Neck cracking might be something you experience sitting at your desk every day. You might even bend your neck and rotate it to encourage it to pop and grind. Some people crack their necks in the same way that others crack their knuckles. It’s difficult to determine whether the reason is to relieve pressure or it’s just a habit. But sometimes the sounds that emit from your neck aren’t deliberate and it’s often accompanied by pain.
The sounds of neck cracking and grinding are called “neck crepitus” and they aren’t always well understood. Some commonly known causes include:
- Pressure changes within the facet joints
- Ligaments or tendons moving around the bone or near bony attachments
- Bones in close proximity grinding together
A joint is the area where two or more bones meet. They allow motion such as in the knee or wrist. The spine is made up of a special kind of joint that supports the body while also allowing some movement.
The spine extends from the base of the skull to the pelvis. It is divided into sections, starting with the lumbar spine at the lower back. The middle section is the thoracic spine while the cervical spine is the section along the neck. Each section of the spine contains a certain number of vertebrae. Each vertebra has two sets of facet joints, one facing upward and one facing down.
The facet joints are synovial joints, meaning each is surrounded by connective tissue and synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. These joints have a coating of cartilage that allows them to move easily against each other. During movement, adjacent bones rub together causing changes in the pressure in the joint. Sometimes this causes tiny gas bubbles to form and collapse. Some experts believe these gas bubbles sometimes play a role in neck cracking.
Significant research exists on what causes the popping sound when you crack your knuckles. Knuckles are also synovial joints like those in the spine. The problem is that the results don’t always turn out exactly the same. Some suggest that the sound occurs when the bubble forms. Others suggest it is when the bubble collapses. Still, the idea of the cracking noise coming from the gas bubbles is generally accepted.
Ligaments and tendons are types of soft tissue that work with the bones to help them move or to keep them stable. Both types of tissue attach to bones and they are elastic, allowing them to “snap back” into place like a rubber band. Some reasons they might cause crepitus include:
- Swelling or stiffness
- Sudden or awkward movement
- Injury to the soft tissue
- Over-extending the ligaments or tendons
- Changes caused by surgery
These causes of neck cracking are only theoretical. No studies have proven that they are the reason you hear noise from your neck.
The human body has built-in safety features to prevent damage from occurring to joints. The cartilage in facet joints acts as a cushion between the joints. As you age, the cartilage may wear down, allowing the bones to come into contact. When you move, one bone grinds against the other.
When bone grinding causes noises, it usually includes pain and a limit in your ability to move your neck. If you hear the sounds every time you make the same movement, it’s probably due to bone grinding.
When patients complain to their doctors about neck crepitus, finding the mechanism isn’t usually an issue. Instead, the doctor finds the cause of pain and treats it. Those who don’t experience pain with the sounds don’t usually seek treatment at all. Like cracking in the knuckles, many people think it is harmless, even if they find the sounds annoying. Most of the time, they’re right.
Still, there are some instances where neck crepitus calls for medical attention. Any time there is pain or swelling, there’s inflammation in the joints. It might be a symptom of osteoarthritis or some other condition.
“Tech Neck” is the modern condition that causes neck pain. It develops when you repeatedly use your devices and strain the muscles and connective tissues around your neck. If you constantly look at your cell phone, laptop, or other devices, it could be the cause of your neck pain.
Posture also plays a role in developing this condition. Maintaining poor posture at your desk for hours each day puts a strain on your neck. The type and severity of pain vary from person to person. It can also change for you during different times of the day.
Also, if you’ve experienced an accident or injury and the sounds are new, it might signal a change to the structure of the neck. The same is true following recent surgeries to the cervical spine. It’s especially important to have the sounds checked out if they’re accompanied by pain.
Most of us experience neck cracking and popping from time to time. But when it occurs frequently or all the time, it might be a problem in the joint. If the sounds are persistent enough to cause concern, get them checked out. You might never know the cause of your neck sounds, but the doctor can rule out underlying conditions that might need to be addressed.
