A little twist here, a little tilt there—cracking your back or neck might feel good when you do it, but you could actually be doing more harm than good
You've been sitting at a desk all day, or on your feet running from errand to errand and your body just starts to feel tight and achy—nothing a good back or neck crack can't fix, right? You start twisting and turning looking for that sense of relief and then you hear the familiar "pop!" sound. It's rewarding until your coworkers or friends chime in preaching about how cracking your back or neck is a risky move. (Avoid their stares and lectures by practicing The Best Yoga Poses to Build Core Strength and Relieve Back Pain.) Someone starts telling horror stories about DIY adjustments causing arthritis, enlarged joints, even saying they've heard it can paralyze you! But is any of this really true? To tell get to the bottom of this, we tapped chiropractor Robert Hayden, D.C., former president of the Georgia Chiropractic Association to weigh in.
When you visit a chiropractor, you'll get an adjustment which in pro terms is defined as a specific thrust applied to a vertebra. When you crack your joints, whether it be your neck, back, or knuckles, you're doing the same thing, except chiropractors are trained to know which joints actually need adjusting. "In the skilled and educated hands of a chiropractor, your joints are being adjusted with the full knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics of those joints," says Hayden, adding that there has been no evidence that adjusted joints are damaged in any way. Oh, and that popping or cracking sound you hear (it happens whether you or the doc is going the adjusting) is the result of a gas bubble forming and then popping in the synovial fluid, which surrounds your joints for safety and movement.
OK, but should you do the cracking yourself?
Hayden says he hears all the time about people trying to crack or adjust their back, neck, or other joints themselves or asking friends to help them out. But unless your sister, bff, or roommate has a license in chiropractic medicine or has studied osteology (that's the study of the structure and function of the skeleton, in case you were wondering), it's probably not the best idea. "There is a specific line of drive the chiropractors are trained and licensed to find in order to adjust someone," he says. "There are numerous dangers to self-adjusting such as brain injuries, disk damage, even the potential stroke." Yikes!
And if you think chiropractors get a free pass, you're wrong. Hayden says he doesn't crack his own neck and explains why by using the analogy of a hair stylist cutting their own hair—you just don't see that happening.
If you don't have the time to run to your friendly neighborhood chiropractor, Hayden suggests ice, pain creams, and maintaining as much movement as possible until you are able to get a proper adjustment. (You might also give these 5 Weird Remedies for Neck and Back Pain a try.)