Do you find yourself rolling your neck and feeling a popping sound after you have been sitting for a long period of time in the same position? Many people even experience a sense of relief after cracking their neck. However, the question still remains, is it okay to crack your neck?
Is Cracking Your Neck Bad?
Yes. Cracking your neck is bad. However, the occasional, unforced cracking is not bad. When you repeatedly crack your neck you will cause pressure to build up around your joints.
This pressure build up may cause one of two things: it will cause unwanted cartilage build up or a blood clot. Pressure building up around your joints will cause your ligaments to over stretch, creating an unstable support. Once your ligaments are overstretched, they can no longer properly support your joints so the cartilage between your vertebrae will begin to wear down.
Why Is Cracking Your Neck Bad?
You will end up with more pain and stiffness around your neck instead of the relief you are actually looking for when you repeatedly crack your neck. Plus, if you are under the age of 60, you increase the risk of stroke. Your risk increases because the cracking may actually cause a blood clot which prohibits the blood flow to your brain.
One of the most common setbacks of repeated neck cracking is that you never really get to the joints that are actually stuck. This can leave you irritable and uncomfortable the rest of your day. It is best to get an exam of your neck completed by a trained profession to properly fix the stuck joints.
If Neck Cracking Is Bad, What Can I Do to Relieve Neck Pain?
Since cracking your neck is bad, there are many other alternative treatments that you can do to relieve tension and pain in your neck.
1. Ice and Heat
Even though one has not been proven more effective than the other, using either method may help alleviate the tension.
- If you choose to use heat, heat the affected area for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours until the pain subsides.
- If you choose to use ice, be sure to cover the ice pack with a towel before applying to the affected area. Then, repeat the same procedure as you would with heat.
2. Keep Moving
When you feel a stiffness, tension, or pain in your neck, slowly keep the area moving. Moving naturally helps your muscles stay strong and stretched. If you have been sitting at your desk for a long period of time, or woke up with a stiff neck, try some light stretching. When you move, avoid quick, sharp movements. Giving yourself a massage or having someone else give you one in the affected area will help heat the muscles so that they will naturally relax on their own.
3. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Medications
There are several medication options for pain relief. Acetaminophen may help relieve the pain. Or if there is an inflammation in the affected area as well as the pain, then you may want a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.
4. Form Healthy Habits
As with treating most ailments, forming healthy habits will help prevent the stiff neck from occurring. Finding a good stress relief activity, whether it is taking a brisk walk or writing in a journal, is one of the best ways to prevent neck pain. Learning a simple relaxation exercise such as yoga that you can add to your daily routine will help as well. Other habits such as not smoking and exercising daily will tremendously help ease the tension and pain from occurring in your neck.
When to See a Doctor
If you have neck pain or stiffness that does not improve after trying the remedies above, then it is time to see your doctor. On the other hand, if you are unable to control the pain or it is severe then you need to visit your doctor immediately.
When your neck pain and stiffness lasts longer than a month, your doctor will most likely refer you to a physiotherapist who will create a therapy plan to help relieve the pain. Either your general practitioner or your physiotherapist may also prescribe more powerful medications.
Some symptoms that need immediate attention are:
- Neck pain accompanied by a headache, fever, or swollen glands
- Pain that comes out of nowhere
- Nausea and vomiting accompany your pain
- A numbness or weakness is in the affected area
- You experience difficulty with swallowing or breathing
- The pain continues down to your extremities
- You are unable to move your arms or hands
- You cannot bend your neck forward
How to Prevent Neck Pain
The average person who suffers from neck pain and stiffness also has poor posture. Over time poor posture will wear on your joints, ligaments, and cartilage, causing frequent neck pain or stiffness. Since cracking your neck is bad, there are many things that you can do to prevent the need to crack your neck.
One of the best things you can do is keep your body in alignment, which means that your head is centered over your spine. You will need to practice the habit of maintaining good posture whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down. One way to know whether you are in good posture is to check your shoulders. Your ears should be lined up over your shoulders, and your shoulders should be directly over your hips. Your spine should make a straight line from your tailbone to your neck.
A few other things you can do to ensure that your spine remains in good alignment are as follows:
- Make sure that your computer monitor is at eye level and your feet can comfortably sit on the floor with your knees at a 90 degree angle if you are at a desk. This may mean that you have to adjust the level of your chair or desk.
- When you talk on the phone, keep your head straight. Either hold your phone to your ear with your hand or use a headset; do not use your shoulder to hold the phone.
- Carry lighter loads as stuffing your bag full and making it heavy will put an excess strain on your neck.
- Use your time wisely and find ways to squeeze in breaks. Taking quick breaks where you get up and walk around throughout your day will prevent muscle stiffness.
- Quitting smoking has been proven to aid in reduced neck pain as well.