Is cracking your own neck bad for you?
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Is cracking your own neck bad for you?

On occasion I get this question: "Is popping my neck bad to do?"

How is this different from a chiropractic adjustment?

First of all, chiropractic work uses a specific speed and specific force applied to manipulative adjustments.  Chiropractorsuse a line of drive during manipulation that is also referred to as the joint plane.  When done correctly, cervical adjustments done through the joint plane require very little force in order to make the release on the spine.  Hopefully, they are also spending a little time prepping the muscles with heat and/or massage prior to manipulation.

When clients attempt to self-release, however, there is no line of drive through the joint plane.  Additionally, very little muscle relaxation or muscle warming occurs before a person self-manipulates, requiring more force and more torque in order to elicit the response.  This in turn creates inflammation, muscle spasms, and overly lax ligaments of the cervical spine over time...not good news!

So why do people develop this weird and sometimes eerily noisy habit?  They probably discovered that they could lessen any muscular pain or joint tension by simply torquing the neck to the side.  The feeling of immediate relief eventually creates a habit - an addiction if you will.  Those who feel the need to constantly crack their own necks develop a problem known as over-manipulation syndrome (OMS)

According to W. David Bond, DC, founder and director of Essential Chiropractic Center in California, clients experience the release of endorphins (the body's natural opiates) into the bloodstream after self-manipulation, which finds the pleasure center of the brain.  The feeling of needing to pump more and more endorphins into the system develops, however, creating the OMS.

Over manipulation of the cervical spine can cause:
-muscle weakness
-laxity of ligaments, leading to loss of stability            
-over compensation of the cervical muscles 
-local and referred pain
-muscle spasms

Dr. Bond says that it takes roughly 2 months to break the habit of popping your own neck.  During this time it is imperative to avoid self-manipulation altogether!  You may stretch the muscles slightly being careful not to stretch as far as eliciting a pop. 

Massage therapy, ice treatments, and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine will help reduce inflammation and pain.   Massage can also help ease the client's urge to crack by working with the soft tissues, relieving muscle tension, and demonstrating rehab/strengthening exercises for home.

After breaking the cycle of self-manipulation and pain, clients can expect to experience less pain and greater range of motion, while also losing a terrible habit.

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