If you have a habit of “cracking” your neck, it’s probably something you do without thinking. In some cases, you may find yourself cracking your neck to relieve stiffness or ease nagging aches and pains. Even if you do feel temporary relief when you move your neck from one side to the other until you feel resistance, it could do more harm than good if you’re not careful. The trusted Santa Monica spine surgeons at The Spine Institute discuss neck cracking and why it may or may not be healthy to do.
What Happens When You Crack Your Neck?
Before discussing whether or not it’s healthy to crack your neck, let’s look at what happens when you make the motions that crack it. Your body has its own type of lubrication called synovial fluid, which cushions and lubricates joints found around the seven bones of the neck to reduce friction with movement. Within this fluid are substances that include albumin and hyaluronic acid along with certain gases (nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide). When you suddenly move your neck from one side to another, the “crack” you hear comes from the release of pressure in this fluid when bubbles form.
Is It Good to Release Fluid Pressure?
It’s perfectly fine to ease this fluid pressure in your neck. However, some people don’t do it correctly, which may end up causing other issues with the bones, joints, soft tissues, and nerves in the neck. Injuries can occur if the neck stretching done to produce the neck crack includes:
- Excessive pressure beyond what’s necessary to release fluid pressure
- Stretches that strain, stress, or overextend neck muscles, ligaments, and tendons
- Motions that unintentionally irritate nerves or aggravate joints in the neck already affected by other conditions such as osteoarthritis
How Can You Safely Crack Your Neck?
There’s a delicate balance between how much pressure you can safely apply to your neck and how much is too much. This is especially true if you have other issues going on within your neck, such as a herniated disc, that are also contributing to your pain. Safe neck manipulation includes:
- Gentle stretches that involve moving the neck slowly (e.g. slow side-to-side neck turns or up and down head-to-chin movements)
- Combining gentle stretches with adjustments to other things that can make the neck stiff, such as poor posture or excessive craning when using devices
- Placing your hand on your head while stretching the neck to provide added support and minimize the risk of stretching too far
- Seeing a doctor if neck stretches aren’t helping since this could be a sign something more serious than pressure buildup in joint fluid is causing the pain
A safer way to benefit from neck or upper spine manipulations is to consider chiropractic treatment. You’ll still be exploring techniques not involving medication or surgery, but there will be less risk of unintentionally stressing or straining soft tissues and joints. Another option is to work with a physical therapist who can recommend safe neck stretches you can do when you feel stiffness or discomfort. Eating foods like berries, nuts, and green, leafy veggies that naturally reduce inflammation around tissues can also be helpful.
If your neck pain persists, you may want to consider minimally invasive neck surgery. Santa Monica patients can rely on Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757 to learn more.