When we feel the beginning of that creak in our necks all we want is to crack it and go about our day. But what happens if you’re already suffering from neck pain? Is it safe to crack your neck without causing further pain or complications? Let’s take a few moments and dive deeper into why we crack our necks and what effect it can have on our necks.
Why Do We Crack Our Necks?
Our daily routine can be exhausting, leaving us tired and needing a rest at the end of the day. Whether the day’s activities involve moving loads or hunched over a computer or book for long periods of time, it is likely that some tension will develop in our neck muscles. This tension is a result of fatigue, and can be experienced in a range from slight discomfort to persistent pain. People tend to think an easy solution to this is to turn their neck in an irregular or abnormal way, until they hear a cracking sound.
What’s That Popping Sound?
- Tendon movement – Tendons are stringy fiber strands which act as connective material around joints all over the body. They make the connection between muscle and bone, enabling movement. When they move out of place, (due to muscle movement for example) moving them back into place can create a snapping noise.
- Ligament movement – Ligaments, like tendons, are connective fibers as well, and also enable movement, but connect bone to bone. The thin ligaments between the small bones in the neck also contribute to the cracking noise as they get moved, most notably when they have been tightened.
- Escaping gas – The greatest reason behind the cracking sound is not even caused by bone or connective fibers moving but by escaping gas! There is a fluid that wraps all joints, and fills the spaces between them. It helps the joints move smoothly and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. The fluid itself is mixed in with several gasses, and is often held inside capsules on the sides of the joints. When these capsules are stretched, the gasses are ‘released’ to fill up the spaces created by stretching, and this happens fast enough to produce the cracking sound.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
Although cracking the neck can sometimes bring instant relief, there are risks that come along with doing it too frequently, or in a wrong way. When done correctly with the help of a medical professional it can have several benefits, however, cracking your neck repeatedly on your own can have negative effects.
- The ligaments become permanently stretched as a result of frequent stretching. This can lead to permanently having the neck bones misaligned.
- Blood clots. The neck houses some of the most important blood pathways in the body, such as those that supply the brain with blood. Improperly cracking the neck can fracture some of these pathways and cause internal bleeding inside those pathways.
- A stiff neck, caused by lack of mobility from damage to the tissues connecting to the spine.
- Damage to the nerves. Like blood pathways, the neck also has very many nerve fibers. Improper cracking of the neck can cause them damage, possibly making it impossible to move the neck.
- Quick relief to discomfort and pain
- Improved blood circulation by stimulating the muscles and fibers in the neck.
- Improved posture from alignment of the neck bones and strengthening of the neck muscles.
- Release of feel-good chemicals that improve one’s mood.
- Improved flexibility from proper moderate stretching of neck muscles.
So Is It Safe?
Cracking your neck at home is already a risk, especially if you don’t know how to do it properly. If you’re experiencing neck pain and think cracking your neck is the answer, it’s best to wait and see your Physical Therapist first. There could be a variety of reasons why your neck hurts and the last thing you need is to further complicate your pain by trying to fix the issue yourself with no guidance.
As always, the best remedy to any problem is prevention. In order to avoid neck pain it is advisable to practice proper posture and avoid causing strain to the neck. Avoid carrying heavy bags over one shoulder, and sleep in comfortable positions that align the head, neck, and back. Also, frequent exercise and full-body stretches will go a long way in distributing and getting rid of muscular tension throughout the body.
In case you’re experiencing consistent pain, or have a specific region in your neck where you feel a sharp pain when you turn your head, it’s best to reach out and schedule an appointment to see your Physical Therapist as soon as possible.
At Healthy Consumer PT, we provide expert advice and premier physical therapy services. Call our offices today at (517) 301-3623 to schedule an appointment