Have you ever tilted your neck to the side and heard a loud crack or pop? Did you get some relief from it? Chances are your neck felt better after the sound. However, is cracking your neck bad for your health? Could it cause irreversible damage? Keep reading below to learn more!

What Is Neck Cracking?

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When we were younger, cracking our knuckles, wrists or other body parts was a fun party trick we used to gross out our friends. Maybe your mom, a teacher or some other adult warned you against the practice. But why? What is the cracking sound to begin with and is cracking your neck bad?

Believe it or not, any joint in your body can make cracking or popping sounds. You can expect to hear, at times, noises from your knuckles, hips, back — even toes. There are three main reasons a neck can emit a cracking sound: a build-up of gas escaping the joint, movement and arthritis.

Escaping Gas

The first, most common reason for a neck to crack is escaping gas. In between each of your joints, there is fluid to help the joints move without any bone on bone grinding. The fluid between your joints contains elements such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

When a joint is stretched, and you hear a pop or a crack, that is the gaseous elements releasing in between your joints. Almost everyone has the proper fluid and gaseous elements to cause a crack or pop. You are most likely to experience escaping gas, naturally, at least once in your lifetime.

Movement

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As we try to answer the question “is cracking your neck bad,” we first must understand the less common forms of popping and cracking. The second reason a neck may crack is simply from movement. That’s right, just moving your joints can cause them to pop, snap or crack.

It’s important to understand that when you move a joint, tendons and ligaments move with you to support your bones and muscles. If you overextend or move your joint in a way it’s not used to, it may snap back into position with an audible crack. The most common locations of a movement related crack would be the ankles and knees.

Arthritis

Arthritis is never good and could certainly be the cause of your cracking or popping sounds. If you suspect you have arthritis, then you’ll want to seek medical assistance sooner rather than later. So, is cracking your neck bad? Well, if the cracking is coming from your arthritic conditions, then it is certainly not a good idea.

Arthritis, if you’re not familiar, is when the cartilage in your body loses the smooth texture it is supposed to have. When you lose smooth cartilage, you have less resistance between your joints. This causes your joints to rub against each other when they are moved. Joints that rub together have the tendency to make popping or cracking noises just as escaping gas and standard movement would.

Is Cracking Your Neck Bad?

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Unlike the myth that many mothers and teachers like to pass around, cracking your joints isn’t necessarily bad for you. As we learned above, however, this is heavily dependent upon what is causing your joint to crack in the first place. To clarify, if it is a cracking from the sound of escaping gasses, then it is not necessarily a bad thing nor is it considered harmful to the body. If it is from arthritis, then that's a different story.

So, is cracking your neck bad if it is just releasing the build-up of gasses? Well, if done incorrectly, yes.

Cracking your neck can cause irreversible damage in some extreme cases. If you do it yourself without the help of a chiropractor, then you risk the following damage:

  • Pinched nerves
  • Temporary immobility of the neck
  • Perpetually sore neck
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Punctured blood vessels
  • Blood clotting

How to Avoid Unnecessary Damage

Attempting to crack your neck yourself, without proper training, can be disastrous. If you want to avoid causing unnecessary and lasting damage to yourself, then the first step is to not try it, yourself, at home. You see? There is some truth to what that adult was warning you about.

Cracking your joints can be tempting to try at home, but just the wrong move could puncture a blood vessel, which could lead to an extremely dangerous blood clot near the brain.

Believe it or not, many people appreciate the placebo effect of chiropractic-induced cracking more than anything else. Sometimes you can gain relief from pressure through a successful joint adjustment. However, that being said, much of the relief felt after cracking your neck or back is due to the endorphins released during the process.

Are There Any Benefits to Cracking Your Neck?

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Now that you've learned the potential harm you can do if you crack your own neck, you are probably no longer interested in trying it, right?

Still, if you seek a chiropractor to crack and realign your neck, there are some benefits to be had.

First and foremost, you have to know that only a professional, licensed, chiropractor knows how to crack the neck properly to assist with ailments. In the right situation, you absolutely can benefit yourself by having your neck cracked. Some problems that cracking your neck might fix are:

  • Chronic or persistent migraines
  • Chronic neck pain or discomfort
  • Lower back pain or discomfort
  • A select few joint conditions

When Should I Go to a Professional?

It can be hard to know when to go to a professional. It’s important to understand why your neck is cracking or popping. If it is not making a sound of its own accord but simply feels like it needs a release, you may want to head to a professional.

It’s also recommended that if your neck is experiencing any sort of pain or prolonged discomfort, then you need to see professional. Even if you feel like you need to crack your neck, you should probably understand why first. Additional reasons to seek a professional's opinion, advice or treatment are:

  • You have swelling in the neck area
  • You feel chronic pain or discomfort
  • Your joints and range of motion are limited
  • You have a feeling of pressure in the area
  • The area feels sore or stiff

Can You Prevent Your Neck from Needing to Be Cracked?

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Once you know exactly why your neck feels like it needs to be cracked, you can act to prevent it. Many people can eliminate their neck pain through minor lifestyle changes. Some of those adjustments include:

  • Getting frequent, professional massages
  • Taking over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • Sleeping on a firmer mattress in positions you don’t normally sleep in
  • Daily stretching especially for the problem areas
  • Alternating between hot and cold compresses
  • Eliminating carrying heavy bags, backpacks or weight around the shoulders

Potential Risk Factors

One of the critical things that plays into the potential risk factors for chronic neck pain or needing frequent realignment is your age. Like it or not, how old we are plays a huge role in our health and our day-to-day lives. For muscles, bones and cartilage, this is no different.

A Young Person

People young in age — generally, under the age of 20 years old — have a much different body than that of an older person. When you’re young, you have much stronger muscles, ligaments and bones. This means that cracking their joints is much less dangerous.

An Old Person

As for anyone over the age of 20 years old, your risk for chronic neck pain increases. The older you get, the more your body becomes at risk. As we get older, our blood vessels become hardened, putting them at a much higher risk of becoming damaged and of creating a blood clot.

For individuals over 40, you’ll want to be very wary of blood clots. Blood clots can create a severe risk of an artery bursting, which can be damaging. It’s also important to note that the bones in areas of stress have a higher risk of fracturing with the quick, forceful motion that can come with chiropractic care.

Conclusion

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Have you ever wondered, "Is cracking your neck bad?" As you read above, the answer is "yes, it can be." If you are cracking your neck at home and gaining no relief, then chances are you’re doing things wrong and are running the risk of hurting yourself, especially if you're older.

Only a licensed chiropractic specialist knows properly how to crack any joint you’re feeling discomfort in. There's a reason why chiropractors are licensed to operate their practices — to ensure they operate in an ethical and legal manner to improve someone's health. Always seek a chiropractic or medical professional's opinion when it involves the safety of your body.

As we looking into answering the question “is cracking your neck bad,” it allows us to examine our own medical history and physical condition. Many times, the answer to relieving your neck discomfort lies in preventing it from happening in the first place. This can include minor lifestyle changes like improving your posture, working in a more ergonomic environment, losing weight and remembering to avoid carrying heavy weights on your shoulders regularly.

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