Why Popping Your Own Neck Is An Awful Idea
How many times have you been sitting in line or waiting in a lobby and have seen someone just almost twist their head off of their body right before you hear a rattle of bones popping in near unison with each other? Not only does it look terrible and scary, but they may also be doing themselves more damage than they know. Popping one's own neck is no joke and the first step to stopping is to know the dangers. What’s the worst that can happen?
Stroke & Death
On the extreme end, stroke & potential death is the worst that can happen from popping one's own neck. More specifically, it is termed a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) and there’s nothing good about it. Some people recover while some do not.
Being a chiropractor in Amarillo, TX, I have had over 22 years of experience treating patients. I can say with certainty that there is a chance that an unlicensed person “playing chiropractor” and popping necks or people popping their own necks can directly be the cause of VAD. I will add that there is a myth circulating that even licensed Doctors of Chiropractic can cause a stroke. This is the most false rumor attributed to our profession. Knowing this, I expanded on the topic in this blog entry:
The point being made is if licensed chiropractors that are trained and know what they are doing can be accused of causing strokes, is there not a REAL concern that popping your own neck can absolutely cause the problem? Of course, there is. People suffering from neck pain don’t realize that chiropractors (the ones that know what they’re doing) cannot even adjust or fix THEMSELVES. They lack the vantage point and the ability to accomplish the direction of correction. There is little chance that popping your own neck will actually “fix” the issue. Certainly when one typically does not know the anatomy, the techniques, have the correct positioning, or have any background to set yourself up for success.
As mentioned; licensed chiropractors can’t even fix themselves. That has already been mentioned but is worth repeating.
People are popping their own necks repeatedly because the pain keeps bothering them repeatedly. What they are doing, in reality, is moving every joint in the neck that does NOT need to be moved rather than working on and targeting the dysfunctional area that DOES need to be moved. It is indeed a downward spiral that continues to perpetuate until the person is left with serious instability in their neck. Not only is serious instability the result but spinal instability typically leads to chronic pain. Chronic pain leads to more self-adjusting. Self-adjusting leads to more instability which leads to more chronic pain.
The cycle is clear.
Those that have been popping their own necks for some time will probably admit that self-adjusting has become easier and easier to accomplish over the years. The joints move easily, the ligaments are loosening more and more with each self-adjusting, and the pain only goes away briefly before coming right back. These structures that are continually loosening help steady and stabilize what is essentially a bowling ball sitting atop a small stack of bones and cartilage. That is essentially what the head is; a bowling ball sitting atop a stack of small bones. One can only imagine the incredible forces it takes for ligaments and muscles of the neck region to keep it balanced and functional.
The actual likely effect is that the spinal instability actually causes tightening and spasm of the larger postural muscles in the neck region. The result is a ‘loose’ neck near the spine and a ‘tight’ spasmed neck in the larger muscles like the traps, etc.
If those that are self-adjusting keep decreasing the stabilization of these structures, it only makes sense that they begin to suffer the consequences in the form of chronic pain and chronic dysfunction of the joints. The neck will get more chronic and more unstable as time marches and as the person keeps on twisting and cracking the neck.
Many times the self-adjuster will say that their neck always hurts and “cracking” it helps it to feel better. It feels better for a brief time, sure, but it always comes back. That is because the self-adjuster is not fixing the problem. They are causing an endorphin release that makes it feel better briefly but that is the only thing they have accomplished. It comes right back every time.
Think about it this way: it’s like telling one’s mom that they have found the absolute worst chiropractor in town. On the plus side, this terrible chiropractor is super cheap, very accessible, and has extremely convenient hours. In fact, the chiropractor is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long. But, this chiropractor is honestly a really, REALLY terrible chiropractor and just doesn’t seem to know their stuff very well. In fact, they basically don’t know what they’re talking about at all! This chiropractor may actually even be dangerous due to their lack of knowledge.
Not only that, but they are going to visit this REALLY TERRIBLE chiropractor approximately 5-10 times PER DAY.
What would your Mom say to you?
“Why would you ever start seeing this awful ‘chiropractor’ and please stop doing it right now!”
What's the point?
The clear point is this; stop popping your own neck. As mentioned, self-adjusting is a downward spiral. It is a trap laid by a person’s own body. It is not a ‘bad habit’ or a habit that has to be broken. Habits are cravings by the body typically. Self-adjusting is brought on by pain and tightness in the neck that is only worsened with more self-adjusting.
Take the time to get it fixed correctly by a trained professional and you will stop thinking about wanting to pop it all of the time. You will simply just stop thinking about it because it will hopefully stop bothering you altogether. But, the damage has been done and you need to take the time to do the fixing which includes strengthening and stability exercises.
A chronic instability issue is difficult to treat but it can be done with the proper committment from the patient and the proper training on the part of the practitioner.
Patients have spent years doing themselves harm. As a result, they may spend some time fixing it. The first step, however, is to stop self-adjusting immediately. The second step is to call an evidence-based, patient-centered doctor of Chiropractic and let them start the work of getting the patient back on track.
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109
Jeff S Williams, DC, FIANM, DABFP