist could set you up with some exercises that would stretch and strengthen the appropriate muscles to relieve you of the need to crack your neck.
posted by semmi at 9:55 PM on January 20, 2006

As a former neck-cracker (and chiropractic patient), I strongly advise you to look into yoga and/or pilates in the long-term. Yoga to stretch out the muscles in the neck/shoulder area, and pilates to help retrain your body--you'd be surprised at how much tension your upper body can generate in order to compensate for things going haywire elsewhere.

But for now, get yourself to an osteopath, or a good physical therapist. Craniosacral therapy may also help you. Keep a mild muscle relaxant on hand for emergencies, and make sure your surroundings are as ergonomically correct as possible. Do you clench your teeth when you sleep? If so, get a night guard that keeps your back teeth from touching (which prevents the very strong muscles on the sides of your skull from tensing all night).

One last thing: if you must crack, DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS. Instead, pull your shoulder blades down as far as you can, then slowly tilt your head so that you look like you're listening to your shoulder. You may get some cracking, but more importantly, you'll stretch those muscles out.
posted by Vervain at 11:27 PM on January 20, 2006

I used to run a site related to stuff you describe, and I email interviewed a bunch of chiropractic doc's about whether neck cracking was advisable or not because I used to do it all the time -- but now I can't for some reason. I'll paste you my article here:

"Is popping one's own neck OK or even safe? I sent the following question to a number of online chiropractors, and their responses are included below. The actual replies may have been larger but these answers pertain the question summarily and are unaltered.

"Dear ____,
A number of years ago I'd been popping my neck on purpose just because a few other friends did it -- for the same purpose (novelty) as cracking knuckles and in somewhat the same fashion. It never really occured to me that this might be an unsafe practice or that I might inadvertently damage something in the process. Is it safe? Please provide techniques for self-neck-popping, if it is at all recommended!

" 'There are no safe self adjusting techniques that I would recommend. Although chiropractic treatment provided by licensed chiropractic physicians is extremely safe, there has been some evidence to suggest that manipulation by an untrained individuals could carry increased risks for injury. So my recommendation is to avoid self manipulating your neck.' -- Chriroweb.com - Ask a Doctor of Chiropractic (reply by Dr. Koshes - Sarasota, FL)

" 'If you are moving your neck through a normal range of motion, it should not hurt anything. Just be careful not to "force" anything into a different position. You can change the alignment of the vertebra without knowing it.' -- Chiropractic Health & Rehab of Texas (Dr. Matthew J. Brown)"

(end article)
posted by vanoakenfold at 12:14 AM on January 21, 2006

I used to do this a lot as well. Especially at one point while I was growing (11-14 years old?). It's probably the cause of my frequent headaches. I quit after a chiropractor told me that it was very bad (that was when I was 18 or so).

I learned to just relax my neck. To stop being so tense there all the time. I became more conscious of my neck area, and realized that I had a lot of tension there. When I noticed it and relaxed, I felt a lot better. I didn't feel a need to crack anymore.

As for actual, proper quitting, I just stopped doing it cold turkey. Just ignore any continuing urges. If you feel that you "have to" crack your neck, just stop, relax your neck, and move on. No drugs (Jesus, man, anti-depressants? That's fucked up advice), just relax the area and move on past the urge.

I also recommend stretching a lot. Those yoga recommenders have the right idea. I remember that stretching helped remove the urges.

I haven't cracked my neck in about 2 years. Before then it was like another 2 years.

You can give it up. You'll eventually get to a point where you'll laugh about having had to deal with this. Good luck!
posted by redteam at 4:19 AM on January 21, 2006

Also a recovering cracker. Those who warned you away from chiros have a good point -- there are lots of untalented quacks out there who can seriously fuck you up. Only take one on based on recommendations from friends. If you get a good one, they can really help you.

My lifetime of cracking and bad posture seriously fucked up my neck and jaw to the point where it was almost unbearable, but a few weeks of chiro visits set me right again. She explained to me that when you crack your own neck, you're not targeting the vertebrae that really need it, but getting the vertebrae directly above and below the problem area. Which aggravates the problem.

If you can't afford a chiro, definitely get involved with upper-body strength and flexibility training. But you need to quit cracking, by any means necessary. If you think you can't afford chiro or a therapist now, think about your medical bills in ten years if you do nothing. And if you have bad posture, now is the time to begin working on correcting that.

If you tend to slouch forward, there's a good stretch you can do -- stand upright with your head and spine straight, fists together knuckle-to-knuckle with your arms parallel to the ground. Now slowly pull them apart, bringing your elbows around to your sides, like you're stretching an invisible rubber band. Keep your arms and head level, and keep pulling until you can't get your elbows back any farther. Hold this until you feel a muscle burn between your shoulder blades. Do this every hour or two and it will slowly stretch out your pecs and move your shoulders back naturally to a better posture.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2006

Like redteam, I used to habitually crack my neck in my teens, had a problem with headaches, and eventually stopped doing it because I thought it must be an horrible, horrible thing.

Then, many years later, during a yoga class of all things, I noticed the instructor (a published author of yoga books) reach up, grab her head, and pop, pop. So I approached her after the class and asked her about it. She told me that every once in a while, pressure builds up, and it's not harmful to alleviate it, especially if you're going to do some yoga afterward.

I haven't done it in years, though I used to be so addicted to the feeling, that I'd have dreams about it, and try to get my neck to pop when it really wasn't ready to, and test the limits of my neck. Luckily, I never pulled my head off.
posted by jimfl at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2006

Check your posture. After a lower back injury forced me to pay more attention to my posture, I noticed that standing and sitting correctly completely killed my neck-cracking need.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:24 AM on January 21, 2006

I have a friend who cannot stop cracking her wrists and knuckles. Similar to you, she remembers thinking how gross this was before she started doing it. But once she started, she can't stop. She has other issues in her life that led her to realize that this is a symptom of a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I can't tell you if this applies to you, but I do think that seeing a therapist, (the suggestion of behavior modification therapy sounds right on) might be helpful (and might be covered by health insurance, if you have it).
posted by picklebird at 4:12 PM on January 21, 2006

Funny, I paid money to learn how to crack my neck. I suffered horribly with an inflamed disk in my neck. I was taught exerercise and how to crack it.
posted by Goofyy at 9:15 AM on January 23, 2006

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