It pains me as a Specific Correction Chiropractor in Ann Arbor when I’m out and about maybe at a local coffee shop in and I happen to catch someone cranking on their own neck. You’ve probably seen these people or you might be one yourself. These folks might grab their head, violently twisting their neck from side to side all in the name of a good crack! I get these people, I completely understand. However, what most people fail to realize or understand is that this is a vicious cycle caused by chronic tension that never goes away.
What happens when I crack my neck?
The crack or pop gives you an initial feeling of tension release and this happens through the stimulation of mechanoreceptors (nerve receptors) in the joints and muscles. These receptors are stimulated when the neck joints are taken to their end range of motion where added force is applied to distract the joints. When this happens joint capsules, ligaments and discs are stretched to their maximum end range. Occasionally a popping sensation is felt or heard due to the release of built up gas in these joint capsules. These structures over time will begin to become stretched and even damaged on the cellular level. If they’re stretched or damaged, overtime cervical instability may result. The receptors in the cervical joints send information to the brain giving you that feel good feeling. However the odds are, that tension is going to keep coming back. Why is this you might ask?
Tension in the neck is a result of tight or weak muscles.
Tight or weak muscles are a result of abnormal structure.
When the spinal vertebra that the muscles attache to are out of place it creates abnormal biomechanics (structural movement). This allows some muscles to be weak or lax and some to be tight and spastic. The reason there is abnormal structure is due to one or more segmentally displaced vertebra. This tense feeling is a cyclical set of events that occur over and over again. The problem is that most of the time this tense feeling is not an entire neck problem, it’s a one or two segment problem. More often then not, these one or two segments are so locked up that manipulating them yourself is impossible. However the noise and ultimate release that you feel when twisting your neck is from joints and receptors that are not the problem and happen to be moving just fine. You just happened to be moving these joints to their end range of motion releasing built up gas in the joints. That is why the problem keeps coming back. The self-cracking isn’t correcting the problem its only providing temporary relief. This would be no different than taking an over the counter medication every time the problem arises. Do to this constant cyclical problem it would make sense that a more permanent solution would be the best choice to give long-term relief. A permanent solution would involve an objective analysis of the spine to determine the problematic area. Then a correction to the structure is applied in order to restore normal structural integrity reducing the chronic problem and tension.