Craning your neck to stare at a screen, sleeping in a strange position, sitting in a car for hours, there are multiple reasons people get the urge to crack their joints. For many, it’s satisfying to feel the crackle in their fingers, necks, and even toes after long periods of little movement or for relief from uncomfortable positions. But is popping your joints—specifically the neck—actually doing your body any good? In short, it depends.
Popping your neck is generally a non-damaging habit. Below you’ll find a breakdown of what occurs when you pop your neck, alternative methods to relieving tight muscles or discomfort in your neck, and the telltale signs of when you may wish to seek medical help.
What makes the "pop" sound when cracking your neck?
There are a few explanations for neck popping, including:
Cavitation - Joints contain nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and fluid to lubricate the bones. When cracking your neck, the "popping" sound is a result of cavitation, what occurs when negative pressure is put on a liquid to create gas bubbles. It’s similar to opening a can of soda. Chiropractors are trained to use cavitation to free up joints and ease pain or discomfort.
Ligaments or tendons moving around bone - Bones attach to ligaments and tendons. The ligaments or tendons may make a popping sound as they move around the bone or over each other. Popping might be more likely to happen if the ligaments, tendons and muscles are too tight or too loose.
So is any neck popping bad for you?
The kind of natural cracking that can occur when you stretch or move after long periods of not moving is not harmful. Normal neck popping should not hurt or involve a very stiff or swollen neck.
Will neck cracking cause arthritis in the neck?
If you crack your neck because of a nervous habit or because it makes your neck feel less tight, you may have wondered if you’re more likely to development arthritis in the neck. A review of current medical research studying fingers showed that frequent, purposeful knuckle-cracking does not increase the risk for arthritis in those joints.5-6 Joint cracking in the neck has not been studied very thoroughly. There is no current research that shows cracking the neck leads to a higher risk for arthritis.
Alternatives to popping your neck
There are safe alternatives for relief when feeling the urge to crack your neck. For instance, you may perform a chin tuck by simply leaning your head down for 30 seconds at a time. This can alleviate built up tension in your neck.
A more proactive approach to quitting the habit of popping your neck is to consider how your posture might be affecting muscles in your neck. If you find that you often wakeup with neck pain, try falling asleep in a more comfortable position. At work, make an effort to sit up straight and avoid hunching over.
When to seek medical advice
If you constantly feel the need to pop your neck due to stiffness or pain, it may be a sign of a bigger medical problem. If, when you crack your neck you feel pain, stiffness, swelling, or the cracking starts following an injury, accident, or spine surgery, you may have a medical condition that needs to be checked by a doctor.
It’s better to be cautious when experiencing chronic neck pain, as common causes of pain can require medical assistance. Are you suffering from disc damage and seeking possible surgical treatments? Take this survey to determine whether you qualify for the Mobi-C Cervical Disc. Mobi-C is an artificial disc designed to maintain neck motion.
For a complete list of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and risks visit www.cervicaldisc.com/clinical-results.
- Boutin RD, Netto AP, Nakamura D, et al. Knuckle cracking: can blinded observers detect changes with physical examination and sonography? Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2017; 475(4):1265-71.
- Deweber K, Olszewski M, Ortolano R. Knuckle cracking and hand osteoarthritis. J Am Board Fam Med. 2011;24(2):169-74.