As soon as you feel stiffness or tension in your neck, your first reaction may be to simply crack your neck and keep going with your day. Cracking your neck isn't necessarily bad, but there is a right and wrong way to go about making an adjustment.
Is It Normal For Your Neck to Make a Popping Sound?
If you're concerned about the noises your neck makes every now and then, don't worry, Wesley Bronson, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon for the Mount Sinai Health System, told POPSUGAR. "Necks make noises for different reasons," he explained. Often, the noises your neck makes are caused by the gas and fluids that occur naturally in the joint, Dr. Bronson said.
As you move your neck, the pressure in the joint changes which leads to a popping sound, he explained. With age, the crunching or cracking sound can be a result of arthritis of the neck. Another reason you might hear a cracking sound is due to "a ligament or a tendon moving over a piece of bone," according to Dr. Bronson. If you're having stiffness and happen to turn your head to the side and hear a "pop" sound, "there's probably nothing wrong with that," he said.
How to Crack Your Neck
"I would discourage, for the most part, forcing your neck around," he stated. Instead, Dr. Bronson recommends taking a gentle approach and moving your neck through a normal range of motion to alleviate any stiffness.
If you're applying force with your hand or having someone else, like a partner or friend, crack your neck, "I think that [for] those kinds of activities, you need to have a little bit more caution," Dr. Bronson said. If you do prefer to manually adjust your own neck, it should be fine because "it's safe to do things in your own range of motion if it's not causing any pain and you're in control of what you're doing," he explained. When others crack your neck, you run the chance of them pushing past your range of motion which can potentially lead to problems, according to Dr. Bronson.
Seeing someone who is trained in making adjustments, such as a chiropractor, is a different story, according to Dr. Bronson. "If someone is going to go to a chiropractor, I would encourage them to make sure that whoever they go to is certainly trained and understands what they're doing doing and that it's done in a safe way," Dr. Bronson said. "It should be done very gently, nothing should hurt," he said. If something does hurt, it's a sign that your neck shouldn't move in that way. "I would say that force — what I call high-velocity, meaning really twisting the neck — should probably be avoided because of the potential for an injury."
Cracking your neck yourself is the safest of the two options, but there is a rare chance that you can injure your vertebral artery — an artery that travels through the neck — Dr. Bronson said. "There are some cases where forceful, rapid neck manipulation can cause an injury to those vessels and it can lead to a pretty devastating problem" such as a stroke, he explained. Dr. Bronson said having a stroke is "a very rare occurrence" but is possible. If you experience pain down your arm or numbness or tingling in your arms or hands after cracking your neck, Dr. Bronson said to immediately seek treatment.
If the thought of cracking your neck, or having someone else do it, makes you cringe, Dr. Bronson recommends physical therapy in order to stretch and strengthen the muscles around your neck. One stretch he recommends is gently tilting your head to either side and trying to get your ear to meet your shoulder. "In the end, whatever you're going to do, you should do it safely," Dr. Bronson said.