Is cracking your neck bad for you? 7 things to know about neck cracking

You’ve probably cracked your neck many times throughout your life. While some people do it purposefully to help neck pain, others may do it by accident while turning in a certain direction. Regardless of how it occurs, neck cracking is bound to happen. But is it bad for you?

When it comes to “cracking” your joints, you’ll often hear from other people, likely people who cringed from the sound, that it’s not healthy. But the truth is that no, cracking your neck isn’t bad for you. Cracking your neck is harmless unless it becomes a habit. If you’re rarely going a day without your neck cracking, it’s important to take a deeper look into it.

We’ll talk about why cracking your neck isn’t bad for you and things to keep in mind about the action. We’ll also discuss how physical therapy can be an option if you have constant neck cracking.

Why cracking your neck isn’t a bad thing

When we’re talking about “cracking” or “popping” your neck, we’re referring to the sound that occurs when trapped gases or fluids are released from the neck joints. The sound is actually referred to as cavitation.

It’s OK if you crack your neck every once in a while. It can provide short-term benefits including:

  • Temporary relief from neck pain and stiffness.
  • Improved neck mobility/range of motion.
  • Release of endorphins (hormone for pain management and mood enhancement).

The issues that stem from neck cracking come from increased frequency or incorrect movements. We’ll dive more into that in the next section.

7 things to keep in mind about neck cracking

Even though neck cracking is OK from time to time, you shouldn’t disregard other aspects of it, especially if you find that you’ve been recently doing it more than usual.

Now that we’ve already covered temporary benefits of neck cracking, it’s important to look at it from every facet. By understanding both the good and bad of neck cracking, you can gain an understanding of how the action affects your body every time you do it.

Here are some things to know about neck cracking. Some of these points are positive, while others are cautionary facts that could cause it to be bad for you:

  • Increases flexibility and strength — When you’re cracking your neck, it’s causing you to stretch the muscles in the area. That means that the muscles can benefit from the action in the same way they do from exercises, resulting in increased flexibility and strength to decrease the risk of pain.
  • May cause further issues — The reason that many people believe that neck cracking is harmful is because it can cause issues if the action is done frequently or harshly. It’s possible that neck cracking that’s done too often or too hard can lead to issues such as muscle strains, pinched nerves or, in severe cases, punctured blood vessels.
  • Doesn’t solve the issue — The relief from cracking your neck is temporary. If cracking your neck is related to a medical condition, it requires further examination and treatment by a physician or physical therapist. The cracking involves the movement and release of gases but doesn’t solve the issue with the joint itself. It’s essentially masking the problem by alleviating the symptoms in the moment.
  • Changes joint alignment — By applying force to the neck, the alignment of your joints can be affected. On one hand, releasing the pressure can properly readjust the joint and improve your alignment, which can help your posture and improve its overall function. On the other hand, incorrect or excessive forceful movement on the joints can have the opposite effect, causing further damage to the alignment. 
  • Arthritis can be a cause or result — You’ve likely heard that cracking your joints will lead to arthritis. While it’s not true that occasionally cracking your neck will cause joint inflammation, it can still increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis if it becomes a habit. The stress placed on the joint during the “cracking” movement can cause the cartilage to degenerate. It’s also possible that arthritis can cause the stiffness that makes you need to crack your neck for relief.
  • Neck and back cracking are similar — While we’ve talked almost exclusively about the effects of neck cracking, it’s important to acknowledge a nearby area that is also often cracked. Your back is similar to your neck, in which it can be naturally cracked now and then, but shouldn’t be done on a regular basis due to the risk of injury, such as a pinched nerve or joint inflammation.
  • Utilize professionals when possible — Cracking your neck safely and effectively is the key to reducing future issues, which is why it’s not recommended to use your own hands to do so, especially if the cracking is in response to persistent or worsening issues. You should seek out a professional health care provider, such as a physical therapist, to make sure that your soft tissue isn’t harmed by the action.

How physical therapy can address neck cracking 

Even though it isn’t always bad, cracking your neck shouldn’t be the go-to course of action when it’s stiff or in pain. If you’re having to deliberately crack your neck on a consistent basis, then it’s time to seek the help of a physical therapist. They can help reduce your pain while improving the overall function and mobility of your neck to reduce the risk of future issues. 

Here’s how a physical therapist can help reduce your need for neck cracking:

  • Determine the likely cause — If you’re constantly cracking your neck, there’s likely a particular cause that can be addressed and treated, such as an injury or cervical spondylosis, which is the most common type of arthritis that can develop in the neck. Your physical therapist will carry out an evaluation during your first appointment to determine the likely cause of your consistent neck discomfort.
  • Adjust your posture — If you have poor posture, you’re more likely to crack your neck on a consistent basis due to the muscle tension caused by hunched shoulders or overextending your neck. A physical therapist can show you how to make gradual adjustments to improve your posture, which will reduce the pressure placed on the neck joints and surrounding tissue.
  • Walk you through exercises — Whether you’re trying to alleviate your neck pain or improve the quality of your muscles to reduce the need for cracking your neck, a physical therapist can walk you through safe and effective exercises. They will show you exercises to strengthen the muscles for stability as well as stretches that will improve your neck’s range of motion.

Armor Physical Therapy can reduce your neck cracking 

Whether your neck cracking is a habit that you’re trying to break or you’re using it as a temporary pain relief technique from an injury or condition, we’re here to help. At Armor Physical Therapy, we can help you reduce the need to crack your neck by pinpointing the likely cause of your neck pain and design a personalized treatment plan that can target the symptoms.

In many cases, neck cracking doesn’t cause you any long-term harm. But it’s also important to monitor the frequency and severity of the action to determine when it’s time for you to seek the proper help. Physical therapists know how to manipulate the neck in a safe and effective manner that can help provide long-term pain relief.

Call us or request an appointment today to address your neck cracking, even if it’s not bad.

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