Is It Bad to Crack Your Neck?

Jan 31, 2022

Whether it’s a habit or not, you probably know what it feels like to crack your own neck. You may wake up from sleeping in an odd position or finish a particularly long day at the computer and have the urge to roll your neck until it makes that satisfying popping sound and you feel immediate relief. But you may also have heard people say this is dangerous or can have negative consequences- so is that true? While cracking your neck is common and can be safe, it is also a sign of back and neck injuries that require professional care to get more than temporary relief.

Why Does Your Neck Crack?

The sound that you hear when you crack your neck is actually not anything in your neck shifting or realigning. Instead, it has to do with the release of air and a process called cavitation.
When you crack your neck (or any joint in your body), the capsules that surround that joint become stretched. The fluid within these capsules puts less pressure on the joint during this stretching. As the pressure lessens, the fluid turns to gas, which is released and makes a popping sound. This process, known as cavitation (or boiling), is not harmful.

For the neck specifically, you have several sets of joints called facet joints located on each side of the neck. These joints are what stretches when you crack your neck, and when they reach the point of cavitation, you feel that release. This is why you feel immediate relief when cracking your neck. Interestingly, it has also been found that the sound itself creates a placebo effect, making you feel better even if nothing has changed. For many people, cracking a joint becomes a habit in part because of this. Additionally, cracking your neck may release endorphins that minimize pain hormonally.

The relief you feel is generally temporary, as this fluid builds back up, and you would need to repeat the same process again soon.

Risks of Cracking Your Neck

While cavitation itself is not dangerous, it is actually just an effect of the movements you make when cracking your own neck. If you perform this action too often or in the wrong way, there are other ways you can cause damage to your neck.

Cracking your neck too forcefully could lead to pinched nerves in the neck, which are very painful and make it difficult to move your neck properly. You may also strain the joints and the muscles surrounding those joints, which can also severely restrict movement. It only takes a small amount of extra force for these injuries to occur.

One reason people feel that they need to crack their neck often may be hypermobility, in which the joint has a larger range of motion than normal. In this case, giving in to the urge and cracking your neck a lot may permanently stretch the ligaments, leading to perpetual instability. This condition is associated with a higher risk of developing conditions like osteoarthritis in the future.

Cracking your neck too hard or too often may also impact the important blood vessels located in your neck. In the rare case that you puncture a blood vessel, you may cause severe bleeding. Conversely, you could cause blood clotting, which blocks blood flow to the brain.

In addition to potential neck injuries, the urge to crack your neck often usually means there is an underlying issue that needs attention. The relief from cracking your neck is temporary and does not address any root causes, allowing the condition to worsen over time without proper treatment.

When to Seek Chiropractic Care

If you crack your neck occasionally but don’t experience any pain or discomfort, it may simply be a habit and not a cause for concern. However, if you crack your neck frequently but don’t ever feel satisfied, it is a sign that your joints are not properly aligned and need to be adjusted. Having this done may stop the constant urge to crack your neck and reduce other pain and symptoms.

Other signs you should see a doctor and need chiropractic care or chiropractor include:

  • You notice unusual swelling in your neck, which could indicate fluid buildup, injury, or infection
  • You feel pain in your neck joint, especially chronic pain that doesn’t have an identifiable cause
  • Your joints become less mobile due to age or a condition like osteoarthritis

A chiropractor will use adjustments to manipulate your joints and ensure that they are properly aligned in order to alleviate the feeling of pressure or pain that makes you want to crack your neck in the first place. While your neck may crack during an adjustment, it is not the same process as cavitation you cause on your own. Adjustments involve very specific movements of your bones that only a chiropractor is qualified to perform.

They may also offer advice on lifestyle changes that can minimize neck pain and pressure, like exercising or weight loss. You may also get some tips on how to care for your neck at home outside of cracking it, like using ice and heat therapy to address pain and swelling.

Cracking Your Neck Safely

When done correctly and sporadically, neck cracking can be easy relief without consequences. But if you aren’t finding lasting relief in it, it can be a sign you need to see a professional to diagnose and fix any underlying issues. During treatment, a chiropractor can also show you ways to crack your neck gently without causing any potential damage between adjustments.

At AICA Conyers, our chiropractors will work with you and a team of other specialists to create a plan just for you. Whether you are at risk for osteoarthritis, are suffering from hypermobility, or simply need to work on your posture, we identify the cause of your neck pain and make it our goal to offer you relief. Contact AICA Conyers today to begin seeking alternatives to neck cracking with long-term results.