If your mother ever told you to stop cracking your knuckles or you’d get arthritis, you might wonder if cracking your neck will have the same effect. Although there aren’t a lot of studies to support or disprove that theory, significant data on knuckle cracking is available. Research shows that frequent, deliberate knuckle cracking doesn’t increase the risk of developing arthritis. That means neck cracking probably doesn’t increase the risk of developing arthritis in the neck. But the fact that you do it repeatedly to get short-term relief proves that it isn’t a long-term solution either.
Self-chiropractic is a short-term solution that you are doomed to repeat over and over. Still, many people compulsively need to crack their neck to keep getting relief. Most believe the immediate relief comes from the popping sound, or cavitation, that occurs when you realign the joint. But it’s the improvement in the function of your joints that make you feel better. The reason that the relief isn’t long-term is that you’re more likely to elicit a pop from a different joint.
One reason experts advise people against self-chiropractic is the risk of damaging other tissues. Nerves and blood vessels run throughout the neck. If you don’t know the correct way to crack your neck, you could cause damage and more problems.
Doctors often refer patients with neck cracking and popping to chiropractors. The chiropractor then examines the person and tries to determine the cause of the noises and pain if it is present.
Chiropractors offer non-surgical treatment for a range of neck conditions that cause pain and/or cracking. Instead of providing a short-term solution for the noises, they treat the cause of the sounds. Some of the neck conditions that chiropractic treatment works for include:
- Facet Joint Sprain
- Cervical Intervertebral Disc Injuries
- Degenerative Joint Syndrome
- Cervical Sprain Injuries
The chiropractor diagnoses neck pain by examining the spine, taking X-rays of the head and neck, and performing other diagnostic tests. If your spine is out of alignment, it can affect more than your neck. The pain and other conditions can extend to other areas of the body.
You should provide the chiropractor with your past medical history and information on diseases and conditions in your family. They will use all this information to diagnose the source of your pain. Once they make a diagnosis, they will create a treatment plan that is right for you.
Chiropractors use a range of treatments for various neck conditions. Spinal manipulation and manual therapy are often included. Sometimes patients seek chiropractic care after medical treatments fail. Spinal manipulation can help restore movement, alleviate pain, and make you feel normal again.
Most of us have heard people claim that chiropractic treatment didn’t work for them. Sometimes it isn’t effective for treating certain conditions. But often the person expects total, long-term relief after a single treatment.
Everyone is different, and so are their needs. Some patients are fine after a single treatment while others require repeated visits to get their body realigned. Although neck cracking and popping might seem like a simple matter, it’s the underlying condition that determines the type and extent of treatment that you need.
Sometimes patients only undergo one treatment and never return. Their reason might be that they feel so much better after one treatment, they falsely believe the problem is fixed. Even though the first treatment might correct the pain or the neck crepitus, the cause of their symptoms requires more treatment. Over time, the symptoms are likely to return.
Some patients give up after one treatment because they don’t feel as good as new. Chiropractic treatment is a process that sometimes requires taking short, measured steps.
Chiropractic treatment isn’t just about targeting the source of your pain. It is a comprehensive treatment that affects the health of your whole body. In addition to using manipulation techniques for realignment, the chiropractor might also suggest lifestyle changes. For example, if you have tech neck, he might recommend limiting the use of your devices or implementing ergonomic seating at your desk.
Nutrition also plays a vital role in keeping your entire body healthy. Getting the right nutrients supports your body’s ability to heal itself.
The chiropractor might also recommend conservative care for you to apply at home. They might suggest applying heat and/or cold therapy or taking over-the-counter NSAIDs for temporary pain relief. Following your chiropractor’s advice will help you get better results in the fastest time possible. It will also contribute to your overall health and well-being.
If cracking your neck has become an addiction, the first step is to stop. Although the risk is very minor, the practice does increase your risk of having a stroke. It could also be what’s keeping you from getting the real help you need.
If you work on a computer or spend a lot of time using your devices (and who doesn’t these days?) take frequent brakes and look down from the screen regularly. Gently stretching your neck might give you some relief and it’s a safer alternative to popping.
Before visiting a medical doctor or orthopedic surgeon about your pain or neck noises, make an appointment with a chiropractor. While chiropractic isn’t used to treat some conditions, it is effective for many. Wouldn’t you rather have a drug-free, non-surgical treatment that works and is safe?
