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What is the Chiropractor Doing When He is Cracking My Neck?

A chiropractor giving a spinal adjustment.
Some chiropractors use a tool called the activator.
An X-ray of the neck, including the spinal vertebrae.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 July 2014
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When the chiropractor is cracking your neck, no bones are actually being cracked at all. Rather, the popping or cracking sound is made when air is released from the cushioning material between your vertebrae as your spinal column is being twisted. This protective padding material keeps your vertebrae from rubbing together and actually cracking.

Cervical spinal manipulation, spinal manipulative therapy, or spinal adjustments are some of the clinical terms used to refer to neck cracking as many lay people call it. When the chiropractor is performing these procedures, he or she is actually adjusting segments of your spine to relieve stress in your spinal column. The stress is relieved as the spine becomes realigned.

There are different schools of thought about exactly how hard a person's neck should be twisted to relieve stress and align the spine. Serious damage such as a stroke is thought to be a risk if the twisting that is a part of the process is too aggressive. The brain and the spinal cord are interconnected, so neurological harm to the body may result if the spinal column is severely damaged.

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Chiropractors are trained to understand the entire spinal column as well as the neck and most would probably not want to use harsh, strong movements when cracking your neck. It is a good idea to be aware of your chiropractor's philosophy on this, however. The Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) system, for example, is one of the chiropractic care systems said to use gentle, subtle movements on the spine.

People may want to have their spines adjusted for many different reasons. Spinal misalignment may simply be caused by stress or by trauma to the spine such as from an accident. Some people just experience chronic neck or back pain and the discomfort may be caused either by too much movement or not enough movement in the affected area. Although cracking your neck is a common reaction to sleeping in a position that caused spinal misalignment, a chiropractor should really be the one to perform spinal adjustments to prevent any damage to the body.

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Discuss this Article

anon942164
Post 9

I had trauma to me neck and it makes a few small clicking noises when I turn my head to either side. Can a chiropractor fix it?

anon940042
Post 8

My neck and in between my shoulder blades feel so much better after seeing a chiropractor. I know it's only a temporary relief so I'm still looking for a long term pain management. Any suggestions will be much appreciated!

tdeamicis
Post 7

Try to find a pre/post natal chiropractor. They are great. Mine is able to work with families of all ages, does balance testing, balancing, essential oils, etc. She is amazing!

SarahSon
Post 6

I have heard of some people having bad experiences after seeing a chiropractor, but I have had nothing but good results. Before I started going to my chiropractor I would have back pain most of the time.

My chiropractor does a great job of keeping me aligned and out of pain. I try to go every 6 weeks, but sometimes I can tell I need to be seen sooner than that. I have never heard popping noises when she is working on me, but I can feel the tension leave my body. I think seeing a chiropractor to keep your spine aligned is something everyone needs done every so often.

julies
Post 5
My sister has a habit of cracking her knuckles and she can also crack her neck. When she does this the popping noises sound like this would really hurt. I think she does this more out of habit than anything else. She says her neck feels better after she pops it, but I don't see how. I don't think she has ever gone to a chiropractor, but if she is in much pain she would probably get better results having a professional treat her.
sunshined
Post 4

I started visiting a chiropractor when I had neck muscle pain from a car accident I was in. That was several years ago and it took me awhile to find the "right" chiropractor for me.

Some of them were much rougher than others and I didn't like feeling like I was jerked around. Sometimes I hurt worse after my treatment than I did before I went in.

After a few months I finally found a wonderful chiropractor who has really made a big difference. He also explains to me what he is doing and tells me things I can do at home to help keep my spine aligned after I leave.

John57
Post 3

I started going to a chiropractor when I was about 14 years old because of neck pain and headaches. My uncle was a chiropractor and my dad and I would go for treatments about once every four weeks.

Nobody really explained to me what they were doing. I was really scared when I started to hear these popping noises and didn't know if that was normal or not. I never had any pain when he was working on me, but I don't think I ever really relaxed either.

Another thing he did was put me on some kind of a stretching machine. At this point he would leave the room for a few minutes and go work on my dad in the next room over. I was always scared that he would forget about me and something would happen to the machine and it would just keep stretching me.

As an adult this sounds like it would be a very relaxing treatment, but as a kid it was kind of scary. I think it would be really beneficial if a chiropractor explained to you what they were doing as they worked on different areas of your spine.

googlefanz
Post 2

I have heard that cracking your neck too much can lead to serious problems with your joints, not just strokes (which are of course serious as well).

Is having a chiropractor crack your neck a lot really safe, if there are so many possible ways to cause an injury? I have never had a chiropractor crack my neck exactly because I am so afraid of all the different things that can go wrong.

Besides, there are so many other ways to relieve neck pain -- why would you want to risk something like that?

LittleMan
Post 1

So informative! I used to go to the chiropractor about once a month to get adjustments since I was living with almost constant back pain. At the time, I was severely overweight, and this was causing such stress on my spine that it just couldn't take it any more, and was aching all the time.

And sadly enough, although the neck pain relief was really great, the chiropractor seemed to have a problem explaining to me what exactly he was doing, and why it was important (which is why I never knew what was actually going on when he was cracking my neck), so eventually I gave it up and started getting acupuncture instead.

However, I'm really glad that I read this article -- it helps me to understand retrospectively what was going on when the chiropractor was giving me neck pain treatments.

Thanks for the information.

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