Ask a Spine Doc: ‘Is it dangerous to crack my neck or back?’

Authored by: Dr. William Kemp

What are the reasons people crack their neck or back?

People often crack their back or neck out of habit to temporarily relieve tension or stiffness. Typically they do this to loosen up their back or neck when it is feeling tight or stiff. The “cracking” is actually the popping of a tight or stiff facet joint.

What are the potential risks and dangers of cracking your neck or back?

It causes extra unnecessary wear and tear on your spine. It may lead to strain on the muscles and ligaments surrounding the spine, potentially causing injury or exacerbating existing issues. 

That cracking or popping noise often heard when someone cracks their back or neck is typically associated with the release of gas from the facet joints in the spine. These joints are small stabilizing joints located between and behind adjacent vertebrae in the spine.

When you stretch or manipulate your spine, such as by twisting or bending, the pressure within the joint changes. This can cause a sudden release of gas bubbles, leading to a cracking sound. 

While this cracking sound might provide temporary relief or satisfaction, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that it was beneficial or safe. As mentioned earlier, excessive or forceful cracking of the spine can potentially lead to injury or worsen existing issues, so it’s best to approach such practices with caution and seek guidance from a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing discomfort or stiffness.

Do Neurosurgeons recommend people crack their neck or back?

No! Although I can understand where people may feel a temporary relief I caution against this method. There are plenty of safe alternatives that will provide longer-term relief and not exacerbate potential issues with the spine.

What are some alternative ways to get relief from Neck or Back Stiffness?

Instead of cracking the back or neck, there are safer alternatives to alleviate discomfort or tension long

term:

  • Commit to a daily stretching routine
  • Engage in core muscle exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine
  • Stay in motion – a body in motion stays in motion and helps avoid stiffness and alleviates tension
  • Optimize your ergonomics; examine your daily routines to see if there may be repetitive situations that leave you feeling stiff or experiencing tension/tightness (ie; workstation set up, hunching in your chair or seat in the car, holding device and looking down for prolonged periods, pillow/sleep position, job activities etc.)

It’s important to listen to your body and avoid forceful manipulation of the spine. If you’re experiencing persistent discomfort or pain, it’s best to consult with a medical specialist for proper evaluation and treatment. Remember, what works for one person may not work for everyone.

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