Sometimes neck cracking and popping is annoying. Other times it’s a sign of something more serious going on in your neck. If there’ damage to your cervical joints, failing to get treatment allows it to get worse. If you’ve had an injury during sports play, you might have more damage than you realized. Even if the cause of the noises and pain in your neck aren’t treatable with chiropractic care, a chiropractor can identify the source of your symptoms. Then, you’ll know what the next step is to get relief and restore your cervical spine.
Chiropractic treatment is one of the safest and most effective forms of treatment for neck pain. Many people prefer the non-surgical or drug-free approach to treatment. For others, those aren’t an option due to other medical conditions.
Of course, all chiropractors aren’t the same. Different treatment centers use different techniques to achieve the same goal. The key to getting expert care for your needs starts with a chiropractor who is a good fit for you.
If you’ve been bothered by neck cracking and grinding or popping, contact True Spine Chiropractic today. Our approach to correcting upper cervical spinal misalignments helps restore the body and facilitate healing. Our treatment helps alleviate neck symptoms that are affecting your entire body.
A lot of people practice self chiropractic without even realizing it. If you sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, there’s a good chance you’re guilty of the practice, too. People of all ages are getting “Text Neck” from leaning their heads over to read the screen on their cell phones.
Sometimes manipulating your joints is something you don’t even think about. Your neck gets stiff, your back starts to ache; all you want is some relief. You lean your neck to the left, pull your shoulder down to the right, working towards that familiar popping sound. No doubt, you feel some relief right after you pop your neck. But practicing self-alignment by popping your joints offers short-term relief that doesn’t address the cause of your pain.
Whether you’re popping your knuckles or your spine, it’s the “pop” that you’re after. Its proper name is “cavitation.” During the realignment, the pressure inside the joint suddenly decreases, releasing gasses in the synovial fluid into the joint space. This is what causes the popping sound.
Although you think of the pop as your goal, it isn’t really what gives you relief from pain. The real relief results from an improvement in how your joints move. When a chiropractor creates cavitations, they improve joint function, the muscles relax, and there’s less nerve irritation.
Self chiropractic, on the other hand, is non-specific. Your movements are more likely to elicit the pop from the joint that is already moving freely than the one causing your pain. That’s why you can’t get the same long-lasting relief that you get from a real chiropractor.
Chiropractors use their hands to apply a small, sudden force to the spinal joint. Also called spinal manipulation, the chiropractor uses the procedure to improve the flexibility and movement of the spine. The goal is to realign the spinal joints to their original position. Sometimes one session is all that is needed. Other situations call for repeated adjustments to achieve this goal. This practice of spinal manipulation has earned chiropractors the nickname of “back crackers.” The sound has nothing to do with the short-term relief you achieve from popping your joints. It isn’t the sound that causes an improvement when the chiropractor does it either. The relief comes from getting your joints back in line where they belong.
Most of us have heard that popping your knuckles leads to arthritis. Medical experts explain this is just a myth. For many people, cracking knuckles, twisting their waste, or stretching their neck produces pain. That’s because there is already a problem that drives them to manipulate their joints in the first place. Arthritis, tendinitis, or bursitis are conditions that cause swelling in soft tissue. These conditions can lead to popping or cracking noises in the joints during regular use. These noises aren’t the same as the popping sound produced during manipulation. It comes from the swollen tissue snapping.
Popping your joints relieves pressure; anyone with arthritis knows about joint pressure and pain. They are often driven to repeatedly pop their joints to get relief throughout their day. This is especially true for those whose work puts even more pressure on their diseased joints.
Like knuckle popping, research hasn’t shown any evidence that cracking your knuckles causes any real risks. Some people consider it addictive, often feeling driven to do it out of habit more than the need for relief.
When it comes to cracking your neck, the risk might be greater. Occasionally popping your neck gently probably won’t do any harm. But doing it too often, incorrectly, or with too much force could result in your feeling more pain than you did before.
The real risk of self chiropractic care isn’t joint damage. It’s failing to get the professional alignment you need for lasting results. Doing it yourself is like putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound.
Your spine supports your entire body. It keeps you upright, allows you to bend, and serves as the pathway for messages sent and received by your brain and your body. The three main functions of the spine are to provide structural support and balance, protect the spinal cord, and enable flexible motion.
