Many people have this habit of twisting their knuckles, ankles, wrists, or neck, every now and then. It gives the sensation of reduction in stress. The cracking is accompanied by a popping or cracking sound, which is of delight to many. Popping of the knuckles is the most common kind of cracking, and many of us indulge in it unknowingly. Neck cracking is also more of a habit, and if chronic, it does more harm than good. The crackling sound in the neck is referred to as neck cracking.
There are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck region. These cervical vertebrae work with the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, to provide support and mobility to the neck. Owing to the functioning of these structures, we can move, bend and twist our neck the way we want, without experiencing any tension or stress. We experience neck cracking owing to the persistent stress on this region. There are many reasons for this crackling sound; we have given the causes in detail below. Neck cracking is not harmful, as long as it is not accompanied with pain, but if accompanied with pain, it can prove dangerous.
The joints of the neck are surrounded by a capsule which is filled with the synovial fluid. The synovial fluid is a thick and clear fluid which provides lubrication to the joints, thus facilitating easy movement of the joints in the neck. The synovial fluid contains bubbles of gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The movement of the neck increases the pressure on these bubbles causing them to pop and burst. This bursting of the bubbles leads to the cracking sound in the neck. The process is called cavitation, and it is the primary and most common cause of neck cracking.
A joint is the meeting point of two or more bones and a ligament is a tissue that supports and provides mobility to these bones. Slippage of the ligaments from the raised surface of the bone can also cause neck cracking. There are some raised projections of the bones, and when you move the neck, the ligaments get stuck at the raised projections. When we move the neck, the ligament is let loose, and then comes the cracking sound.
Roughening of the joints can also lead to a cracking sound in the neck. If this is the reason for the cracking sound in the neck, it is a cause of concern. Because roughening of joints is associated with diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis (degeneration of the joints).
Is it Harmful?
Some people purposefully crack the neck, as it gives the feeling of relief from stress. But even if it gives a temporary good feeling; cracking the neck is not a very good idea in the long run. Degeneration of the neck harms the ligaments and tendons in the neck region, and weakens them. Long-term neck cracking has effects as dangerous as arthritis. There are also many references that link a stroke and neck cracking. Thus, it is not safe to crack the neck, as a forced exertion of pressure can be very painful, besides harmful. Some chiropractors are of the opinion that there is no harm associated with neck cracking, and some of the opinion that it is indeed harmful in the long run.
So we recommend you not to indulge in neck cracking, and seek the opinion of a chiropractor if there is persistent neck cracking, accompanied by pain.