girl rubs neck

Many of us understand the relationship between neck and back pain and long work days hunched in front of a computer monitor. We all question what we can do to alleviate this pain. Some of us deal with the pain, while others turn to over the counter medications such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol. Others will engage in contorting their own back or neck to crack it themselves. While this practice may provide some superficial temporary relief, is it actually a safe thing to do?

What makes the popping sound?
Each joint is encased in a capsule that contains synovial fluid. Synovial fluid acts a nutrient-rich lubricant that allows for two bones to glide smoothly upon one another. When a joint is stretched to its end range, the capsule itself becomes stretched. This creates a reduction of pressure inside the capsule, thus creating a vacuum. The vacuum quickly fills with nitrogen and carbon dioxide which form gas bubbles. These bubbles burst and the gas is released resulting in a pop, or cavitation elicited from the joint. When these gas bubbles are released, synovial fluid surfaces within the joint. This fluid lubricates the joint and also restores movement and nerve function. Additionally, cells called mechanoreceptors become stimulated and can aid in providing temporary pain relief.

If it makes me feel better, what’s the issue?
The issue doesn’t lie within the joint so much as it’s hard on your ligaments. A ligament is a fibrous yet flexible piece of connective tissue that connects two bones together. When you adjust or crack your own neck you are causing those ligaments to stretch like a rubber band. When continually stretched, ligaments will no longer be able to provide the structural support and stability the joint needs. The joints you do end up cracking or cavitating are not the fixed joints responsible for your pain. Turning or pulling your neck beyond its normal range of motion will only make the most susceptible, unstable joints cavitate. These hypermobile (overly mobile, or too much motion) joints are supported by ligaments that have already become stretched a little too much. These joints have less resistance and thus are the first to pop. However, inducing movement within joints that lack motion can improve mobility and stability, and assist in restoring proper biomechanics. By adjusting your own neck you’re not fixing the problem, simply releasing gasses and stretching ligaments that have already become too stretched. This can be a dangerous and damaging habit.

Why is chiropractic different?
A chiropractor will perform a thorough examination of your spine to differentiate areas that are locked up (hypomobile) from areas that have too much laxity (hypermobile). By specifically targeting and treating those joints that lack movement, the cause of biomechanical dysfunction can be addressed all while sparing joints that have too much motion. It is important to understand the attention to detail a chiropractor goes through when analyzing and treating your spine. Proper spine care slows degeneration and ensures healthy, stable, pain-free range of motion. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send an email to

I look forward to treating you in our clinic again soon.-Dr. Kyle McKenzie