The spine is made up of four regions. They are the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. Seven vertebrae form the cervical spine region in your neck. The cervical vertebrae are numbered C1 through C7 in descending order. C1 is the Atlas, a ring-shaped bone that supports the skull. C2 is the Axis, a circular bone with blunt, tooth-like structures that project up into the Atlas. These two vertebrae work together to turn and rotate your head.
Leaning forward for extended periods during activities like working on a computer or texting leads to stress in the neck. Pain might radiate into the shoulders or up into the head. Getting headaches from long hours on the computer might be due to eye strain. It could just as easily be from holding your neck in an unnatural position. If your body adapts to the new posture, it will remodel itself around the incorrect positioning. When a misalignment occurs due to poor posture or from an injury, repeated alignments are the only way to restore the natural positioning of the joint.
The next section of the spine is the thoracic region, which is made up of 12 vertebrae. These vertebrae are larger than those in the cervical region and they gain additional strength from the ribs.
The lumbar region is made up of five vertebrae, which carry the majority of your body’s weight. This is also the lower back region where most back pain occurs.
The next region of the spine is the sacrum, which is situated behind the pelvis and between the hips. Five bones make up the sacral spine, all of which are fused into a single triangular shape. Below the sacrum is the final section of the spine, the coccyx, or tailbone. The sacrum is composed of five bones fused together. The spine is not straight but has four distinct curves when viewed from the side.
The joints in the spine are called “facet joints.” Each vertebra has two facet joints that help you bend, twist, and extend while also preventing excessive movement that can cause damage. Each facet joint is surrounded by connective tissue and produces synovial fluid that acts as lubrication. Cartilage on the surface of the joint helps you move smoothly.
Discs are positioned between the different vertebrae to act as a cushion. They prevent bone from contacting bone and grinding together when you move. Additionally, the tire-like annulus fibrosus encases the gel-like nucleus pulposus to help maintain the stability of the spine and resist compressive stress. Each vertebra also has a top and bottom endplate that helps hold the disc in place.
Most people aren’t familiar with the anatomy of the spine. In addition to the location and function of the facet joints, there are muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and body processes that play a role in the function of the spine.
Chiropractors are specialists trained in all areas of the body’s structure and function. They know the normal positioning and function of every area of your spine from the neck to the tailbone. It might be tempting to self chiropractic when you have a pain in the neck. Thanks to the various forms of technology available to us today, more people are dealing with neck injuries and pain. But trying to fix your neck without the knowledge of how it’s supposed to work can’t get the same results as professional care. There’s also the concern that something unexpected is causing your neck pain. Some of the most common types of injuries and types of neck pain include:
Some of the most common conditions people seek chiropractic care for include headaches and migraines, facial pain and TMJ, balance problems, and neck disorders. Sometimes the source of pain is not as obvious as it seems. Like any medical doctor, a Doctor of Chiropractic begins treatment by making an accurate diagnosis.
Attempting to relieve your symptoms through self chiropractic results in the underlying condition for your symptoms failing to get treated. This gives your symptoms the opportunity to expand into serious health conditions and can lead to chronic pain.
The most important thing you can do to protect your spine is to take a preventive approach. If you spend hours in front a computer screen each day, keep your monitor at eye level. Take frequent brakes and ensure you maintain correct posture at all times.
Almost everyone texts these days, putting you at risk for “Text Neck.” Try raising the phone while texting and bring the phone to eye level. Keep texting time to a minimum and take frequent breaks.
If you wake up with a wrench in your neck, try a new pillow that’s designed for your sleeping style. Invest in a pillow that’s good quality and made to keep your spine and neck in natural alignment.
Instead of self chiropractic, do some strengthening exercises for your neck. A strong neck is more resistant to injury and it helps keep any pain away. Being aware of the risks will help you take a pro-active approach to keeping your spine and neck their healthiest. Prevention is always the best approach.
If you have symptoms of neck pain or any of the other conditions listed here, contact True Spine. Dr. Hallmeyer D.C. takes a unique approach to treating cervical conditions. Don’t leave anything as important as your spine health to chance. Get a diagnosis for your symptoms and get the best treatment to keep them from becoming worse.