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Is it safe to crack your own neck?

By Staff | Apr 28, 2016

You’ve been sitting at your computer all day, and your neck feels stiff. You roll your head around and hear a pop in your neck that makes it feel better. The next day, the stiffness returns, so you crack it again. After a period of time, you realize that cracking your neck has become a habit. Does this sound like you?

If you crack your own neck, you’re not alone. Studies show that many of us commonly crack our knuckles, necks, backs and even our toes on a regular basis. But is it safe?

Unfortunately, cracking your own neck can be risky. In the neck area, there are a number of important structures – blood vessels, spinal cord, bones, joints, muscles, nerves, intervertebral discs, lymph nodes and ligaments – which could sustain injury if a joint is shifted improperly. In addition, repetitive manipulation of joints can cause the ligaments that hold our bones together to stretch like loose rubber bands. Over time, ligament laxity can lead to joint instability, pain and inflammation.

What makes the cracking or popping sound? Joints contain gas (oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide) and fluid that lubricates the area where two bones meet. When pressure is placed on the joint, gas bubbles are released – similar to opening a can of soda – which creates a pop sound. Often, the shift in gas and fluid provides us temporary relief for our neck stiffness and discomfort.

But does repetitive neck cracking help the problem? Unfortunately, no. When you crack your own neck, the joints you’re typically “cracking” are already flexible and mobile; not the areas of the spine that are restricted and injured. So, rarely are we able to fix our neck problem ourselves.

What’s the alternative? See a professional. A chiropractor, specializing in the cervical (neck) spine, will perform a thorough examination – including thermal imaging and digital X-rays – to accurately assess the alignment of your neck vertebrae in order to correct the bones properly. Each patient’s injured neck is corrected by administering a precise adjustment by hand on a specially-designed knee chest table. Once the neck is corrected, stiffness, pain, and inflammation can heal. As a result, most patients report their “neck cracking” habit dissipates on its own.

With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has maintained a practice on Maui for the past three years. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.