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Have you ever woken up feeling stiff and sore in the morning? Do you sometimes feel the urge to release the pressure and tension in your neck? Most of us have been there — the satisfying cracking sound of the joints in your neck when they stretch can be a relief.

Some people purposely crack their necks out of a nervous habit. Others may do a quick stretch or pop of the neck to elicit some relief after sleeping in an awkward position, lifting something heavy, or sitting at their desk all day.

But if you find yourself doing this often, it may be doing more harm than good. Let’s explore what exactly happens when you crack your own neck compared to a neck adjustment in a chiropractic-care session.

Is it bad to crack your own neck?

It’s normal for your neck to “crack” at times when you move your head while maintaining typical range of motion. But when you force your body in a specific position to crack your neck, you risk causing instability in that area — possibly injuring the joints and surrounding soft tissues.

Common self-adjustments might look like pushing your chin or holding your head and chin while you turn your neck; grabbing the back of a chair and twisting your spine; or simply over-stretching until you feel a crack.

Self-cracking may provide temporary relief, but it typically doesn’t correct the joints behind stiffness, pain, or dysfunction you may be experiencing. Instead, the noises you hear and cracks you feel are often the movement and popping of the joints above and below the “stuck” joint.

If you find yourself cracking your neck regularly, I’d advise consulting a professional and having them help discover and correct the root cause of your discomfort. Chiropractors are trained in spinal and extremity adjustments and know the specific ranges of motion each joint should have.

What are the benefits of neck adjustments by a professional?

A Feeling of Satisfaction

Adjusting your neck has been shown to release endorphins in your body similar to other endorphin-releasing stimuli such as laughing, massages, eating, or sunshine. Endorphins are a hormone naturally-produced by the pituitary gland in the brain, which produces these feel-good hormones to help your nervous system cope with pain and stress.

Corrects Misaligned Joints

Self-cracking your neck can lead to spinal misalignment. Licensed physical therapists and chiropractors can help properly manipulate your joints to ensure they’re aligned.

Loosens Tight Muscles

Cervical spine manipulation by a professional helps decrease muscle stiffness and improve the blood circulation in your veins and arteries. Neck adjustments have similar benefits to stretching exercises, which help you gain better flexibility and muscle strength.

Relieves Fatigue and Stress

The most common benefit of a neck adjustment is relief from joint pain. Having your neck adjusted the right way can release pressure to ease muscle soreness, reduce anxiety, and relieve migraine symptoms.

Improves Spinal Mobility and Posture

Neck and spinal manipulation help restore mobility to weakened joints and tissues as well as correct forward head posture by relieving soreness and stiffness on your neck.

What neck-related injuries and conditions can chiropractors treat?

Chiropractors diagnose and treat injuries and joint disorders caused by musculoskeletal or nerve pain. To make an accurate diagnosis, your chiropractor may order X-rays or scans to confirm your condition and recommend the chiropractic method that will work best for you.

Here are some commonly treated conditions:

Neck Pain

From mild to severe neck pain, chiropractors concentrate on treating the underlying cause that affects the nerves, ligaments, and blood flow to your head and shoulder region. This is commonly treated by realigning the vertebrae in the neck to mitigate muscle spasms and restore its function.

Sprains and Strains

When a muscle or tendon is overstretched or torn, it can lead to pain and swelling. Chiropractors help treat sprains and strains depending on the severity through ice or heat therapy, taping or bracing, ultrasound, electrical-muscle stimulation, laser, trigger-point therapy, and rehabilitative exercises.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

A damaged layer of connective tissues in your neck can cause myofascial pain syndrome. These trigger points can bring about deep or aching pain, where you can feel a knot in your muscle. Chiropractors help treat this through ice or heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical-muscle stimulation, laser, trigger-point therapy, rehabilitative exercises, and Integrated Muscle and Joint Therapy® which is exclusively available at LifeClinic.

Herniated Disc

While most herniated discs occur in the back, they can also happen in your neck. The signs and symptoms of a herniated disc depend on how severe the disc is pressing on your affected nerve. Chiropractors can perform adjustments that alleviate the vertebrae from pain, pressure, and tension. This relaxes the disc, promoting the absorption of oxygen and nutrients into the spinal discs themselves, otherwise known as imbibition.

When should I consult a chiropractor?

When you’re experiencing frequent pain: If muscle soreness constantly increases over time or occurs every time you move your neck, that could be a signal of a problem in your joint function.

When you notice unusual swelling: Strange swelling in your neck could signify a fluid buildup or severe infection. Pain with swelling can also indicate serious inflammation or osteoarthritis, which causes surrounding ligaments to wear down and stretch to unsafe levels.

When you experience an injury: If the spinal cord gets bruised, it could further complicate the inflammation in your neck.

What to Expect in a Chiropractic-Care Session

The chiropractor will conduct a physical examination and routine assessments to determine the cause of your pain or discomfort. For pain, muscle tension, and stiffness of the neck specifically, your chiropractor may use an adjustment technique called cervical spine manipulation. This is a standard treatment for those experiencing neck discomfort, migraines, and headaches, and even for athletes who want to improve their performance.


Dr. Shane Wernke

Dr. Shane Wernke is a licensed chiropractor at LifeClinic in Chanhassen, Minn.

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