Is It Harmful For Me To “Pop” My Own Neck?
Oct 15, 2019
We see many patients in our practice at Arvada Sport and Spine Group who have communicated to us about things that they have attempted to do in order to help make their symptoms bearable. Some of these “self-help” methods used to address symptoms include things such as stretching, heat, ice, topical analgesics and others. These can be effective in a limited way if only to help the individual make the pain more tolerable until they can get to the chiropractor or physical therapist who can figure out what the problem is and more specifically address it.
One of the questions we at the clinic are frequently asked is, “Is it harmful for me to pop or crack my neck?” This has become a very common way that people self-treat to try and reduce symptoms in the neck. In order to answer this question, it is necessary to discuss what is going on in the neck that is causing the symptoms in the first place.
The two main reasons why an individual may have the neck pain and stiffness are:
- There are one or more vertebrae in the neck that are not moving through normal motion when the patient moves the neck/head. In other words, there is one or more joints of the neck that are “stuck” or hypomobile and are not moving in a certain direction.
- There are one or more vertebrae in the neck that are not bearing the weight of the head properly.
Both of the above levels of dysfunction of the vertebrae of the neck can lead to the muscles working harder trying to adapt and compensate for the mechanical problem. The muscles can get tight and achy, and convince the patient that he needs to “pop” the neck in order to make it feel better. The individual will do this with no regard for what joint is being moved, what force is being used to move it, and does it even need moved or “popped” at all. In our clinic, we have patients who regularly “pop” their neck 5-10 times per day in order to try and relieve the tightness and achy feeling coming from the neck.
So what!! Is this frequent, daily popping harmful? Numerous sources say that it can be very harmful to the long-term health of the joints of the neck. Research studies have found that repeatedly popping the same joint over and over can make the ligaments and the joint capsule to that particular vertebrae permanently stretched. When this happens, the joint becomes much looser and hypermobile and the ligaments and joint capsules that control or limit motion in that joint can’t do their job. This leads to premature osteoarthritis, or wear-and-tear of the joint surfaces. All of this happens to the joint that is repeatedly being moved while the joints that are the real culprit, the ones that are “stuck” and responsible for the symptoms, go untreated. This is why whatever temporary relief this individual may feel from “popping” the neck is very short-lived and they feel like it needs to be repeated several times during the day.
In contrast to the patient “self-popping” the neck, it is up to the chiropractor or physical therapist to determine which vertebra in the neck is having the movement or weight bearing problem and then address that specific issue.
With the above criteria in mind, we at Arvada Sport and Spine Group will assess the neck as well as each individual vertebrae in order to determine if there are any that are not performing the above functions. We determine which vertebrae are dysfunctional, and what types of adjustments/manipulations and exercises would be most beneficial in treating this particular patient who has a neck that hurts because of the spinal segments that aren’t working right.
For you who are “self-poppers”, get the neck checked out in order to determine why the neck regularly feels tight and achy. We would be glad to help you.
Wishing you the best of health,
Gary E. Spears, D.C., F.I.A.M.A.
For Arvada Sport and Spine Group