Growing up, you probably heard the old saying: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. And cracking your hips, and your back, and your arms, and your neck, and whatever other joints might have wanted to snap on any given day. The good news is that researchers haven’t established any conclusive links between joint cracking and the development of arthritis. The bad news is that cracking your own neck can increase your risk of other health complications. Spinal health is a big deal. Your spinal column makes up half of your central nervous system, with your brain making up the other half. Your entire peripheral nervous system sends signals to the spinal nerves, which transmit them to the brain. The spine is wired to all of the nerves in the entire body. It’s protected by flexible vertebrae that are cushioned by discs, and there’s a lot of muscular padding keeping everything in place.
The back and neck are both important and fragile enough that any injury is serious. And shifting your vertebrae around like a leaning tower in a children’s game won’t necessarily do you any favors. If a disc slips out of place, it can compress or permanently damage a nerve, leading to shooting pain and numbness. But why do our necks get so tense, and why does it feel so good to pop them? The reason you want to pop your neck is because of pressure building up between the joints. This isn’t dangerous or abnormal. The spaces between your joints are filled with cushioning fluid, and motion can cause nitrogen bubbles to fizz and build like a soda can wanting to pop. Cracking the joint pops the bubbles and releases all the pressure. There’s two theories for what causes the actual “pop.” Neither is cracking bone. One theory is that the popping bubbles make that sound. The other theory is that your ligaments snap over and around the joint at the time of the snap, which produces a loud cracking sound.
Is It Safer for a Chiropractor to Pop My Neck Than for Me to Do It?
So the myth about arthritis doesn’t have any basis in fact. You’re not slowly wearing down or grinding away your bones every time you pop your neck. But there are other dangers to consider. When you talk to the average chiropractor, they’ll tell you that they seek treatment from another practitioner to adjust their own spine rather than crack their neck themselves. Ongoing neck pain can indicate that you have another health condition going on. It might be some form of arthritis, or a problem with your spinal discs, or an injury in a muscle, or a hairline crack on one of your vertebrae. You’re even more likely to have an injury you’re unaware of if you often play sports or have ever had a trauma that impacted the neck.
There have been bizarre cases where whiplash from a car accident didn’t cause any problems until several years after the event, when a tiny issue with a vertebrae was discovered. You’re not in the clear if you’re certain you aren’t injured, either. Cracking your neck risks injury because you’re moving your spine and muscles in ways they generally don’t. If you slip a disc, you could pinch a nerve and cause problems throughout your body. The wrong angle or too-exuberant stretch can result in a strained muscle or tendon. Some people have even ended up puncturing blood vessels and experiencing dangerous internal bleeding, though this is generally only a possibility if you have a blood clotting disorder. A chiropractor, on the other hand, is a trained medical professional with a third person view of the situation. They also know how to perform controlled movements that won’t cause muscle or joint injury. A chiropractor can manipulate your spine much more precisely while looking at it than you can while writhing around. That means that if the chiropractor determines after an exam that there’s no underlying injury, and they believe that neck popping is a good course of action, they can relieve your neck tension without those risks.
These are the benefits of chiropractic neck popping:
- Relief from soreness and pressure
- Realignment of the joints
- Restored range of motion
- Endorphin release from the body