Do you always crack your neck?
Habitually cracking your neck may feel great for the time being, but neck-crackers beware! Your joint cracking habits may be causing you more harm than good.
Every random crack of the neck can be deceptively satisfying, releasing endorphins which help our bodies relieve pain and feel happy. However, your relief can only last so long. If you’ve been habitually cracking your neck for years, it’s often 15 to 20 minutes — sometimes even seconds — before the pain and neck-cracking temptation returns.
“Many people habitually crack their neck regularly and don’t think about the long-term harm they could be causing to their own body,” explains Dr. Mark Heintzkill, a chiropractor at Aurora Health Center in Manitowoc, Wis. “The neck is connected to your spine, making it vital to the everyday operation of your physical mobility, perception and sensations.”
Though severe consequences of habitual neck cracking are rare, it’s best to leave the neck cracking up to the professionals, Dr. Heintzkill says.
Here are two possible consequences of regularly cracking your neck often:
“When you habitually crack your own neck, you apply random pressures on the joints,” says Dr. Heintzkill. “Doing this on a regular basis can lead to instability and take a toll on your neck.”
This progressive wear-down of the protective cartilage at the end of the bone is known as osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is irreversible, and those who develop it can suffer from serious pain.
In addition to arthritis, habitual neck cracking can also lead to joint laxity, or looseness.
Most “kinks” in the neck develop because a joint has lost its normal mobility and becomes tight. There are seven vertebrae in the neck contributing to its many movements. When one of the vertebrae becomes tight and restricted, usually one or more of the other joints becomes lax and loose as a compensation for the tight one.
“I have observed that random self-cracking of the neck does not loosen the tight joint. Rather, it causes one of the lax and loose joints to become looser while the tight one keeps getting tighter. It becomes a vicious cycle,” Dr. Heintzkill says.
Cracking your neck too often can weaken surrounding tissue, muscle and nerves. Many major blood vessels are housed within the neck. When stress is applied to the neck on a regular basis, it may lead to severe complications such as over stretching, tearing, ruptures and blood clots.
“There is no direct link between habitual neck cracking and blood clots and strokes, but self-cracking can weaken the neck over time, making your body more susceptible to health complications,” Dr. Heintzkill says.
While minor habitual neck cracking may not institute any immediate health risks, speaking to a chiropractor first is highly recommended.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.