To crack your neck or not to crack your neck? This seemingly simple question can have a complicated answer, especially since cracking your joints can be controversial. You may have heard that cracking your neck or knuckles can be bad for you or lead to early onset arthritis. However, the truth behind the urge to crack your neck may surprise you.
Neck cracking can offer relief from neck stiffness or tightness. While neck cracking is not always bad for you, it can be dangerous when accompanied by symptoms like pain and swelling. If you’ve developed a habit of purposefully cracking your neck, there are a few things you should know before continuing.
Why do you feel the need to crack your neck?
Cracking your neck can feel relieving, especially after you’ve been working at your desk for a long time. It can relieve tension and stiffness and increase blood flow to the area. Cracking your neck can also release endorphins that make you feel satisfied and productive. But why do you have the urge to crack your neck in the first place?
In most cases, pain-free joint cracking occurs due to pressure changes in a joint capsule. Synovial fluid in the joints can change volume and pressure within a joint over time. Gasses can become trapped in the fluid and create bubbles that eventually collapse. When you purposefully crack your neck, you are releasing those gas bubbles, which creates that satisfying cracking noise.
The frequent urge to crack your neck does not necessarily indicate a health issue. However, it could be a sign that you have hypermobility, or the exceptional flexibility of a joint. It can also be a sign of joint damage due to an injury or arthritis. If cracking your neck is accompanied with any of the following symptoms, you should consult a medical professional immediately:
You should also see a medical professional if your neck cracking developed after an injury-related accident, including car accidents.
How can cracking your neck be bad for you?
If cracking your neck feels pain-free, it might not be something to worry about. However, there are a few worrisome myths about cracking your neck and joints in general. For example, you may have heard people say that cracking your knuckles can wear down your bones and cause arthritis. However, this is not the case. In fact, a large amount of medical research has been dedicated to debunking this myth. One study found that there was no difference in grip strength between those who repeatedly cracked their knuckles and those who did not. Another study found that the frequency of knuckle cracking did not necessarily correlate to the development of osteoarthritis.
While most medical literature on joint cracking has focused on the hands, it can be inferred that neck cracking is similarly unrelated to the development of arthritis. Cracking your neck, then, is not inherently harmful, especially if doing so is pain-free.
However, that doesn’t mean that neck cracking can’t be bad for you or without its dangers. The neck is home to vertebrae that protect the brain stem, making it a particularly vulnerable area to injury. It is also home to important blood vessels. Cracking your neck too hard, or too far in the wrong direction, can:
- Pinch a nerve.
- Strain your neck joint.
- Stretch ligaments in your neck.
- Inflame nearby cartilage.
Cracking your neck the wrong way can also lead to rare, life-threatening conditions. One of those conditions can include vertebral artery dissection, or a tear in a major artery in your neck. This serious injury can result in a stroke. In this way, neck cracking has the potential to be bad for you.
It’s a good idea to see a physical therapist if you are worried about your frequent need to crack your neck. These experts can evaluate your symptoms, help you determine a necessary treatment plan and professionally realign your neck.
Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for neck cracking
At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and can help you understand if cracking your neck is bad for you.
Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform.
Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your neck and spine.