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26 years
I willingly crack my neck and back a lot. Could this behavior, in any way, be harming my spine?
Feb 11, 2015

Dr. Zakia Dimassi Pediatrics

Habitual neck cracking is a habitual
practice that some people do in an attempt to relieve tension in the neck, or
as a macho show off act. However, it can result in some undesirable side
effects like pain, osteoarthritis, and stroke.

cracking produces a crackling sound similar to what we hear when some people
twist their knuckles to reduce stress. The cracking sound may be associated
with a popping sound, and this may bring some relief. Others also crack their other
joints. Many people do these habitually and unknowingly, and though it may be
relaxing, neck cracking may be an unhealthy habit.

Basically, the neck
contains many muscles and bones which allow for neck flexibility and head
Persistent stress can cause the neck to produce a
cracking sound when twisted. This is usually harmless, but if neck cracking is
accompanied by pain, seeking medical consultation becomes appropriate.

Si what are the causes of neck

1- Cavitation

synovial fluid is a thick fluid that envelopes the neck joints, it functions as
a lubricant and cushion to facilitate movements and absorb shock from trauma.
This fluid contains nitrogen and carbon dioxide gas, which can form bubbles.
Moving the neck joints can increase pressure in the bubbles, causing popping,
or bursting of these bubbles. This process, known as cavitation, is heard as a
cracking sound, and is the leading cause of neck cracking.

2- Ligaments factor

support a joint where two or more bones meet, providing mobility to the joint.
Bones may possess some projections that elevate where ligaments can get stuck
and are let loose when moving the neck. When slippage of ligaments from the
surface of a bone projection occurs, neck cracking can happen.

3- Joint problem

A neck
injury in people who perform strenuous activities like athletes and gymnasts
may result in excess stress on the neck structures, causing neck cracking with
certain movements.

Side effects of neck cracking

1- Neck
  with time, neck cracking can negatively affect the
mobility of the neck, due to the wearing down of the cartilages surrounding the
vertebrae. As a result, degenerative changes characteristic of arthritis occur,
with concomitant inflammation and neck pain as pressure builds up on the

2- Osteoarthritis
habitual neck cracking exerts significant stress on
the neck joints; consequently, the ligaments stretch excessively. This can lead
to instability, which induces the formation of bone bridges between the
vertebrae, as the body tries to stabilize the joint. However, this is not a
normal process, and can lead permanent and irreversible joint stabilization
called osteoarthritis.


3- Stroke
 yes, stroke! Studies have shown that strokes
occurring in people younger than 60 years old may be due to habitual neck
cracking. Repeated neck cracking can produce injuries in the blood vessels of
the neck, or cervical arteries. These microscopic tears on the arteries can
lead to bleeding and formation of blood clots, which may potentially travel to
the brain. Blood clots can block blood flow, thus severing oxygen supply to the
brain. A stroke caused by neck cracking may be minor, causing a transient
ischemic attack, but it may also be fatal. Common symptoms of stroke include
dizziness, confusion, weakness involving half of the body, blurred vision,
trouble speaking, and severe headache. Emergency treatment is needed when these
symptoms occur.


For mild
conditions, you can follow these simple steps:

§  Exercise: more often
than not, the back of the neck is held tightly in one position while working;
the muscles shorten, thereby not allowing the natural movements of the neck.
You can exercise these muscles by bending your head forward until your chin
touches your chest. Maintain your head in this position for as long you can to
stretch the back of the neck, then release.

§  Joint Movement: if the neck joints are not freely moving, grinding noises may be
heard. Muscle tightness can also lead to neck pain. Gentle stretching of the
neck will release the tension in the neck muscles, by improving the blood flow
in this area and relieving pain.

§  Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Exercise: this type of exercise targets the SCM, the large muscle at each side of
the neck that causes much pain. Turning your head as far as possible to one
side will help stretch you SCM. Slight discomfort and crunching sounds are
expected, but avoid pushing it until you feel pain. You can use your hands to
stabilize the head while turning. Do the same procedure gently to turn the head
to the other side.